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Monday, February 25, 2013

Justice

Almost everyone will say that they seek justice or fairness, as we often refer to it.  In many cases however, both public and private, what people really seek is revenge.  They are not motivated by a love of justice, but rather by a desire to get even, to punish those with whom they disagree.  The concept of justice originates with God.  God is just; in fact, he demands justice, and that's why he had to create a plan of salvation to save fallen man.  He cannot let an imperfect person join him in a perfect heaven.  If he did that, heaven would no longer be perfect.  That's why he sent his only son, Jesus, to take our sins on himself and impart his righteousness to us so that we can enter heaven as perfect in God's sight.

I bring up the Christian plan of salvation not to write a theological treatise, but to establish an understanding of justice, and an understanding of the imperfection of man as it was understood by the Founders of our nation.  The reason they worked so hard to create a government with very limited powers was their concern that corrupt man, if left to his own devices, and given unlimited power (over others), will always use that power to his own corrupt benefit.  It was ironic that men like Washington, Henry, and Jefferson had this foundational understanding, while still being slave holders.  Yet they did.  They were blind to the evil of human slavery.  In fairness, slavery was an institution they inherited, not one they created.  And, in fact, both Patrick Henry and George Washington voted to end the slave trade while serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses, well before the advent of the American Revolution.  It was King George who vetoed the bill passed by the Burgesses because he was personally profiting from the evil business.  But it was not until their death that most of the Founder's slaves were actually set free.

Clearly the Founders were not perfect men, but rather they had a correct understanding of human nature as well as an understanding of the nature of God.  These were well-read men.  They had studied history and they had not only read, but studied the Bible.  With nearly half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence having had formal seminary training, the Founders were not unknowledgeable in regard to the nature of man and the nature of God.  They understood God to be perfect and holy, just, all knowing, all powerful, yet merciful and loving.  The writings of George Washington make it clear that he understood the God of the Bible as a personal God.  Even Thomas Jefferson, who later in life was angry at God, as President, urged Congress to appropriate funds to distribute Bibles to the Indians.

Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams made clear, forthright statements that the new government they had created under the United States Constitution was designed exclusively for a virtuous people, i.e. a people who strived to live in concert with the laws of the land and the laws of God (Ten Commandments).  They knew that a Republic can exist only if its citizens voluntarily exercise self-restraint.  They understood that if citizens and those in government chose to only obey those laws with which they agreed that chaos would ensue.  And if that happened, government would, of necessity, expand its police power to maintain order at the cost of diminished individual freedom.

Today people talk about all kinds of justice—fairness, social justice, equality, etc.  In most cases, they simply have no idea what they are talking about.  They rely solely on human wisdom as their "foundation" for making such judgments.  And they confuse education and intellect with wisdom.  If what you have been taught and have learned is simply not true, then you cannot have wisdom.  If you are less than brilliant, but follow God's precepts, you will gain wisdom.

There is no argument that there is much injustice in the world.  It has always been that way and it will always be that way.  Fallen, imperfect man is incapable of anything approaching perfect justice.  He can strive for justice and should strive for justice, but he will always fall short.  Justice is something a society and a nation should seek, and indeed that is what the Founders sought. But when you read about the debates at the Constitutional Convention that finally delivered the United States Constitution, you begin to realize that it was a document of compromises.  The abolitionists wanted to abolish slavery, the big states wanted to dominate, some wanted a very powerful chief executive, and there were arguments for and against states having more or less power.

But the two things that held them together was their fear of foreign military intervention, and the fear of an all-powerful government that taxed and regulated them to the point that individual freedom would no longer exist.  Their memory of the iron rule of King George III was fresh in their minds.  They wanted a government powerful enough to repulse external powers and strong enough to maintain order, but no more!  They sought minimalist government and minimalist taxes, so that opportunity would be both widespread and unlimited. 

But how did they see justice?  Their guidebook was the Bible.  That's why there were so many references to Divine Providence in their commentary and in their writings and debates.  They saw God as just and wanted to emulate his commands and advice.  The God of the Bible was their model of justice.

Today, some argue that Jesus was an adherent of social justice.  It's hard to know what exactly is meant by social justice, but in today's world, it often refers to using government to redistribute wealth and income.  If this is the meaning of social justice, those who claim Jesus as an adherent don't have a leg to stand on.  But, let's deal with two stories from the Bible that are often quoted as evidence of Jesus' and God's support of socialism or Marxism.  However, before we do, we can simply cite Jesus' oft repeated reminder that his mission was to "…seek and to save those who are lost."  Yes, he displayed his love and his power and his compassion by healing and feeding those in need, but that was not his primary mission.  He was fulfilling God's plan of salvation and in feeding and healing the multitudes, he was not only showing compassion, but setting an example for us as his followers.

