There is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.
Many modern people bristle at the Christian idea of sin, and they bristle even more at the idea that God would punish sinners. Frankly, I think many modern people simply don’t understand what sin is and who God is.
But, that aside, there is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.
Alongside the notion that the God of the Bible and demands judgment for not measuring up to God’s just standard is the notion that all people are sinners who don’t measure up. In fact, the New Testament is fairly read to say that people are incapable of living up to God’s standard.
The doctrine of original sin says that we are all corrupted because the sin of Adam and Eve has been passed down generation after generation. Even if we don’t believe in the doctrine of original sin, however, the Bible is clear from the Old Testament to the New Testament that human beings don’t measure up to God’s standard:
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one; …. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 (NIV)) Yet, he says, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect?” (Matthew 5:48)
This is the dilemma: How can we be perfect?! “To err is human” the bard once said, and so it seems we are imperfect by our very nature.
Many people reject the idea that God can be just and demand justice from people incapable of measuring up to the standards God’s justice demands. They say it would be unjust for God to demand justice from beings who have no ability to act other than they do, and so fail to meet God’s standards.
God seems to be acting unfairly to demand that we meet His standards when we are 1) created beings, 2) born into sin, and 3) incapable of living up to the perfection God requires.
Other questions tumble after these thoughts: Why didn’t God create us perfect? If we are born sinful, how can God blame us for being sinful? If we are incapable of being perfect, how can God punish us for our imperfection?
I started on a journey exploring the story of Abraham and Isaac deeper and with more nuance in my previous article, The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Introduction. The story of God’s seeming demand to Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham being seemingly willing to do it, is quite misunderstood, especially without reference to the Ancient Near East context.
Child sacrifice was ubiquitous among the religions with which Abraham was familiar. Abraham would have thought the demand for the sacrifice of Isaac unsurprising among the arbitrary and capricious gods in the Ancient Near East world he knew.
The story is of the first 11 chapters of Genesis and of Abraham is a revelation that the God of Abraham is different than all the other Ancient Near Eastern gods. In the subsequent article, The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Here I am!, we explore the interpersonal dynamics of Abraham and Isaac that set the stage for much greater revelation of which God is.
Through Abraham’s dutiful and faithful obedience to the demand he feared would be required of him, God demonstrated His character in a way that was indelibly etched into the experience and psyche of Abraham and Isaac. They would learn that God does not make the same kinds of demands as the other gods: God would provide the sacrifice Abraham feared that God required of him.
In Abraham, Faith and a Hope Deferred, I may seem to take a sideways turn off the path of revelation of God’s character to Abraham, but I will finish the story in this article and get to that point.
The ground we covered in that last article included a blessing by God to Abraham, but the experience of God’s momentary blessing was dampened by the cold reality of God’s yet unfulfilled promise.
In Genesis 15, Abraham sought more assurance from God that the land he lived as a stranger would really become the land of his descendants and, more fundamentally, that he would actually have descendants. Many years had passed, and Abraham was still childless.
In response, God asked Abraham to set up a covenant with five animals of specific types to be slaughtered, cut in half and placed opposite each other on either side of a depression. The blood of those animals drained into the depression creating a blood path. This, Abraham knew, was the stage for entering a covenant with God.
These types of covenants were familiar to ancient Middle Easterners. I understand that similar covenant rituals are practiced today by Bedouins.
Abraham would have known the drill. As the lesser party to the covenant, he would go first, signifying that God should do to him (stomp on a pool of his blood) if Abraham didn’t keep his part of the bargain. With the lesser party committed to the covenant, the greater party would seal the deal, and go last, walking through the blood path.
Only Abraham doesn’t initiate the covenant by walking through the blood path. He waits so long that he must drive the birds of prey away from the rotting carcasses. Then Abraham falls into a fitful and dark sleep.
Why did Abraham hesitate? Maybe he realized the significance of what God was setting up – a covenant between a fallible person and the Almighty God! Abraham was not likely worried so much about the commitment God would be making to him, but about the commitment Abraham would be making to God!
So, Abraham, perhaps, feared to enter in to the covenant. He falls into a restless sleep, and God comes to Abraham in his sleep. The “assurance” Abraham receives in his dreams is far from satisfying: God says the promise to Abraham’s descendants would not be finalized for 400 years!
Abraham would be long dead and gone.
