By: Paul J. Morrison
We live in a day of outrage. Every response seems to demand haste and fury. Injustice (or at least whatever the majority deems injustice) must not be allowed to exist. Justice must be served. For as much outrage as there is towards ideological opponents, there is equal opposition in their defense. It does not matter which story or cycle of news leaps to your mind: thought leaders, entertainers, politicians, even clergy. No one is exempt. The truth is, the day of outrage is not new. Whether it is seen in the most recent 24-hour news cycle or the previous 2,400 years, outrage consumes the masses. The result is excommunication.
The guilty is no longer welcome in this circle, in this culture. Like sitcoms that fail to satisfy the appetite of the masses, they have been cancelled. There may undoubtedly be a select few devoted fans, but the majority would simply prefer an abrupt end. As two sides begin to form over who possesses the authority to dismiss egregiousness or to condemn it, a question begins to rise. Does this fault, however severe, discount all the good they had done?
The image of Lady Justice has always struck me. The ancient Roman image can often be found cast in stone just outside of a courthouse. Justice is blind. She carries a sword in one hand, scales in the other. She weighs action and inaction irrespective of the party. We do not. The degree of our outrage is often tied most, not to the action, but to the one committing it. Our blindfolds are off.
Our allies, whether politically, theologically, or socially are more easily forgiven than those on the other side of the ideological divide, and the church is not exempt. The same believer who is critical of propping up Martin Luther King, Jr. in light of his alleged affairs, is more quick to dismiss Luther’s anti-Semitism or Calvin’s role in the burning of Servetus, considering all the good that they had done. I have seen Calvin and King praised and torn down, often for reasons which fit more squarely with a side than with content.
Consider Calvin. The man is the face of theology for many believers (often literally as he is plastered across coffee mugs and tote bags). I have read through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religiontwo or three times and am constantly struck by the gravity of this man’s devotion to Christ. But the 1,700-page behemoth that is theInstitutestragically misses what would have been a great help in dealing with Servetus. As G.K. Chesterton points out, in all the Institutes, “the word ‘love’ only appears twice, and both times it is in reference to the love that we owe God.” Justice and wrath have been considered in great detail, but the love of Christ is amiss.
Herein lies the fault of each of us when faced with cancelled culture. We give grace to those who are like us, and wrath to those who are different. We may even justify our decision biblically. To the ally, the comparison to David is quickly given, who despite being a murderous-adulterer, is seen as the man after God’s heart. While the opponent is instead portrayed as Judas, who notwithstanding his proximity to Christ, is ultimately painted as a servant of the enemy.
Injustice in every form must indeed be denounced, and there are consequences to faithless actions. The church must not dismiss sexual misconduct. Nor should it dismiss racial prejudice. Nor should it dismiss any permeation of sin. Justice must and will prevail. The allegorical personification of justice in Rome, like the allegorical personification of wisdom in Proverbs, speaks to a deeper truth. Justice is blind, and God shows no partiality. She bears a sword, and Christ is returning with one. She hoists balanced scales, and God sits on a throne as a right judge.
God is a God of justice. And he is a God of grace. The answer to the question of evil acts in the legacy of good people, is a misnomer. There are no good people. There are bad people who are able to stand only in the grace of God. By all accounts, culture itself deserves to be cancelled, man excommunicated, and creation dissolved. But God gives grace.
When I was in college, I sat down for dinner with a Jewish man. We both knew before we reached the restaurant, that I had been assigned to meet with a person of a different faith and to discuss each perspective for a class. The conversation soon turned to the question of grace. The concept seemed pleasant to him. At least until I described it as unmerited. He began to heap every theoretical weight he could find onto the scales of justice. Every sin and atrocity he could think of was laid on the scale and yet grace still won the day. I pointed him to David and to Paul, to the man after God’s own heart and the chief of sinners. I could feel the tide turning, the gospel being put on display.
Then he said it. I should have expected it, I suppose. Hitler. Could all that Hitler had done to the Jewish people, to this man’s people, be covered by the grace of Christ? If there was anyone in history that could flip that scale, surely it would be him. With a lump in my throat I explained that the grace of God would even be enough for Adolf Hitler, had he genuinely received it in repentance. He sat back. His eyes glazed. He wanted no part of that grace. But that does not change its reality. Our discomfort does not negate the objectivity around us.
What is to be done with the countless failings of those around us and inside our very community? What is the balance of grace and consequence in the church? In one sense, there is a trust that vengeance is the Lord’s and that no injustice will go unpunished, even as we execute justice here to the best of our ability. In another sense, there is hope to be found in the words of Ignatius Loyola, that, “God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines.”
In Matthew 18, Christ’s pattern of church discipline is built upon the goal of restoration in repentance, whether that be upon immediate confrontation or following an eventual rejection of one’s profession of faith. Ultimately there is a burden placed upon each believer towards the accountability and restoration of those in the local church. We discern each word and action to be true or untrue, just as the Bereans did in Acts 17. The moral corruption of those before us and after us does not negate the truth of their work. Truth is objective and corruption is expected in all save Christ.
Let us pursue truth rooted in the character of God.
Let us extend as much grace as has been given to us.
Let us deal faithfully with injustice as we encounter it.
And let us above all seek Christ.