Tag Archives: justice

A Court Can Judge Actions, But Only God Judges Hearts

Being very suspicious of our own motives is wise. Not only are we not qualified to judge others, as we easily evaluate them too harshly, we often do a poor job of judging even ourselves, tending to give ourselves way too much slack. I’m trying to keep that in mind in what follows.

In the news recently was the report that someone painted a racial slur across the front gate of one of the homes of a famous athlete. For whatever difference it makes, which is none, this mansion is worth $21 million. Motive check: Is it possible I included that fact because I’m greedier or more covetous than I think I am? It’s more than possible that I can’t imagine a universe where anyone makes that much money for playing with a ball, even uncommonly well. But nobody should be spray-painting offensive words, graffiti, or anything else across anybody else’s home, shack, or mansion. Additional motive check: Does some insidious racism color the “hate crimes” opinion I’ll express below? I honestly don’t think so. (My dream presidential candidate is a woman of color.)

The sprayed-on word was a truly offensive racial epithet, a word that needs to go away forever. Of course, defacing someone’s property is already illegal, but I have two questions. Does the racist nature of the crime make it worse morally? Yes! That this sort of poisonous atrocity happens is disgraceful. Does the racist nature of the crime make it worse legally? It does. But, forgive me, I very much doubt that it should.

The incident is being investigated as a hate crime. Though that train, legally speaking, is already far down the track, I think it’s heading for a wreck that will hurt us all.

I did not say I advocate hate. Far from it. I didn’t say this crime wasn’t odious. I certainly didn’t say that many crimes already prosecuted as hate crimes, many far worse than this one, aren’t repugnant.

But defacement of property, vandalism, assault, rape, murder, etc., are already illegal. Conviction carries penalties, as it should. The whole idea, though, of a class of crimes and penalties that are worse because the perpetrator was thinking mean, nasty, hateful, and horrible thoughts, is a move in a frightening direction.

Who determines what constitutes a mean, nasty thought? Citizens in the old Soviet Union could find themselves locked up as “insane” if they expressed thoughts the government found unsuitable. In the United States, for all of our history (except for these days on college campuses), the right to free speech (and thought) has been a dearly-held blessing of the highest order. I may think your “speech” is horrible, vulgar, disgusting, and/or idiotic, but I hope I would be willing to suffer for your right to hold that position, even as I think you or society will pay a high price for such gravely mistaken ideas.

Crimes are already illegal. No government—however good, bad, or despotic—deserves to be trusted with the power to decide what constitutes hateful thinking. The consequences of giving the state that power are more than a little frightening.

It’s the state’s job to punish wrongdoers for criminal acts, not for hatred in their hearts. We can be sure, though, that the latter will not go unpunished. We can trust our God, the final Judge. He knows all of our thoughts, all of our motives. And Jesus has warned us all (read the Sermon on the Mount) that hatred or lust or greed will twist, imprison, and kill our souls a long time before we commit a hate-motivated crime.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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A Hard-to-Spell Prophet Points to Hard-to-Beat Faith

 

So, tell me, have you read Habakkuk lately?

You know, in the Bible. The Old Testament. One of the prophets.

The English major part of me has paid attention to this prophet only rarely and then only to try to remember if his name, which sounds vaguely like a variety of something legal in Colorado but federally frowned upon, includes two Bs and two Ks or one B and three Ks.

It’s the latter. Like the World War I vintage song I remember singing around the campfire with the Boy Scouts: “K-k-k Katy, beautiful Katy, / You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore…”

That song was a run-up to my still-favorite-Boy-Scout-song we crooned about Dutchman Johnny Verbeck’s machine. Its best line: “All the neighbors’ cats and dogs / will never more be seen; / they’ll all be ground to sausages / in Johnny Verbeck’s machine.”

But I digress. (Ya think?)

When the Bible major part of me read that prophet’s “book” years ago, I was rather surprised—and then awed by Habbakuk’s—I mean, Habakkuk’s—incredible, and unfailingly honest, faith. I’d not really spent much time in the Psalms, or, for that matter, the other prophets, or grappled enough with the nature of real faith. I still thought genuine faith was mostly unquestioning, always serene, content, and nice. Habakkuk put the lie to that nonsense. (Read the prophet’s “book.” Three chapters short, it’ll take less time to read than a Reader’s Digest article. And by all means, read it in a modern translation.)

