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Seeking justice in government?

08-02-2016 - Posted by Andre Piet

images_22 From a visitor to the Good News site, I received the following question:

Shalom Andre, In response to the Biblestudy  “Vengeance is Mine” the following question occurred to me: Aren’t you, in that way, as a believer, always standing with your back against the wall? I’m  struggling with that because I have a conflict with one of my neighbors over a common part of our apartment complex on which he wants to establish a right in rem. Must we in cases of conflict always agree with what the other party wants? Yes I know, there are no obligations, but it still puts me in front of a dilemma. I’ve thought a lot about it but still don’t get it, could you give me a Biblical answer? I would also like to thank you for the insight you received from GOD and the great studies that I follow over the internet. Sincerely ….

In the study to which the writer of this letter refers, I discussed Paul’s words in Romans 12, where believers are called not to avenge themselves but to give any injustice that happens to them, over to GOD who will recompense everything and sets all right in His time.

Romans 12 and 13

The call, however in Romans 12 not to avenge oneself is not only motivated in that chapter but also in the following chapter 13. Remember that the letter constitutes a unity, and that the much later added chapter and verse format, is intended for the readers convenience and not to separate one passage from the other (passage). In Romans 13 Paul argues that any government is at the service of GOD “as wrathful avenger for him that doeth evil” (13: 4). Avenge means providing justice. Paul doesn’t direct these words to the government to tell her what she should do, no, he attributes this to (believing) subjects to indicate what the government is by its nature. Except for the fact that GOD will avenge any harm in the future (= provide justice), there is now a body entrusted by GOD with this task. This is entirely separate from the question whether the government carries out this task well, because that’s not a matter about which subjects decide. The government is not accountable to its citizens (how undemocratic it may sound) but only to GOD in whose service she is.

Two options

 The above means that when I come in contact with injustice, there are two options open to me. Either I turn to the government to provide me with justice, or I give it to GOD who will make everything right in his time. Against many injustices the government cannot act because it is outside the scope of its competence, for example, injustice taking place in the private atmosphere. There is also injustice in which the government does not want to act, because it itself is leading the way, for example, in the suppression of minority groups as for example believers. In that case, believers have to be patient and give it over to Him. Who will, in His time, do justice to all and who will straighten out and puts in order everything.

Paul stood on his right

At first however, it is certainly not objectionable to seek for justice in government. After all, for that purpose she has been instituted. Paul himself did this more than once. In Acts 16: 35-39 we read that the officers in Philippi sent a message to Paul  to leave the city quickly. But Paul  refused that because as a Roman citizen abusive injustice had been done to him, since he was flogged in public and put in prison without trial. Therefore Paul demanded to be shown out in public. And as Roman citizen this right was successfully granted to him. In Acts 25 we read that Paul, from Jewish side, was accused of a capital crime. But because Paul was of the opinion that this was completely unjust, he appealed (again with success) unto the emperor.

No self-appointed judge

In both cases, Paul did not avenge  himself. He did not take the law in his own hands. He looked for justice at the authority that was given over him by God and could actually provide him with justice. The only situation in which Paul explicitly advises to abstain from this is in the case of a conflict between believers themselves (1Kor.6: 1-8) In that case, he advises to find a wise brother to mediate  or even possibly take for granted the injustice. The latest advise is still preferred (according to Paul) over the disgrace of quarreling brothers who want to settle their case before an unbelieving judge. 1_blog_13ML