Tag Archives: justice

Conscience and voting for a pro-choice candidate

Some time ago Rachel Held Evans wrote a controversial article encouraging pro-life Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton. At the time I included a response (the post below) as an appendix to a separate blog post on what I mean when I say I will vote my conscience.

Now, as I watch my Christians friends react with horror – rightly – at Donald Trump’s latest words, I am seeing several of them openly consider a vote for Clinton. I can’t fault their decision to turn away from Trump. But, I want to caution against casting a vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate.

As always, I want to offer a few disclaimers: I am speaking in my personal capacity, not as a pastor. I am speaking for myself, not for my church. The issues are complex. I don’t know all – or even most – of the answers. I will not judge another’s conscience. I simply want to share my own thought process in the hope that it will be instructive and beneficial to others, and because I feel compelled to do what I can to protect and advocate for the unborn.


Why I can’t vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate: 

First, while perhaps some aspects of when exactly life begins are debate-able (fertilization/implantation) I think science and common sense, apart even from theology/revelation, puts it well before the baby actually exits the womb. And yet, Clinton doesn’t even oppose these late term abortions. The DNC’s shift left this year – including calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment – demonstrated that they are moving away from an “abortion should be legal but rare” position. This is disturbing.

Second, and related, while not every moral issue is a political issue, this one is. The fundamental role of government is to protect and promote basic human justice – including and especially the right to life. Abortion, then, falls into the scope of what governments are supposed to address. It also falls into the realm of what Christians should care about – concern for the most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Third, since abortion ends a human life, and since it is accepted culturally and protected politically, it falls into the realm of a systematic evil – much like slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism. It therefore needs to be opposed at the systematic, including the political, level. The laws surrounding abortion are unjust. We should advocate for the government to replace unjust laws with just ones, all while working the cultural and economic issues as well.

Fourth, voting for a pro-choice candidate – especially one as extreme as Clinton – is to offer at least my tacit approval to her position. In doing so I become a participant in the systematic evil. To do that, even if it serves some practical purpose, is dangerous and, for me at least, would not be done “in faith.”

Fifth, if my third point holds any water and abortion can be compared with slavery or institutional racism, then to argue that we should focus on the cultural/economic issues which make abortion in-demand is sadly comical. Can you imagine turning the same argument on slavery? (Well, since some Christians disagree about whether slavery is wrong – which they did at the time, shouldn’t we just focus on reducing the “economic necessity” of slavery? After all, racism is a cultural/moral issue and changing laws won’t “change hearts”).

As we see with this final example, and what I contend, is that when it comes to abortion, the issue is both cultural/economic/moral and political. Both are important. While Trump rules himself out on the economic/cultural/moral side of the equation. Clinton rules herself out on the political side.


Globalism/Nationalism, Church/Nation


One of the more interesting aspects of this election is the political and theological debate around questions of “nationalism” and “globalism.” Both of these words are used almost entirely in their derogatory sense and are put up as bogey men, as concepts of which we should be afraid – and when used in that sense we should. Most of the arguments I have seen are also simplistic and underdeveloped. Here’s my attempt to bring a little nuance (read: boredom) to the discussion.

First we need to “come to terms”. I’m going to use “nationalism” in a broad and non-derogatory sense, as “the desire for national achievement.” It goes without saying (though I’m saying it anyway) that I am against a “nationalism” which causes us to place nation above love of God or love of neighbor. I’m also going to use “globalism” in the same sort of broad sense, as “a concern for the entire world”, and not in the sense that global interests should always outweigh national or local interests. I’m going to parse each of these out more below but I wanted to state up front how I’m using the terms so that you don’t just write me off as an idolater.

