Judging in righteousness—don’t be partial

Rob Slane  ·  Jan 01, 2015

A jury retires to consider its verdict in the case of a white cop shooting a black man. There are protestors outside demanding justice, and nothing other than a guilty verdict will still their anger and stop yet another series of violent protests across the nation.

We have a problem, and while it might feel like a very modern one, there is no new thing under the sun. The details might change, but the general principles involved are simply a modern manifestation of an age-old problem—the propensity of humans to judge people partially and often in accordance with their own circumstances or social strata:

“You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15b).

What this law teaches us is that there is an innate temptation in all of us to be partial to one group or another. However, contrary to much current sociological thinking, this is as much of a problem to those on the margins of society as it is to those in authority. It is possible to pervert justice by being partial to the rich and despising the poor, and it is equally possible to pervert justice by being partial to the poor and despising the rich.

The principle in this law applies exactly in the sphere of race relations. Racial prejudice is a real issue and there are genuine examples of miscarriages of justice involving black men who have been unjustly treated, simply because they were black. But we have to recognize that the opposite tendency is also real, and this is manifest in the type of knee-jerk reaction which filters every white-on-black incident through a preconceived oppressor/oppressed narrative, and leads people to axiomatically conclude that the white person’s motivation must have been racial.

God tells us in this verse not to think or act in this way. We are not to favor the poor or the rich, the powerless or the powerful, black men or white men. Nor are we to despise the poor or the rich, the powerless or the powerful, black men or white men. Rather, we are to judge each case on its own merits, armed with nothing but facts and sound judgment, not allowing any pre-existing prejudice to cloud our judgment.

This ought to be obvious, but events over recent months suggest that we have lost sight of this and are now edging perilously close to mob justice. This is a hallmark of a society that has been busy abandoning the Gospel for years. Secularists love to talk about the need to heal divisions in society, but when these divisions manifest themselves, they don’t actually have any effective mechanism with which to bring about resolution. Calling for inquiries into police brutality and racism won’t do it. Sympathizing with the protestors and then “appealing for calm” when the rioting starts won’t do it either.

What is needed is a once-for-all sacrifice. Ironically, this was given to us when a tyrant (see Luke 13:1) gave in to the demands of an angry, bloodthirsty mob:

“Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify Him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found in Him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release Him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted” (Luke 23:20-24).

How is this a solution?

Firstly, the death of Christ unites blacks and whites in a way that nothing else can. One of the fundamental sins of humanity is to treat the image of God in others with contempt, and racialism is simply one form of this particular sin. But through the death of Jesus, and our being partakers of this death, not only is the image of God restored in us, but we are joined together with others in whom it is restored, regardless of skin color. The Gospel, at its most potent, kills prejudice and unites people.

Secondly, those authorities that bow the knee to the Christ Who sacrificed Himself will learn that true authority is not coercive and authoritarian, but rather looks like this:

“But Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Thirdly, it means that those who grieve over genuinely unjust judgments will learn that rioting is not the answer. There is another way:

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17).

Fourthly, it means that those who have been wronged learn how to deal with those who have wronged them:

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45a).

Lastly, and most importantly, because Jesus suffered and died—the just for the unjust—God can now justify us, change our hearts, give us His spirit, and break the cycle of sin which, according to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, includes a number of things which have been seen in the racial tensions of the past few months:

“… enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy …” (Galatians 5:20b-21a).

And in their place, He can change the way people think about others, the way they see others, and the way they behave toward others:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).

There are no secular solutions to the festering wounds within American society. Only Jesus Christ and Him crucified will do.

Rob Slane lives with his wife and five home-educated children in Salisbury, England. He is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, contributes to the Canadian magazine Reformed Perspective, and blogs on cultural issues from a Biblical perspective at www.theblogmire.com.