The plea goes up for justice – and that ‘our claim is just’, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The cynic might say that nobody openly makes a claim that they know to be unjust and even WW2 began with Hitler’s demand for the restoration of the Danzig corridor to German control as if it had been unfairly and unreasonably forfeited. The sense in which we might make our claims against one another, society or the state always draws on a sense that our claim is just and that to resist or refuse it is not. But this kind of justice is subjective, and relies more on a sense of obligation in the hearer than a reasoned argument by the claimant. But this kind of ‘justice’ is a dead end founded on either the balance of physical forces or the balance of public opinion and the opinion of the public media.
So how to start again? If we start with God then we have the 10 commandments and the law of Ancient Israel. But even these are preceded by God’s deliberate and considered choices of His own – the choice of Abram as the Patriarch of the nation yet to come; of Moses as the prophet and lawgiver who delivered the children of Israel from Egypt and brought them to the verge of the Promised Land – land which was already occupied but which God had determined should be theirs, when the evil actions of its occupants had come to their own climax, and where His chosen people should thereafter worship Him and Him alone. Here God’s choices were set out and He would make further choices down the course of the years.
But even here God’s law and worship demand a sense of justice and fairness – righteousness and equity – in the dealings between people. But these standards of justice are defined by God and are most clearly set out in the 10 commandments. Even if these commandments make demands on the conduct of human relations they are also founded on the worship of the Lord alone.
To make our stand on the demands of the 10 commandments is therefore to accept the worship of the Lord before all else: not ahead of all others, or as first among many others, but instead of all others. To forsake the sole worship of the God of the 10 commandments is to forsake the foundation of those commandments and of the social norms that come from them. In this we cannot pick and choose.
So then what about the judgmentalism of today? How to approach the demands of different social and racial groups, sometimes coherent in opposing the historic western tradition of the free economy presided over by a mainly white, male educated elite? Sometimes they are not – and the tensions between feminists, homosexualists and transsexuals are there to be seen and they speak for themselves.
But even these demands are being expressed in a society which permits them to be expressed, and they address wrongs felt to be present in the current generation or to have been inflicted by the generations of the past. To express dissent to the claims or the way they are presented has invited the most forceful kind of censure and even the suppression of dissenting views.
Part of our problem is the loss of a broadly-based consensus on what really is true, what is just, what can be accounted for and compensated, what can be controlled by the law – either in the courts or in statute. These have substituted some highly subjective sectional identity interests for a sense, maybe any sense of objectivity. But this is a dialogue of the deaf where no meeting of minds is possible.
Jesus had two things to say about judging – and I would suggest that we all judge all the time. By this I mean that we come to our own conclusions about the safety, the truthfulness and the advisability of any situation or encounter. To fail to do so would leave us unable to cross the street or to make our own meals.
But Jesus has given us two ways of approaching the question of judgment, apart that is from the reality of the Seat of Judgment before we will all be required to stand. The first is ‘Judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use it will be measured back to you.’ (Matthew 7: 1-2). I think that this speaks for itself – bigots beware! The other is in Matthew 10: 16, where Jesus was sending His disciples into the villages to announce His coming visit: ‘Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.’ I would see this as commending the careful observation of any situation, but not the calculated menace to abuse or intimidate any other person.
I do not believe that we can live without making up our minds to do things or in our understanding of them. In this we must indeed judge and judge wisely. But equally, to aspire to the ministry of the Lord is to be aware of our own shortcomings and to know that just as Jesus has borne our sins on the cross, so any good and lasting works by us are in reality His works within us as of right, so we can make no claim or demand of personal merit. At best we can seek to be steadfast in our duty before Him.