Second, we need to clarify that we are going to be speaking about the interests and the roles of the nation as distinct from the interests and the roles of the Church (=universal Church, not institutional church). The two group’s interests and roles cannot be completely divorced from each other but they aren’t the same either. Speaking of “nationalism” in terms of the nation means something very different from “nationalism” in terms of the church. Confusing the two, and the roles of the two, will get us into lots of trouble. I will address each separately:

In regards to the nation

A government’s primary responsibility is to its own people and so, in that sense, I want my government to put “America first.” But that “America first” message is not without limits. While it is not required to treat non-citizens as citizens, it must still act justly towards them and treat them as people (and in the Christian sense, those who bear the image of the living God). This means that it still bears some – though more limited – responsibility to individuals of other nations. It seems to me that these obligations would include advocating for basic human rights such as the freedoms of life and religious expression and taking appropriate action when those basic freedoms are threatened, as in the case of genocide.

“Nation first” can be good call as long as it doesn’t mean “nation only” and as long as it is constrained by virtue. What was so frightening about Nazi Germany was that it was a nationalism that was unconstrained by virtue. It made the advancement of the nation the greatest good, at the expense of justice for all.

There are dangers on the side of “globalism” as well. Many fear the consolidation of power in global institutions and this fear is not entirely unfounded. While there is some good which global organizations can bring the tendency will always be for more and more centralization of power. Since power can be used for evil just as easily as it can be used for good (maybe more easily?) I want the power of these global institutions to be limited, specifically limited by the sovereignty of the individual nation. I don’t want my nation to give up its national sovereignty for the same reason that I don’t want national power to be centralized in Washington but distributed to States, counties, and cities, and that’s because I want a government which will not overstep its bounds.

Another issue that has come up is the economy. Here I find myself in a minority. I agree with the many economists who argue that access to markets is one of the most important ingredients to a strong economy. Therefore, I want my country to embrace a global economy and the trade deals that go along with that economy. I see open markets as a way of fostering peace and building global wealth, things which would be good both for the country (America first) and for the world, particularly the global poor. I am of the perspective that open markets (when constrained by virtue and justice) are one of the greatest tools for loving our neighbors.

Family Metaphor

Perhaps one of the best ways to understand this is to think about family dynamics. The responsibility of the father and mother is to take care of their family first. In most cases the bulk of their time, energy, and income will go to providing for the basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the family. A father or mother who spent an inordinate amount of time away from their family, or gave away income essential for the care of the family would be guilty of dereliction of duty. Also, parents shouldn’t abdicate their responsibility to some higher level organization – like a church, or a school, or the government.

But that doesn’t mean that parents should only concern themselves with their own family or their own children. Instead, they should lead their family in service towards others, give out of an abundance of resources and love out of an abundance of love. A family does not exist only for itself, but as an essential part of the broader society. A family with this outward focus actually helps itself, since in serving and caring for others outside of our circle we fulfill one of our reasons for existence.

I think this principle can be applied to governments as well. Governments have a primary responsibility to their own citizens, but they also exist within a global framework and need to engage that broader world responsibly and justly.

In Regards to the Church

The Church, as in those who have put their faith in Jesus for salvation, is transnational. It is cross-cultural. It is multi-lingual. It is made up of people from every nation, tongue, tribe, and people. This characteristic is central to its very identity. Because of this fact there will always be a tension between the “globalist” inclinations of the church and the “nationalistic” inclinations of the nation. This tension is healthy, and it shouldn’t be resolved either by the church separating itself entirely from – or wedding itself to – the life of the nation.

I am currently reading the Eric Metaxis Bonhoeffer biography and noticed that (one of the) most significant heresies of the German Christians (and opposed by Bonhoeffer and others) was that it embraced the idea of a “national church.” It willingly submitted itself to the authority of the State and to the nationalist interests of the State at a time when it should have been resisting. The problem in Germany wasn’t only that it contained an unconstrained nationalism, but that the German Christians embraced such a close relationship with that government.

That said, the church does not exist independently of other institutions, but is historically and nationally located. Christians have a dual citizenship. We are both heavenly and earthly citizens. As heavenly citizens we have responsibilities towards all within the church, wherever they are located which, on some occasions, would supersede our responsibilities to the State. For instance, Bonhoeffer recognized that he had responsibilities to Jewish Christians who the Reich barred from leadership in the German church. As heavenly citizens we also have the mission of evangelizing the nations, of showing love through both word and deed to those outside the faith wherever they may be found.