In Acts 2:44 it describes the Christian Church in Jerusalem after Pentecost, "All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other."  There was great harmony and enthusiasm among the believers at this point in time.  They understood that everything that they had came from God and in joy they voluntarily shared everything they had with others.  There was no compulsion involved, it was all freely and joyously given.  Ananias and Sapphira were struck down by God not because they did not share all or because they did not share enough, but because they lied.  There was no law or demand that in order to be a follower of Jesus you had to share everything with everyone else.  It was simply the freedom that comes from the knowledge that they were forgiven, and the knowledge of God's sovereignty over the earth that caused these early Christians to joyfully put all their goods and wealth in a common pot.

The parable of the workers all being paid the same is cited by both free marketers and by socialists as evidence of the fact that Jesus agreed with them.  Neither group is right.  Here is the entire parable taken (with permission) from God's Word to the Nations version, Matthew 20:1-16…

"The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing to pay the workers the usual day's wages, he sent them to work in his vineyard. About 9 a.m. he saw others standing in the marketplace without work. He said to them, 'Work in my vineyard, and I'll give you whatever is right.' So they went.

"He went out again about noon and 3 p.m. and did the same thing. About 5 p.m. he went out and found some others standing around. He said to them, 'Why are you standing here all day long without work?'

"'No one has hired us,' they answered him.

"He said to them, 'Work in my vineyard.'

"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told the supervisor, 'Call the workers, and give them their wages. Start with the last, and end with the first.'

"Those who started working about 5 p.m. came, and each received a day's wages. When those who had been hired first came, they expected to receive more. But each of them received a day's wages. Although they took it, they began to protest to the owner. They said, 'These last workers have worked only one hour. Yet, you've treated us all the same, even though we worked hard all day under a blazing sun.'

"The owner said to one of them, 'Friend, I'm not treating you unfairly. Didn't you agree with me on a day's wages? Take your money and go! I want to give this last worker as much as I gave you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Or do you resent my generosity towards others?'

"In this way the last will be first, and the first will be last."

This parable has nothing to do with economic philosophies whatsoever.  It's not an argument to pay everyone the same, no matter how many hours they worked.  It's not an argument on behalf of property rights of an owner.  It's not about contracts.  It's a message much more important than that.  It's about God's amazing grace.  Your entry into heaven doesn't depend upon when you became a believer, nor is your joy less if, like the criminal on the cross, you gain entry at the very last hour of your life.  As Jesus' words in the parable make clear, gaining access to heaven is solely a gift of God.  There is no political or economic ideology contained in this parable.

Today's liberals like to refer to taxes as "contributions", but that description is not only flawed, it's silly and just plain wrong.  Contributions are something that an individual freely and willingly gives, and taxes are always compulsory.  They are ultimately collected at the point of a gun and if you don't believe that, try not paying your income taxes.

The Bible emphatically rejects the idea of compelling someone to give to help others.  In 2nd Corinthians, chapter 9 verse 7 the Apostle Paul says, "Each of you should give whatever you have decided.  You shouldn't be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give, since God loves a cheerful giver."

It is true that when God directly intervened in the lives of the Israelites of the Old Testament he created spiritual laws, ceremonial laws, and civil laws.  Of course, at the time of Christ's sacrificial death, God created a new covenant with the followers of Jesus, the long promised messiah.  He made it clear that the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament no longer applied by ripping in half the curtain in the temple that shielded the Holy of Holies from the people.  Nevertheless, the civil laws that were given to the Israelites are still instructive when it comes to understanding God's justice.  God, after all, is the only perfectly just being in the universe.

What were God's laws concerning support of the temple and of the government of Israel?  He demanded a tithe of 10% from everyone.  If you were very poor, you still were required to give 10%, and if you were very rich, you were expected to pay a tithe of 10%.  No one was exempted among the nation of Israel.  Of course, if you were very rich, 10% was a lot of money, but you still had much left to spend and invest and thus employ others.  If you were poor, 10% was not very much, but you were still doing your part to support the temple and the government.  This is the point that Dr. Ben Carson was making at the National Prayer Breakfast to the President of the United States.

It is neither smart nor moral for government to redistribute income.  It is especially evil if the policy is driven by envy or jealously that seeks to divide Americans.  It is wrongheaded also.  Such policies drive the general economy downward, destroying jobs and opportunity.  They saw off the first rungs of the ladder of success and are especially hard on the poor and minorities.  Similarly, businessmen and women who do not appreciate that their success is a blessing from God and who do not use their plenty to assist others and to create more jobs, do damage to the engine of America's economic prosperity, our free market capitalist system.

The idea of taxing the rich at 75% as they now do in France is not smart, fair or just. It is a clear example of man putting himself on par with God.  It is foolishness that leads to economic misery for all.  Only when a nation is led by men of Godly wisdom do the people live peacefully and in prosperity.

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