Let me be frank: there are lots of terrible things recorded in the Bible; this is not, however, a criticism of the Bible itself but of humanity. The reason the Bible records stories of people doing terrible things to one another is because people do terrible things to one another. If the Bible did not record this aspect of human nature, then the Bible would not give an accurate picture of how people treat others.
Humans are sinful, and the Bible makes clear that our misdeeds offend both God and man. Because of this sinfulness, we occasionally must make public the wrong done to us by way of accusation. I will argue that legitimate courts in these cases are the proper route by which to level an accusation; impatient, non-involved parties can generally obstruct justice; and Christians should respond to public accusations in a biblically prescribed manner.
To battle rampant wrongdoing, God has established governing authorities to help prevent and punish public sins that mankind insists on perpetrating. Paul says in Romans 13:3-4, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.”
Of course, we know government itself can be corrupted, and government officials can use the sword against the innocent. Nevertheless, God has established governing authorities to investigate and punish wrongdoing as a general rule.
Unfortunately, appropriate justice often takes too much time for our liking, especially when we know the perpetrator is guilty of an especially egregious crime. God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says God (Romans 12:19), but we want justice now.
Our impatience with appropriate conviction ironically has often led to other injustices carried out in the name of justice. This produces mob riots, senseless property damage or private vigilante behavior that justifies sin for expediency. I hear very often this machismo claim or similar ones: “If so-and-so did such- and-such to my family, I would be put in prison for murder.” Such thinking justifies violence for violence–sin for sin–and is woefully short-sighted. The Bible makes clear that God sees all, hears all, knows all and will punish or reward all. Our role in private justice is minuscule and even more so in public justice.
We should also examine how changes in technology have reshaped our public discourse. Through social media and news outlets, we can now seek personal justice through more expedient routes. An accusation made via this route gains immediate attention, is easily shared and generates attention for both the accuser and the accused.
The average observer can now participate in the conversation and even attempt to instigate a sort of “digital justice.” We can throw in our two cents on a serious matter while sitting at home in our sweatpants, and the accusation could go viral instantly. We read a few news stories, talk about it once or twice with our agreeing friend and make a moral judgment about who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
We unrelated participants assume that access to billions of pages of Internet information grants us demi-god omniscience pertaining to situations about people we have never met. We hear that so-and-so from such-a-place has accused so-and-so of this-or-that, and we are convinced that we have both adequate information and sovereignty to pass a verdict on a person whose names we learned yesterday and whose faces we have never seen in person.
The Bible teaches us that all accusations are not to be believed and accusations that are true should be reported responsibly. Consider the following examples from scripture. The ninth commandment of Exodus 20:16 says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” There were consequences for the lie of Potiphar’s wife that Joseph molested her (Genesis 39:1-23). Deuteronomy 19:15-17 says, “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time.” This warning from Proverbs 25:18 says, “A man giving false testimony against his neighbor is like a club, a sword or a sharp arrow.” The show-trial of the Jewish leadership against Jesus in Matthew 26-27 is another example of false accusation. Lastly, Paul recommends to Timothy, “Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).
As Christians we are to “seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Unfortunately, the intoxicating allure of instant judgment can sweep us into an upsetting fit that results in ill-informed witnesses to God’s justice. Do we believe that our private and public discussions about public accusations have been tempered by mercy and humility? Do we withhold judgment until all the facts (as we can know them) come into the light, or do we immediately identify with the more emotionally appealing testimony? Too often, we rally behind the accuser or accused based on the criteria of their race, sex or worldview, thereby trampling underfoot reason and responsibility.
Christians, I humbly suggest we follow these recommendations after public accusations emerge:
- Allow seven days to pass before we weigh in on a public accusation. The news cycle moves so quickly that some journalists undoubtedly report the story before they gather all of the facts. This will also keep us from embarrassing ourselves with uninformed opinions.
- We should beware if our opinions consistently align with the opinions of those who are not Christians! Christians are to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and, despite our imperfections, the true church will interpret life through a fairly consistent lens.
- We should give the accused the benefit of the doubt. If we were falsely accused, wouldn’t we want others to do the same?
- Do not immediately believe accusers or the accused because they are similar to you.
- Listen to differing opinions. If we only listen to one news outlet, we may miss important details.
- Remember that two things can be true at once. An accuser can be a terrible person yet also tell the truth. On the other hand, the accused can be a terrible person yet also be innocent of a claim. Humans are complex, and no party involved is ever as simple as their caricature.
- Keep our mouths closed. In situations in which we feel that injustice has been done, we want justice now! But we must be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, for the anger of men does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)
My prayer is that God’s church will exhibit peace, love and wisdom when accusations arise as we seek first the kingdom of God.