As earthly citizens we recognize the context in which God has placed us and that, too, confers responsibilities and duties. We are responsible towards our families. We are responsible towards our local church, our city, our state, our nation, and the rulers and authorities of that nation. In participating in politics we merely ask that the government do its God given task of being the government. In so doing we serve both the nation in which we live and the God who has placed us in that nation. It is appropriate for Christians to have a sense of patriotism so long as that patriotism is understood in terms of gratitude to God and responsibility and so long as patriotism does not lead to idolatry characterized by either misplaced trust or misplaced fear.

So where does this leave us in term of nationalism/globalism? Here are a few concluding thoughts.

First, there will always be some tension between the nationalistic goals of the nation and the more global mission of the church. We need to live within that tension, understanding our dual citizenship.

Second, our task is to love our neighbors, local and global. One way we love our neighbors is by asking the government to perform its role as government, which can rightly pursue the success of the nation so long as it does not inflict injustice on those in other nations.

Third, we can remember that we are part of the global kingdom of Christ and yet participate in very local and concrete settings. We can begin by serving those directly within our sphere of responsibility, while never forgetting that God has called the global church to a global mission.

Sanctity of Life Sunday

A reflection for January 17, 1016.

Today is “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” a day set aside to remember that all life is sacred. All people are created in God’s image and have value because he made and loves them, not because they have some worth to society, but because they have worth to God. This means that each person has, at least, a right to live.

Throughout history there have always been people to whom this right has been systematically denied. There have always been those who are considered “worth less”, “worthless”, or “less than human.” This was the case in Nazi Germany. It was the rationale for the destruction of the Jews. This was the rationale for slavery in the South and the racism that accompanied it and followed it (and continues today). This kind of dehumanizing tendency, even when not stated in such blatant terms, has led to the oppression of many groups throughout history. This grieves the heart of God. It ought also to grieve us.

There have been many groups, especially those who are weak, who lack power, who lack position, and who lack a voice, who have therefore been oppressed and have been denied justice by the strong. The Bible is clear, God is close to the oppressed. He takes the side of the widow and the orphan and the fatherless. Psalm 72:4 is a call to God for justice: “May he defend the afflicted among the needy among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” Again, the psalmist calls “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4). The psalmist is confident in his prayer because he knows God “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:7).

God calls us to share that same concern. In the prophets he calls Israel to “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). He calls down judgment on those who deny justice to the oppressed: “Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

There are many people in our world today who are denied justice, many who are dehumanized, and we should grieve in each and every case. But there is one group in particular for whom I want us to pray for today – the preborn. These are babies, little people within their mother’s wombs. Today it is legal to take away their lives. They have no voice. They are silenced. They are dehumanized. They are simply “tissue”. We learned this past year that they are dismembered, carefully, so that their little body parts can be sold. A human life is traded for convenience. Echoing Isaiah 10 the Word of God speaks to us today, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.”

What can we do? How can we think and act with the heart of God?

First, it is right for us to mourn and today is the right day to do it. On the one hand “Sanctity of Life Sunday” is a happy reminder that all people are created in the image of God and are therefore precious to him. Everyone here is precious to God. We are not just randomly put together clumps of matter. God made us. Christ died for us. He invites us to live in relationship with Him. But this makes it all the more sad when a person created in God’s image is killed and it is heartbreaking when this is done so at such a systematic and accepted level in our society. The reality is abortion is cause to grieve – for the babies who are killed, for the women who have abortions, and for our society as whole whose conscience has been seared.

Second, we need to pray. If you feel grief, turn your grief to prayer. The psalmists and the prophets regularly call out to God to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable in our world. God cares for these babies and so we call out to him for help.

Third, there are a number of quality “Pregnancy Resource Centers” in the area which are always in need of support. My wife and I have been regularly involved with Alpha Women’s Center for some time, both with financial support and with participation in their events. Pregnancy Resource Centers and other parachurch organization play a huge role in helping women with “unwanted pregnancies” make the decision to give birth and then support them throughout the whole process.

