Loving Thy Neighbor Justly, Politically
Douglas Wilson, in his co-authored work on Biblical justice, notes that society will either be governed by autonomy (the law of man) or theonomy (the law of God). Which would you rather have? The baseless rule of self-made men, or the eternally grounded law of God?
C.S. Lewis argues for a universal law and standard which exists already in the heart of every man. He calls it the Tao. Paul refers to it when he talks of Gentiles, “who by nature do what the Law requires.” He speaks of it further when he says that those who rebel against God will have no excuse, for God has already revealed himself in nature.
In Romans 13, we learn about God’s purpose for governing authorities. They are ministers of God’s justice. Notice that — “God’s justice.” GOD’S. The justice which accords with God. Justice being the direct object of God means that this is the justice GOD possesses. It isn’t an arbitrary justice. God doesn’t will for a humanistic justice. He doesn’t permit a Darwinian kind of justice. He wills for every authority to act on his behalf.
So what is God’s will for the lands of men? That they be governed in ways that accord with God. For the life of me, I cannot understand it when those who seek justice on earth are criticized as those who merely want power. Even worse are those who say that Christians are trying to convert the world by force.
Is this really what anybody is arguing? Isn’t it possible to know that conversion is a personal experience that comes on the heals of repentance WHILE also desiring that broader society be governed justly?
Consider the legality of abortion, or the extreme societal ramifications for children who are adopted by same-sex parents. Consider further the extreme laxity we’ve had regarding marriage and divorce laws. We cannot pretend that an active stake in our children’s well-being is somehow misguided. We cannot say that a desire for Biblical legislation on these moral issues is a misplaced priority. Look, these kinds of laws are not put in place to win souls to Jesus. The current laws against murder are not evangelistic in nature. They have to do with order. Which is NEEDED.
I cannot remember who said it, but many centuries ago, a man compared a similar situation in this way: he said, woe to those who fail to take a knife away from a young boy because they do not want to see him cry, while they have no concern when the young boy accidentally pierces himself through with that very knife.
We cannot claim to love the youth of our society if we aren’t willing to take away the knife. Chalking these things up to “mere worldly affairs” or “that’s just how it is” is a mistake and a failure to understand love.
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12).
We have failed to act responsibly in this regard. It is true that Jesus calls for personal repentance, and nothing short of this can save a man. But we have made a categorical error when we’ve concluded that our only pursuit and purpose in all of life is evangelistic. I may do many good deeds for people who will never come to know Jesus. Their unwillingness does not negate my efforts. Moreover, our neighbors should be loved by us. It is possible and biblical to seek a temporal common good for those who reside right now on earth, while also understanding that it does have limitations. It is also possible and good to legislatively restrict our enemies from their destructive behaviors toward the vulnerable. James Wood said that restricting our enemies from certain behaviors is a kind of love for them.
Another said that loving our enemies does not mean we let them run roughshod over the polis. This is a perverted and worldly kind of love.
Robert Cardinal Sarah said, we are not called to have no enemies, we are called to love our enemies. But even more than this, we are called to love our neighbors. Desiring a social kind of justice is a way of loving our neighbors, especially when we have substantive opportunities in the political realm to do so (as James Wood argues).
Jesus is the King, not only over the church, but over the entire cosmos. If he will judge nations for injustices, it is certainly permissible and righteous for God’s people to desire to see justice served even now. The problem with those who seek social justice is not in their general pursuit of it, but it has often been in their method (violence, as one example) or in their terms (unbiblical, lacking eternal standards, Darwinian, humanistic, Marxist, etc).
I believe that part of what it means to be salt and light is to help bring leadership and God’s justice to those in our communities.