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Monday, April 6, 2009

LIBERTY (and justice) For All

I was traveling down the interstate near my hometown the other day, and saw a billboard that caught my attention. It had no markings on it, except the company that owns the billboard itself, to identify who had paid for it or why. It consisted of a blank white background, with the word "Liberty" emblazoned in a very large typeface, with the stars and stripes of the American flag filling in each letter. Underneath it, in tiny, cursive-like, pale blue typeface, it read "and justice for all."

If you live in America and have ever recited the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, you recognize those words as the end of the pledge. They are gleaming words of idealized patriotism, and most Americans can practically recite them while asleep. So why did I have a problem with this billboard? Am I not a proud citizen of this republic?

My problem was with the unequal treatment of the words liberty and justice. If we do not value justice as much as liberty, we will end up losing liberty as well. Liberty, the freedom to move around and go about our lives without the interference of despots and our fellow citizens, is based on a proper sense of fairness and justice. We would have no liberty when the courts favor criminals but lock up the good citizens for the slightest infraction. We would have no liberty because we would have the fear of injustice barring our way.

Furthermore, if we value liberty more than justice, we have perverted the meaning of the word liberty. Liberty would basically mean the freedom to do anything to anyone, without being stopped--including victimizing others. If someone had to be crushed to get it, liberty is really more closely related to the concept of anarchy--and that is nothing I could ever be proud of.

If we value justice, we will guard our liberty by preventing certain people from "taking liberty" with others. The law was invented to punish those who believe their liberty is more important than that of other human beings around them. The law was not invented to interfere with those who are minding their own business or even helping others to achieve all the liberty and justice they are allowed to have, under law.

Now, why am I bringing up these patriotic concepts on a Christian blog? Isn't patriotism practically a dirty word in some people's circles these days? Well, I think it's important to note that these patriotic ideals are not possible without God's involvement. Recent attempts to divorce God from patriotism has given patriotism a bad name, and rightly so.

I think it's telling that first people tried to remove "under God" from the pledge of allegiance, and now they are marginalizing the word "justice." Anarchy is possible without God, but history has shown, time and again, that domestic order is dependent most of all on a worldview that recognizes God as a sovereign and moral judge over all mankind, without exception. Yes, I said it, but allow me to make myself a little more clear--when a nation refuses to make the Judeo-Christian God the exclusive guiding focus behind all of its workings, it is destined for failure. There are no exceptions. There is no compromise.

I am perfectly aware that some scoffers may read this and disagree with me. I'm sorry if you do, but I'm not going to change my position to make you feel better. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not in America today, our most effective concepts of justice and human rights are from the Bible.

Human Justice vs. God's Justice: From Sacred to Genocide

It would take too long to go into every specific concept, but I can give you an example of what happens when man devalues justice by removing God from the concept.

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, human life is sacred (that is, special and irreplaceable, and of tremendous value), therefore taking a life is no small thing. In God's covenant with Noah, God said,
And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man." (Genesis 9: 5,6 NIV)
Why is human life sacred, then? Because God made it, and because humans were set apart as the only beings in creation that resemble God (in that we have a soul, a sense of right and wrong, and a free will). Murder is a rejection of God's authority as Creator and a defacement of His image. Anyone who doesn't subscribe to the Judeo-Christian worldview, doesn't understand this.

Any nation that doesn't believe human life is sacred could justify genocide and "ethnic cleansing." I cannot think of any more notorious nation in recent history than the Third Reich under Hitler. Hitler argued, in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, that humans are nothing more than very intelligent animals, and that some humans are less evolved (and therefore more animal-like) than the so-called Aryan race. To improve the race as a whole, the weak "animals" must be killed off, and it would be unfair (unjust) to the pure race to allow the weak ones to survive and compete for limited resources.

This would be easier to accept if we were talking about a herd of sheep, but we are talking about people! It becomes an easy step to justify murdering a person when you no longer see him or her as special or valuable, and you no longer believe you could be punished by God for murdering this person. When we don't fear God, we put man into God's place, and justify everything based on how much it offends or inconveniences man. To rationalize murder in this way is the ultimate perversion of justice.

Therefore, justice is linked to righteousness, and righteousness comes from God. Any attempt at righteousness without God at the center is merely a system of rules that can be twisted and broken when they seem outdated or not specific enough for the situation.

In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote about one group that attempted to establish justice (law) and follow it without God's righteousness.
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:2-4 NIV)
Who were these "zealous" people? They were the people of Israel, many of whom had accused Jesus of defying their concept of the law(He healed people on the Sabbath, claimed to be God, etc.), and demanded that He be killed. They had allowed themselves to be taken in by the same thinking that later "justified" the Nazi Holocaust. Now Paul, a Jew himself who had formerly taken part in eradicating Christianity, was preaching for a righteousness that is based on Christ's example (which is better than, and puts and end to man's laws).

Shall I say it again? Liberty without justice is not liberty, and justice without God's righteousness is not justice. Therefore, liberty cannot exist apart from God and His righteousness.

Returning to the Billboard

I've been talking about justice and liberty as if they were concepts on a dissection table, rather than central "doctrines" of American culture. Unfortunately, they are living concepts, and it pains me to see how they are being dismantled and redefined in American culture. We are talking about a paradigm shift away from God and righteousness, and it is happening across the board in our culture.

I'm not talking about political camps of thought (R, D, or I, for instance), I'm talking about thousands upon thousands of people who have grown up or are growing up without respect for God, and therefore without proper respect for their fellow man. These people are not just leaders on Capitol Hill; they are leaders in our schools, leaders in our communities, leaders in our armed forces, and leaders in our churches. They are teaching our children, and our children are taking their example. A generation that does not value God's justice is doomed to collapse, because God resists them.

Christians need to recognize that unrighteousness, in all its forms, is inspired by the Devil, who is also called the Destroyer for good reason. If we care about America (or indeed, any other nation we live in), we must resist unrighteousness through prayer and a lifestyle and speech that is humbly submitted to God's leadership, and we must teach our children to do the same. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating some kind of armed resistance. I'm talking about resisting the pull of the world in that place that is completely our own--the space between our own two ears. As John wrote in Revelation,
"Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death." (Revelation 12: 10-12 NIV)
Now is not the time for silence, as long as we are able to speak. If we want to overcome Satan and gain true justice and liberty (not just in this life, but also in the next) we have to testify to what we have found in Christ. Day and night, we have to talk about righteousness, and we have to display righteousness in our deeds. This requires boldness. As the proverb says,
When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.(Proverbs 28: 12 NIV)
But Proverbs also tells us,
The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1 NIV)
Now is not the time to hide, my fellow Christians. Our world needs righteousness, and if we have Christ, we have what they are looking for.


Anonymous said...

Amen, preach it!

Esthermay Bentley-Goossen said...

I used to work for a watchdog group called Capitol Watch in the 90's. One of our catch phrases was:

"The country was founded upon this idea that 'majority rules.' -- Great idea.
But what happens when the majority is godless?"

In the years since, I've come to appreciate God's Word as absolutely sufficient and inerrant and the history is essentially already written. The world will become more and more godless until His return. . . .

Rachel said...

I can answer that rhetorical question: When the majority is godless, God judges the nation.
I can agree with you that the whole world is sliding off the deep end very quickly. I know that the only answer to the world's suffering is God--not the U.S. government, or any other government.
Christians can only do so much. We can't stop the end from coming, but we can make sure everyone knows how this is supposed to end. As long as I have a voice, I will testify, so that faith can come to a few hearts, because they heard the Good News.
Thank you so much for your comments!