Fourth, we need to teach our sons and encourage the young men who we know to take responsibility for their actions. We need to teach a sexual ethic that is counter to what our culture teaches. As I’ve read through the psalms and the prophets I was struck by how often they show concern for the fatherless. In the context of abortion we need to realize just how much society’s chronic fatherlessness plays into abortion. First, girls who grew up without a father around, or whose father was always absent or abusive, are far more likely to have “unwanted” pregnancies. Second, women who are single are far more likely to have abortions. In other words, more often than not, it is women without a father who are aborting babies without a father. Our abortion problem is directly related to our father problem. The men in our culture need to step up. Big time.

Fifth, there is a proper place and time for political advocacy, attending rallies, and speaking up on behalf of the unborn. One of the prophetic roles of the church, I believe, is to publically expose evil. One of the compassionate roles of the church is to speak up on behalf of the oppressed and powerless. All of this needs to be done in love, but there is a place for it within the church.

Finally, we need to be a church shaped by the gospel. This is the most important thing of all. The gospel teaches us to love both the oppressed and the oppressor for Jesus’ sake. The gospel teaches us to extend grace and we need to be a place and a people of grace. If a young woman within our midst becomes pregnant out of wedlock we need to be the place she goes to for support, not from whom she hides in shame. The gospel teaches us that we are all the worst of sinners and it teaches us that forgiveness and healing is open to all of us. For some time we had a woman attending our church who had had an abortion and was leading support groups for other post-abortive women. She was, like Christ, offering these women both truth and healing. What a beautiful picture of the gospel. God’s love in Christ is amazing. His gospel is good news. It’s in that good news that we find justice and mercy, truth and love, and it is by that good news that we are shaped.

Exile and Political Engagement: Justice and Advocacy

This post is part of a series (Post 1: Introduction and OutlinePost 2: Four Key Principles for Christian Political EngagementPost 3: Submission and TaxesPost 4: Government Service)

Seeking justice for self and others through advocacy

One of the most important roles of the civil government is in providing basic justice to its citizens, but sometimes that justice is not forthcoming. In those instances, political engagement entails advocating for justice, either for yourself or for others.

This idea (that we should advocate for justice for ourselves and for others) is based primarily on the principles that (1) the civil government is a means of limited justice and (2) that we should engage in the political process in order to show love to our neighbors. There are two main biblical examples of this worth highlighting. One is the life of Paul. Paul was regularly imprisoned and, though he accepted his imprisonment as an opportunity to suffer for the sake of Christ, he also advocated for his own well-being. For instance, he made it publicly known that he was a Roman citizen and was therefore due treatment as such (see Romans 16:37-38).

Esther provides the other example. When Haman had set up a plot to kill the Jews, Esther was persuaded to intervene. Mordecai rightly recognized that she had been placed in her present position before the king “for such a time as this” and so, when she had the opportunity, she advocated for justice on behalf of the Jews, exposing Haman in the process (see Esther 7:3-6). The result was that the foreign government was encouraged to function in a more just manner.

Christians should feel free to use the given judicial system to advocate for their own and others justice. Granted Paul discourages Christians from bring lawsuits against one another in the church (1 Corinthians 6:1-11) but that was more an indictment of the failure of believers to judge amongst themselves than it was of the civil judicial system.

Christians should also feel free, and perhaps even obligated in the same way that Esther was obligated, to advocate for justice on others behalf, either through the judicial or political process. Public advocacy for groups being denied justice, or advocacy against laws that are patently unjust, is valid and Christian behavior. This could take the form of non-violent protests (like those done during the civil rights movement, or the anti-abortion protests of today) or by attempting to formulate policy, establish just laws, and remove unjust laws (like in the case of the efforts of William Wilberforce to abolish slavery), or raising awareness of a particular issue (like recent efforts to raise awareness of world wide slavery).