This is where we pick up the story. This is where we get the next revelation of the kind of God the God of Abraham is. If we aren’t tracking with the story, we won’t appreciate what happens next:
Joseph D’Souza is an Indian Christian, but he stands as an outsider in India, which is increasingly being driven by a right wing movement to preserve India’s Hindu heritage and power against the threat of Christianity, in particular. Thus, I find it ironic, and convicting, that he finds a parallel between India’s caste system and racial disparity in “the west.”
Kancha Iliah Shepherd, the other participant on the podcast, was born of the Dalit class in India – one step above the untouchable caste/class. Against all odds, and the rules of the caste system, he became educated, and he wrote a book, Why I am not a Hindu, critiquing the caste system.
On the podcast, he questioned what Hinduism has to offer the lower castes who can not receive the education of the Braham caste, cannot learn to read and write the language of the Hindu gods (Sanskrit) and cannot serve in Hindu temples? Why be a Hindu unless one is born a Braham?
D’Souza observed that many Dalit and untouchables in India are becoming Christian because of Christian doctrines, such as the doctrine that all men and women are made in the image of God; God is Creator of all people; and there is no distinction among people (no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no man or woman) in Christ.
Though the Hindu nationals have succeeded in passing a law against “forced conversion”, D’Souza says that no one in India is forced to convert to Christianity. People convert because they want to. The church, in fact, stands against the idea of forced conversion.
The present Hindu nationalist movement seems to be partly to blame for Christian conversions because of its adherence to the caste system. The lower castes find in Christianity a God who does not perpetuate a caste system, who made all people equally in His image, and who makes no distinction between people on the basis of caste, birth rights or nationality.
Shepherd adds that God cannot be a nationalist. If there is one true God, He is God of all people in all places, nations and stations in the Earth. Shepherd said this as an Indian of the Dalit caste in India speaking against the Hindu conservative resurgence that forbids lower castes from becoming priests while maintaining a strong Hindu nationalist position.
If we look at the world through the eyes of these Indian men, we can gain some understanding and insight to be applied to our Christian walk in the United States. We can begin to understand why Christian nationalism is heresy and why Christian tolerance, ambivalence, and apathy for racial disparity in the US is poison in the church.
From Garland’s perspective, the Church (capital C””) is at the center of the immigration crisis. The Church is involved on both sides of the border, as most of the people attempting to enter the US are Christians. Meanwhile, the Church on this side of the border is torn about how to respond.
In the previous article, I discuss the three issues that characterize the public focus on immigration, and I address each of those narratives from a biblical, Christian perspective. In this article, I want to put a human face on the immigration crisis, as told by Garland, and invite the Church on this side of the border to wrestle with the immigration crisis from a biblical position.
For people of the Word of God, this is disheartening news. It suggests most that most Evangelical Christians’ views on immigration are shaped by the news media and politics, not by Scripture.
For this reason, I believe that Evangelicals have a critical need to ground their views on immigration in God’s Word, as Paul urges:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
In my previous article, I provided some quick Scriptural responses to the three concerns that characterize the public narratives (focusing on the law, lack of resources and resistance to change). I have already written extensively on immigration through a Scriptural lens, therefore, I am not going to try to restate or expand much on what I have already written.
Rather, I want to implore the church from the heart as I filter the immigration crisis through the eyes of John Garland on the front lines. I want to dig deeper into the Christian principle of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s without failing to render unto God what is God’s.
I want to parse out what it means to give our priority attention to the weightier matters of the law, unlike the Pharisees who tithed their dill, comin and mint, but neglected to do justice and love mercy.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This is the word of God through the prophet Micah (Micah 6:8)
“Earlier this summer, before I decided to take the time to read the three books I have covered in this series on critical race theory, I didn’t feel I really knew enough about it to say anything about it. I had heard a few talking heads on cable news decry it as Marxist and racist in and of itself, but didn’t really know much more than that. After a few people wrote to me and asked me what my view of CRT was and if I’d ever write a few posts on it, though, that is when I decided to read up on it and try to distill what I had learned about it in a short blog series.”
My past concerns about the critics of CRT I echo here: our baseline should be the Word of God, not political, ideological and philosophical standards. If we devolve into non-biblical standards, we loose our saltiness. We lose our distinctiveness as children of God, citizens of the kingdom of God and aliens and strangers in the world.
Because of the unique position of believers in relation to the world – in the world but not of the world – Christians have often staked out claims against injustice, including the abolition movement, while other people ignored the plight of the oppressed. I believe this is (partially) what it means to be salt and light.