You’ll quickly notice that Habakkuk is not a happy camper. First, he’s intensely frustrated that God seems slow to see his nation’s situation, hear his prayers, and do something. Habakkuk is appalled at his nation’s (Judah’s) sinfulness and is pleading with God to come and bring justice. For a long time, no answer. But then…

Oh, but then God answers. And Habakkuk hates the answer. Yes, the Lord says, I’ve seen the rampant wickedness and injustice, and I intend to deal with it decisively with the kind of eye-popping punishment that will cause the whole world to take notice and be appalled. Here’s how: I’m sending the Babylonians, the fiercest pagan army in the world, to be my whip and wreak havoc. (The Babylonians are about to run Judah right through Johnny Verbeck’s machine. Only worse.)

“But, Lord,” Habakkuk complains, “how can you do this? Those idolatrous cutthroats, those bloodthirsty Babylonians, are far worse even than my terribly wicked nation! How is this fair?”

And God answers. Just wait, Habakkuk. Justice and mercy will both prevail. Just wait until the end of the story. This is not the end. Trust me. And wait.

Waiting is the hard part. Waiting in those many times when God seems silent… Waiting in those times when, well, if this is God’s answer, we might have preferred silence.

Habakkuk makes the choice of real faith, faith with its eyes open: God is God, and I am his. Come what may, I will trust him.

“Even if the sheep die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet will I rejoice in the Lord. The Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3).

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Justice Antonin Scalia, the Constitution, and Scripture

 

antonin scalia

Ninety-eight to zero. An impressive score in any game. And one unlikely ever to be seen again with regard to our nation’s Supreme Court. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia was appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. His Senate confirmation vote? 98-0.

When Justice Scalia, 79, passed away this week, our nation lost a brilliant legal mind, a man whose incredible intelligence and breadth of knowledge coupled with a deftly-wielded pen and wry wit to produce amazing results. Friend or foe, no one who spent time with Scalia ever left unimpressed and neutral, wondering how Scalia’s argument could have been made more skillfully or, many would say, more delightfully. Boring, dull, lifeless? Neither Scalia nor his positions ever were.

An astounding agility of mind paired with a quick smile and a predilection for laughter is an amazing combination, particularly if your most vociferous opponents find smiles and laughter very challenging. Listening to a recording of his speech in 2005 at the Woodrow Wilson Center, I kept having images of a black-robed cherub smiling, turning phrases incredibly, and about to get into delightful mischief.

Scalia has been described as a “strict constructionist” in interpreting the Constitution. He eschewed that term, arguing not for a strict or a loose interpretation, simply a “reasonable interpretation” centered on what it actually meant when it was written. He preferred the term “originalist,” by which he meant an increasingly small number of judges, lawyers, professors, and anyone else whose approach to the Constitution is “to begin with the text and give that text the meaning that it bore when it was adopted by the people.”

Scalia said that was the orthodox position for many years. Not now. Now the prevailing view is that the Constitution is a changing, evolving, “living” document, which is convenient if you wish to give it almost any meaning at all, based perhaps on the latest opinion polls: “The Constitution didn’t used to mean that, but it does now.” Hogwash, said Scalia.

To beaming grammar school students proudly parroting, “The Constitution is a living document,” Scalia had news: No, it’s not; it’s dead. But also more news to mitigate the sorrow: It was never alive. It was and is a dead, though amazing, document that meant what it said and still does. Scalia’s reading it this way sometimes maddened both liberals and conservatives. A very good sign, I think.

For American Christians like me, does such a discussion of how to properly read the Constitution have anything to say about how we properly read the Bible? I think so.

The short answer is, we first make the effort to understand the kind of document it actually is. Parts of the Old Testament, for example, are literally “law,” setting forth a specific code of conduct. But the New Testament bears witness to a living Lord who relates to his people not on the basis of law but through a life-giving Spirit. What difference does that make? All the difference in the world.

I’ll miss Justice Scalia, as will our nation. I like the way that incredible mischief-making Constitution-loving “cherub” forced us to actually try to think.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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