But there are serious dangers and limitations here. In advocacy it can become easy to demonize opponents, fudge the facts in order to make a case, or set up false dichotomies which polarize an issue instead of finding common ground. Popular public advocates could become drawn to idolize their cause, prioritize their cause over the cause of the gospel, or simply see Christianity as a means towards seeking some human conceptions of justice. We also need to be realistic about just how far common grace can go in a world hostile to the gospel. It is reasonable to expect common grace that allows nonbelievers to see that first degree murder is wrong. But the idea that a human gets personal rights at the time of conception is a harder sell apart from an agreement on special revelation. Finally, we must be realistic about the extent to which the effects of the Fall can be rolled back by advocating for public justice. The brokenness of the world is intractable apart from the work of the gospel and no amount of appealing to basic principles of goodness or virtue will be able to usher in a golden age for Christianity. We must always remember that our hope cannot be in human authorities, but only in the authority of Christ.

Finally, while political advocacy can be a good way of demonstrating love for neighbor, Christians need to be careful to demonstrate practical love to those with whom we have direct contact. There is a certain hypocrisy in advocating against abortion but not being willing to provide material and emotional support for women in need. Likewise, there is a certain hypocrisy in speaking boldly about caring immigrants who live far away, without actually being willing to be a good neighbor to the immigrant living next door. It’s easy to tell someone else to provide justice for another group, and its not wrong to, but the Christian must also be willing to love those who are closest to them and in their direct sphere of influence.

“for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt”

Updated 11/19/2015

I wrote this post well before the Syrian refugee crisis was front page news, but now that everybody and their brother is posting on this same topic, I feel somewhat compelled to revisit what I have said. I have added an “update” section on the bottom to explain how I feel this does/does not apply to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Original Post

As I was doing my concordance search on the word “foreigner” in the Bible I discovered a very interesting link to being a foreigner and welcoming foreigners. If you’ve been following my blog recently you’ll know that I have been a little occupied with the idea that as Christians we are foreigners and strangers. We are sojourners and exiles.

This identity is not unique to the New Testament church. The first of the sojourners and exiles are found in the Old Testament: Abraham, Moses, Daniel. Israel itself was a nation of foreigners and strangers. They arrived in Egypt as foreigners by God’s plan. When they became too big a threat to Egyptian rule, God rescued them from slavery and they went into a long period of exile/sojourn in the desert. When they finally arrived in the Promised Land under Joshua they were finally “home”, though they would once again experience exile in Babylon because of the judgment of God.

But even when they were home, when they found themselves as the citizens of the land that God had given them, they were continually instructed to remember that they were at one point the strangers and foreigners. And this sense of identity led to an important ethical conclusion – remember the foreigner among you.

This ethical concern for the foreigners and strangers in codified in the laws of the Pentateuch. First, there are commands to simply do no harm. “Do not mistreat the foreigner among you.” (Exod 22:21, 23:9, Lev 19:33). These commands are specifically given with the encouragement to the Israelites to remember their own historical identity. “Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice… Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I commanded you this” (Deut 24:17). Then there are the commands which explicitly state the same laws should apply equally to native-born and foreigners alike. In other words, Israel is supposed to apply a basic principle of justice to all without showing favoritism.

But the laws given to Israel in regards to the foreigners go beyond prohibitions against mistreatment. The “gleaning” laws demonstrate a specific concern for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow (Lev 19:10, Deut 24:19, 21). In Israel these individuals would have been especially vulnerable to poverty and injustice so they required special care from the entire community. Once again, these commands are given with the instruction to “remember that you were slaves in Egypt,” that is, you were once foreigners yourselves.

Perhaps the fullest expression of this idea is given in Deuteronomy 10:17-19:

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. “

This passage is striking because it reveals the heart of God. He shows no partiality. He loves the foreigner and he demonstrates that love by providing for their basic needs. The Israelites are to extend that same love. That is, they are to love the foreigners among them as well, caring for their basic needs. Here the command is to love (a matter of the heart) and it is based on two principles: God’s own love and Israel’s historical identity.