Setting captives free was an essential component of the work of Jesus in the world, but it was only a component of his work. Preaching good news to the poor (the first of the things Jesus announced he came to do) is part and parcel of his purpose in the world. (Luke 4:17-20)
Neglect or rejection of the Gospel (the good news) is a chief complaint of critics of the proponents of CRT. Captives are not truly set free without it. Yet, those who would preach the good news cannot ignore the setting of the captives free. Jesus focused on both, and so should we. Thus, I agree with this first caveat of Anderson:
“I think it has to be clearly emphasized that criticism of CRT isn’t a denial of racism in America or a refusal to try to address clear problems in America that stem from our racist past.”
Anderson goes on to state:
“Rather, disagreeing with CRT means disagreeing with the claim that the American free market system and constitutional law is inherently racist and that Marxist principles and a Marxist system is what is needed to eradicate racism for good.”
I don’t disagree with him on the point that the American free market system and constitutional law is not inherently racist, or that Marxist principles are a poor substitute for a governmental system that has elevated more people out of poverty and oppression than other system of law in history. At the same time, I am not going to die on that hill. Calvary is where I will take my stand.
The Gospel spreads and the kingdom of God thrives under any system of government, no matter how good or bad, precisely because it is not of this world. The kingdom of God cannot be equated with any system of human government. It transcends them all.
Anderson goes on to criticize CRT, but he comes back to this, which I think we MUST confront, especially in the body of Christ, who came to breach good news and set the oppressed free:
“[T]he reason we even have CRT, and the reason why we have growing calls for Socialism and Marxism, is because, quite frankly, there still is racial healing to be done and there still are issues of racial injustice to be addressed—and too often those instances have been ignored. America has indeed come a long way in healing racial injustices, but America has still nevertheless failed in certain areas—that is undeniable.”
CRT developed as a critique of an American system that has expressly addressed a history of racism with laws that have produced the promised outcomes of equality and fairness and justice for which people have hoped. It developed as a legal tool to address latent racism – racism that lies below the surface and continues on despite laws that prohibit overt racial behavior.
CRT was not proposed as a Marxist ideal designed to achieve Marxist outcomes. It was an attempt to get at pernicious racial disparities that persist despite laws that expressly outlaw it. Thus, I agree with Anderson when he says:
“I believe [CRT proponents] they have a genuine concern for injustice, and they want to address it.”
People are not our enemies. We can’t forget that, even people who advocate systems we don’t believe in. Even if we count them as enemies, Jesus clearly said we should love them. We in the body of Christ need to take that imperative seriously.
We may might fight against principalities and thoughts which hold people captive, but the people who hold them and and who are influenced by them are not (should not be) our enemies. They are the ones for whom Jesus was willing to leave the 99. They are in the field that is ripe unto harvest.
Again, I don’t personally disagree with his assertion:
“The problem is that they honestly think all that is needed is the implementation of a ‘better system’—the Marxist system. But that is simply detached from historical reality. It reflects the naïve wishful thinking of an ideology that has failed miserably, time and time again.”
But these are secondary matters in relation to the kingdom of God, which is not of this world. The Gospel goes forward in communist China and Russia and in theocratic Iran. The Gospel is not deterred by the systems of human government. It thrives despite them. Sometimes it thrives because of them, as people yearn for the eternity that God put in their hearts.
The Kingdom of God is always contrary to the kingdoms of this world, even free market, constitutional, and democratic kingdoms.
I wholeheartedly agree with Anderson when he says:
“CRT certainly highlights the clear racists policies of America’s past, and it sometimes points out clear instances of racial injustice still around today.”
We should not deny these things. Of all people, followers of Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, should not ignore the truth of the injustice that survives in our world. Not that we can eradicate injustice in a fallen world. Injustice in a fallen world is inevitable, but we should not be any part of it. We should resist and stand against it.
For this reason, alone, we dare not ignore injustice, even when the majority of the people who seem to be fighting it are advocating systems of government that tend contrary to our political views.
For this reason, therefore, I suggest that we have more in common with fighters of injustice than members of our own political tribe who stand opposed because we serve a God whose throne is built on a foundation of justice and righteousness.
The nuance of that awkward position may seem difficult to navigate, but we should be accustomed to awkward positions – being in the world, but not of the world. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways ore not our ways. We can trust Him to lead us through it.