You Can Climb Out of a Hole, But You Can’t Dig Out

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We live in a day when few people, including many Christians, understand what justice really is. In this series, we are not talking about a conversation between friends, or between a husband and wife. If a wife were to ask her husband if he would mind not interrupting when their youngest daughter is trying to say something at the dinner table, only a churl would respond with demands for witnesses and tape recordings. Her observation might be “unjust” in a metaphorical sense, or it might be dead on, but in either case it should be resolved in a loving conversation, with both husband and wife speaking and listening, and taking things to heart. But this series of posts on justice has to do with public accusations and charges that are denied by the one accused. When that happens, it is necessary for the accuser to be prepared to prove what he says. In order to do this, he must not be anonymous, he must be accountable to a body for his charges (in case they prove deliberate falsehoods), he must have independent confirmation of what he says (2 and 3 witnesses). If these conditions do not pertain, a church body is prohibited by Scripture from entertaining the charges (1 Tim. 5:19). When a session rejects unsubstantiated charges, they are not covering anything up. They are being obedient.

John Day has written a fine book on the imprecatory psalms. As I was reading it this morning, I came across a phrase that really struck me. Day said, “This cry was the voice of the oppressed, the victim, the unjustly accused” (Crying for Justice, p. 37). What struck me was the fact that he separated the “unjustly accused” from those who were oppressed or victims. And this started an interesting train of thought.

Consider King David. Before he was king, he was a favored one, and certainly the heir apparent. After he was king, he was, well, the king. We would not think of him as numbered among the class of the oppressed. Nor was he what we would call a victim (although Saul tried). But was he ever unjustly accused? Yes, and often. The psalms are full of his responses to such unjust accusations. This is important because oppression is usually a one-way street. The rich usually oppress the poor; the poor do not usually oppress the rich. But unjust accusations can go in any direction, and no one is immune from them. Not only so, but the Bible says that all are to be protected against unjust charges. In fact, people in positions of authority are often a more inviting target. Because of this, the Bible insists that we have one standard of justice, period. But in our egalitarian era, it is too readiloy assumed that any charge against someone in authority cannot really be an “unjust accusation.”

“Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again” (Ex. 23: 1-4). We have here a wonderful biblical statement of justice. Justice in the biblical sense means Lady Justice is blindfolded. She doesn’t know if the accused before her is rich or poor, tall or short, black or white, an elder or a congregant. Note what it says in v. 3. You must not countenance a poor man in his cause. “Thou shalt not level the playing field.” The question is not what outcome we might like. The issue is not whether an unjustly accused rich man can afford to be soaked just a little. Scripture says you shall not countenance a poor man in his suit. In other words, you must not offer him preferential treatment just because he is poor, or because he is accusing someone who is in authority. You must not grant the spilled hot coffee suit against the restaurant chain just because they can afford it.

If someone accuses me of stealing something, I am within my rights to ask him to prove it, or withdraw the charge. If I am innocent, I presumably know this, and so do not have to offer to “go pray about it.” I already know the charge is baseless. If I go off to pray about it, that is not humility; it is play-acting. If such a person says that he can prove it according to the biblical criteria, he comes and makes his charge before our elders (with me recusing myself). They check to see if he has independent confirmation, if he is accountable to a church body that will deal with him if he is lying, and if he is willing to use in public the name his mama gave him. If so, then he brings his charge, and both sides have the opportunity to cross-examine one another (Prov. 18:17).

But he might not want to bring a charge. And why not? Because he maintains that I have a bunch of levers under my desk that control the session of elders, and the whole thing would be hopeless. But this is not a good reason to not bring a charge; it is an additional unsubstantiated charge (against me and a number of godly men). This is like a man accusing me of stealing something, and when the session asks him to prove it, he thinks to deal with his lack of proof by saying that I actually stole two things. But for the life of me I cannot see how an unsubstantiated accusation of stealing a car can be proved by means of an unsubstantiated accusation of stealing two of them.

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