So what does this mean for the church of exiles and foreigners? There is a temptation for a church, as it begins to feel more and more then sense that it does not belong, to become inward focused and protectionist. There is a temptation to focus solely on caring for one’s own inner group. There was probably a temptation for Israel, especially given its history of military animosity towards its neighbors, to view all foreigners as suspect and to therefore deny them justice. That might be why Israel is so often warned against such unfairness (see Deut 26:19 where denial of justice to the foreigner is connected to a covenant curse). At a minimum, then, this means that the church needs to resist this same urge. Being foreigners and strangers does not mean that we lose a concern for those who are different from us or that we take up a position of distrust or animosity to them.

On the positive side of things these commands remind us that God is concerned for the socially and economically vulnerable and that we should extend that concern. They remind us that basic empathy matters. Do you feel like a foreigner? Then keep that in mind when you see someone else in a similar position. Practically, this could mean befriending the friendless, defending the person being bullied, showing hospitality, graciously welcoming newcomers to church, or the greeting the new residents of your neighborhood. Just like for Israel, I think it means showing generosity to the poor and a concern for basic issues of fairness and justice.

I was listening to an interview on NPR where the interviewer was discussing Islamic radicalization in Great Britain. The big concern for Britain is that there are many Islamic youth who feel like they are not “full citizens.” This sense of not belonging in that particular community leads to radicalization and, ultimately, to acts of terrorism. It would be a great tragedy if there was the same movement in Christian communities! But the Bible points us in the exact opposite direction. The status of “exile” and “foreigner” needs to point us to love and concern for others. After all, we may be foreigners on earth but we are citizens of heaven and it is our mission, through the ministry of reconciliation, to draw others into that same citizenship.

Updated 11/19/2015 – How does this apply to the Syrian refugee crisis?

First, I want to stress that the primary application for these texts is for the Church, not the State. I find it somewhat ironic that many Christians who would ridicule conservatives for applying 2 Chronicles 7:14 to the United States when it should apply to the Church, are so quick to make a blanket application of Old Testament law (in a theocracy!) to U.S. policy. Both texts apply to the people of God, and not directly to the secular state.

In regards to the refugee crisis (or just basic immigration policy, for that matter) we should apply these texts first to the church, with secondary applications (as citizens of an earthly kingdom) to government policy. For implications for the church, look up three paragraphs.

Second, I do believe there is some application for secular governments. The role of the secular government is to establish justice. This means (a) protecting its citizenry from evildoers/punishing evildoers (see Romans 13) and (b) doing what is within its scope of responsibility for caring for the destitute. That second point could certainly be contested, and I won’t fully defend it here, but I do want to point out the close connection between the laws listed above and principles of basic justice (i.e., doing no harm, equal protection under law, etc.). The pattern of connecting care for the especially vulnerable with justice (and not just charity) is established well throughout Scripture. For more on this see Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice. It’s natural for Christians to want both forms of justice from their government. And the challenge for the secular State is to balance between competing goods. The arguments just aren’t as simple as “keep them all out” and “people who want to limit the refugees, or take a pause, are heartless jerks.”

A Christian friend of mine posted a provocative status on Facebook which actually illustrates this quite well. He stated “If Obama allows Syrian refugees in we will house a family in our home. Who is with me?” This is a rather radical proposal, but I really like the heart behind it. First, it’s an observation that its the government who decides who to let in and when. The government is going to make this decision based on its competing interests. Second, though, there’s a call to the church to take an active role in caring for those strangers if or when they arrive. At that point the church has the opportunity to fully realize its role and take the above passages to heart.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to help refugees now, Syrians or otherwise. One such organization doing this good work is Samaritan’s purse. I was touched by this video back in early October, and it’s worth another “share.”

