Woe To Those Who Know What Is Right And Promote What Is Evil

Woe To Those Who Know What Is Right And Promote What Is Evil November 13, 2016

Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all who are left desolate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, maintain the rights of the poor and needy (Prov. 31:8-9 RSV).

Christians are called not only to protect but to elevate through whatever political power and authority they possess those who have no political power to defend themselves from injustice. This includes but must be limited to the poor, the stranger who seems different from the community they have entered and really, anyone who finds themselves justly in need of the aid of others. Certainly, those who are not yet born are in this category, but they are not alone; to separate them from the other poor, voiceless people of the world is to find excuses to denigrate human dignity, finding distinctions which justify abuse.

Christians must always work for the rights of the poor and needy – the needy going beyond just those who are poor, because the working class might not be living in extreme poverty, but they certainly are needy in a system which elevates and only respects those who have money or power. The ordinary worker struggles to make ends meet; they find themselves to be politically powerless, without the time, energy, wisdom and means to change the system which keeps them in check. Their needs and concerns must be considered, although, we should also remember those who are suffering greater indignity have far greater need for our help than those who suffer less (just as in a wartime battlefield, those who are about to die and can be saved get medical attention first). We must not disregard anyone truly needy but we should understand there is a hierarchy of needs, with some needing immediate action on our part just to survive.

Christians are called not only to question authorities, but to reject any and all policies which promote grave evil. If they helped put someone in power who promotes widespread denigration of the dignity of any kind of human person, they are responsible for their choice and must speak up and act before evil policies are put into place, and they must speak up and act for the repeal of any such policies if they have passed through the legislature and have been put into practice. Christians must not allow the banality of evil to rise in their name. While in the word it might be nearly impossible to eliminate remote material cooperation with evil, which is not the same thing as its acceptance, formal cooperation and promotion of such evil must never be done in the name of Christ, and Christians who promote such evil will suffer grave consequences for their rejection of Christ’s message.

Indeed, as Scripture indicates time and time again, the more weak and vulnerable suffer at the hands of the strong and powerful, the more Christians are required to do all they can to fix the injustice. The more they know Christ, the more they are to see Christ in the powerless, and the more responsible they are for when they do not speak up and let the weak be abused. “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:16 RSV). It is not just speaking up, but actually working to bring change, fixing the injustice by setting up a just state, which is required by Christians.

Now, to be sure, for many Christians, who are themselves among the weak and powerless, all they can do is speak, showing the world the injustices they face, making pleas to all for radical change. They might have little to no power to change things themselves, but their voice should be heard by their fellow Christians, and the strong and powerful, the rich and the elite, within the community who have the power to effect actual change are obligated to listen to them and work for them, to be God’s hands bringing justice to the world.  Proper, just change must be sought after when abuse is given privilege by those with power. Christians must not allow themselves be deflected when they know there is a serious abuse which lies before them. They know the truth, they know the evil of the abuse, and if they let it go, they will be judged for not doing what is right. The more they know, the greater the responsibility, and so they greater they sin for failing to do what is right and just. Christians, because of their privilege with Christ, are obligated to follow Christ as being leaders in the world, bringing the fulfillment to the words of Isaiah with them: “”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”  (Lk. 4:18-19 RSV).

Christians who end up supporting oppression, Christians who end up supporting the powers which promise to some personal luxuries at the expense of the dignity of others, demonstrate they are not better than the world but worse because Christ has taught them to be better than this. Their knowledge multiplies their guilt.  It is for this reason Salvian the Presbyter wrote with boldness about the horrible state of Christianity in his day, explaining it was their immorality which helped cause the fall of the Roman Empire. He knew how they tried to justify themselves: “Almost the whole community of the Church is reduced to such a low degree of morals that, among all Christians, it is the general norm of holiness to be less corrupt than others.” [1] But this does not work. We are called not to judge ourselves in relation to non-Christians, but to the expectations of Christ.  And since we have the Gospel, since we have the words of Christ, we are more culpable for our evil.  Non-Christians have as an excuse their ignorance, but we who have heard the Gospel, we who have heard the Sermon on the Mount, we have no excuse, and our disgrace is that much greater when we follow with the way of life Jesus condemned.

Christians who not only support officials who do evil, but the evil that those same officials promote because it helps them in their material, earthly lives are repudiating their faith in God. They have turned their eyes to the princes of the world for material salvation. Whatever happens as a result, they have received their reward, and all they have left is the judgment to come. God is not with us when we turn ourselves against him and try to invoke his name in support inhumane policies.  By trying to do so, we are creating the conditions for our own demise. Sin is rejected because of the harm it causes us and to others; God lets sin create its own judgment. He is not going to interfere with grace and be merciful with us when we reject mercy for others. His judgment is coming. Unless we repent, the coming of the kingdom of God is going to be a purifying fire, and we will weep from its heat.

The words of Salvian, to the Christians of his age, could truly be words spoken today to many Christians who have once again ignored the expectations of Christ. We are to abhor sin, not just those sins which others do, but especially those which we do. Alas, those in power, those with wealth or political power, tend to denounce the sins of others but not their own, and so they encourage their followers to act and think just like them. But Salvian knew that in and through such pretense, Christians only bring about their own greater condemnation:

Who among the nobility or the rich has ever abhorred crime? Here I am mistaken, because many do abhor it, but few avoid it. They abhor in others what they themselves constantly commit, being in a way the accusers and perpetrators of the same crimes. They denounce in public what they practice in secret, and because of that, when they think they are condemning others, they condemn themselves all the more by their own reproaches.[2]

We often hear powerful, elite Christians rejecting the sins of others. They do so to act holy and just, so that they can appear to be suitable candidates for other Christians to support. They promise the world to their supporters, but demand a sacrifice, the justification of various grave evils which Christians know are wrong. It is a repetition of the temptation of Christ in the desert, promising the world if only Christ would bow down to evil.  And Christian who accept such a Faustian bargain ends up being much, much worse than the non-Christians who came before them. And so they will suffer the fate of such a bargain, for they have overturned their own conscience for material gain. They will suffer greatly for their greater culpability.

If we, upon reading about the Fall of the Roman Empire, understood how terrible it was for those living in the past, we will only have to wait and see what we get for our own violations of God’s law of love. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do “(Heb. 4:12-13 RSV). There will be no room for any excuse. The consequences of sin are going to come before us. There will be great weeping and mourning as a result as the two-edged sword of God’s justice comes crashing down upon us.


 

[1] Salvian, The Governance of God  in Salvian the Presbyter. trans. Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1962), 84.

[2] Salvian, The Governance of God, 87.

 

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