Reconciling Matthew 5:44, Revelation 6:10, and my internal response to ISIS

Today a friend of mine posted the following status on Facebook:

21 beheaded, 45 burnt and now 90 Christians abducted by ISIS. I have a struggle within my own mind. The human side of me boils up in anger wanting God’s immediate wrath to be poured out on these people. However the Spirit reminds me I too was an enemy of Christ (Romans 5:10) and also reminds me of Jesus words “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44). SOOOOO conflicted but praying for His Spirit to be strong in my weakness. Praying that my brothers and sisters stand strong in the face of Satanic persecution and that even those who persecute, torture and kill my brothers and sisters will be convicted by the testimony of these Saints and repent and follow the one true God and King.

I think a lot of Christians are going through the same internal struggle right now. How do we pray in accordance with the will of God in this situation? How do we control the anger boiling beneath the surface? I have the same struggle.

I’m also wrestling with this theologically.

Specifically I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile Matthew 5:44 and Revelation 6:10.

On the one hand we have Matthew 5:44, a clear command of Jesus that we should love and pray for our persecutors. (Side note: All of this conversation seems a bit disingenuous because I am not being persecuted.) If this were our only command of how to pray or example of prayer in Scripture than it would seem that the only godly response would be for us to pray for the salvation of the persecutors.

On the other hand, we have Revelation 6:10. This records the prayer of actually martyred Christians. This could very well be the prayer of the 21 beheaded Christians. How do they pray? “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” I feel like a lot of Christians these days would chastise their prayer. “Don’t pray like that! Pray for God to bless, don’t look for his vengeance!” But God doesn’t chastise them. Instead he gives them white robes and tells them to wait a little longer.

In addition to Revelation 6:10 we have the “imprecatory” prayers in the psalms and God’s promise in Joel 3:21 – “Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged? No, I will not!”

I don’t want to be in a place where I disregard Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:44, but I also don’t want to find myself disagreeing with God in the event he does take vengeance on his enemies.

I don’t want to be like Jonah who hated when God showed mercy to the Ninevites. But I also don’t want to show contempt for the prayer of the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10.

So how can this tension be resolved? Perhaps we’re meant to live with this tension as we face evil. But I do think that both Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies, and the saints prayer for vengeance can be reconciled in the justice of God.

God is justified in showing mercy to his enemies. He is justified because Christ took the punishment for us. That is why I who was once his enemy can be saved by his great mercy. God is justified is saving ISIS. If he does, I should give him glory for his mercy and justice.

But God is also justified in taking vengeance. It is His right to take (not mine) and when he carries it out it will result in his glory. If and when he carries out his justice, whether it is swift through a human military force or deferred until the Final Day, I will give him glory, knowing that he is able to carry out justice perfectly.

So I pray for God’s justice.  “Lord if you have vengeance, you are justified. If mercy, you are justified. May your will be done.”

I also pray for the protection on future would-be persecuted Christians. “Lord protect them, either by saving the persecutors or by taking them out.”

Finally, I pray for the persecuted. “Lord, give them strength and grace in this hour of great need. Make them brave and Christlike. May they stand firm as they receive the crown of glory due.”

One final note: I feel much safer praying like Jesus command in Matthew 5:44 and that’s because I know my own heart. How can we pray Revelation 6:10 without hate creeping in and corrupting our soul? I’m sure it is possible otherwise we wouldn’t have this prayer in Scripture, but it is surely extremely hard to do.

Bottom line: When all else fails in our prayers it is best to go back to the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “You’re kingdom come, you’re will be done.”

God’s justice, human justice, and individual ethics

In recent discussions relating to the death penalty I have discovered that I make distinctions when I speak about justice. Sometimes I am referring to God’s absolute justice, sometimes to a “common grace” form of justice revealed to humans, and sometimes I am referring to individual ethics. I think it’s important that we recognize that these three forms of justice not only stand in continuity, but are also distinct in some important ways.

God’s Justice

God is eternally just and fair. All justice flows from his character. God’s justice is absolute and universal. It springs both from his eternal love and holiness.

According to God’s justice, in our sin every person deserves death (“for the wages of sin is death”) and eternal seperation from God. Even a single sin we might call small seperates us from God and puts us under his eternal wrath. This might seem unfair to us as humans but this is both just and fair because of the eternal character of God. Thankfully that’s not the end of the story.

God sent Jesus who died on the cross for our sin. In doing so, Jesus took the penalty for our sin. God’s justice was applied to Jesus, who experienced seperation and death on our behalf. If we come to Jesus in faith God is just in applying the penalty of our sin to Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness to us. In the cross, God’s love and justice meet. In God’s justice, then, even a murderer like Paul, can find forgiveness and eternal life in place of guilt and eternal death. Again, this may seem unfair to some, but it is in line with the absolute justice of God.

Human Justice

What would happen if we attempted to apply God’s absolute justice to human interactions? I think that would be problematic to say the least. If we applied the punishment part we have justification for severely punishing even minor offenses! If we applied only the merciful part of God’s justice we would never have grounds for any punishment. “Oh, you killed somebody? Don’t worry, Jesus took your sentence, you can go free.”

So why shouldn’t we apply God’s justice to human interaction? I can think of at least three reasons. (1) We’re not authorized to take the place of God. (2) We’re dealing with a different set of relationships. God’s justice as described above relates to humanity’s relationship with God. Justice as it plays out in societies has to do with our relationship with one another.* (3) God does give us guidelines for justice and they are not in relation to God’s absolute justice.

So what guideliness does God give us for justice? This is a complex question and a probably even more complex answer. But, my overly simplistic answer is that God has revealed to us through common grace (conscience) and through Scripture a system of both rights and duties that we are obligated to uphold (in the case of rights) or perform (in the case of duties). As an example: I have a duty to feed and care for my two small children. The civil law rightly calls my failure to perform this duty “neglect.” And, I have a right to life, which means that to take my life is a deprivation of my right. The law rightly calls this deprivation of the right to life “murder.” If someone commits an offense – does not perform a necessary duty or deprives someone of a fundamental right – they are subject to just punishment and that punishment should be proportionate to the crime. Disprortionately small punishment for a major crime (slap on the wrist for murder) or disproportionately serious punishment for minor infractions (lifetime improsonment for stealing some bread) are considered unjust and unfair. Likewise, punishing someone who is not guilty, or failing to punish some who is guilty, is also both unjust and unfair. For shorthand, I refer to this system of justice “proportionate retributive justice.”

Just because something is “just” or “fair,” however, doesn’t mean we’re authorized to take action. If somebody steals stuff out of my house, it might be “fair” for me to go steal stuff from them, but that doesn’t mean it would be right for me to do that. Instead, it would be right for me to report the theft to the authorities and leave justice in their hands. This is by God’s design. Not everyone is authorized to inflict just punishment. From Romans 13, anyway, it appears that that obligation and authorization is reserved for those whom God specifically grants authority.

Individual Ethics

I need to make one final distinction, though. Individuals, especially believers, are driven in their ethics by more than justice. For instance, I would argue that there is no just duty to support a particular little girl in Indonesia to whom I am not related. Yet, I believe that I should support her in order to fulfill God’s command to generosity and caring for the poor. In other words, I believe I have personal ethical responsibilities and duties that go beyond the kind of justice described above.

Additionally, I believe that I am personally obligated to love my enemy and to, on purpose, take efforts to be reconciled to them, even though to do so would not fit the picture of “justice” above. If somebody hits me, not only am I not authorized to hit them back but I am obligated to revoke vengeance and be open to reconciliation if it is possible. In other words, I give up my right to justice because of a personal ethic.

How this plays out

Here’s how this distinction plays out. I’ll use a personal and minor infraction. Somebody stole my laptop out of our church one Sunday morning.

Personally, I should give up any vengeance against them. If they came to me asking for forgiveness, I am obligated to forgive them.

In regards to the State, if they were caught and proved guilty, it would be just for the State to impose some proportionate (probably minor) penalty.

In regards to God, their eternal destiny is only dependent on whether they accept free salvation offered in Christ. God would be just in either condemning them or saving them based on their decision. For their sake, I hope they choose to obey God and believe in Jesus.

What do you think? Is this distinction helpful? Does it make sens? Or, is it contradictory?