Taking the Law Into Your Own Hands
My wife and I [Joseph Hebert] recently took the class to get our concealed weapons permits here in Oklahoma. We’ve been here six years, so I guess it’s about time. We used to have our permits in Texas, but had to relinquish them when we moved here. Even then, after writing letters and lobbying hard to get the concealed carry law passed, it was several years before we actually got the permits. I guess I’m just not that big of a gun nut.
Still, it got me to thinking about the line delineating self-defense and taking the law into your own hands. I don’t have a problem with people defending themselves, or their families, or even their neighbors and property. But no one should take the law into their own hands. Should they?
Of course we all know that it is wrong to take the law into your own hands, by which I mean seeking one’s own justice, retribution or whatever you choose to call vengeance, but why? Stated simply, it’s wrong because God said “Vengeance is mine. I will repay,” (see Hebrews 10: 30). It is not for you and I to take upon ourselves that which God has reserved for Himself.
Unfortunately, a lot of Christians get the impression that if we forgive those who sin against us, they’re getting away with something. They are not. Understand first that when we forgive we do so for our own sake, not theirs. Note that God said “I will repay!” God will meet out justice against them, and our forgiveness doesn’t change that. What it does change is us. Instead of carrying around emotional baggage of hatred and bitterness we let it go and move on, growing in Jesus and spiritual strength.
And don’t think that God’s vengeance exists only in the next life either. I would refer you to Romans chapter 13. There Paul makes plain that all governmental powers exist because God ordained them, and for a purpose too.
But if thou doeth that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Romans 13: 4b
This verse should make two things painfully clear to anyone willing to see. First, it is folly to believe that God’s vengeance will be forestalled until the next life. Second, if it is wrong for you and I to take our own vengeance, is it not at least equally wrong for the government not to?
Indeed, there are going to be any number of governors, judges, legislators and other officials who will be held to answer for their failings. Today judges seem more interested in rehabilitating prisoners than punishing them. But is it their place to “rehabilitate” prisoners?
God did not charge the government with rehabilitating men, or reforming them or whatever you choose to call creating anew. It is God, not government, who makes men new creations. And when governors and judges try to make this part of the judicial system, they are usurping God’s role in the lives of men.
So yes, we should forgive, but the government should punish and leave the administration of God’s mercy and grace to Christians and the churches.
Or should they? Maybe it’s not so simple as that. Consider the first part of the verse just cited.
For he is the minister of God to thee for good.
As tempting as it might be to blame our cultural crisis on an out-of-control liberal government, perhaps the blame is more rightfully our own. It’s certainly true that governments around the world have taken onto themselves many functions that God left to the churches and to Christians. But, we cannot ignore the fact that the churches and Christians have been all too happy to let them, and the results have been tragic.
Take, for example, healing the sick. Look at healthcare everywhere that it has been taken over by government. Who in England or Canada stayed to get free health care in their own tax-funded systems? Those who had a choice spent their own money to come to America where they could still find private sector health care, often administered in hospitals with names that reflected Christian denominational association.
What about education. God’s Word tells us the family is responsible to educate their own children (e.g. Deuteronomy 6: 7; 11: 19), but once again we find governments doing what God intended others to do. So tell me this. When our elected officials go to Washington D.C., do they put their children in those same public schools they impose on others, or do they send their children to private schools?
No, if God intended the government to be His minister to us for good, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when the government takes over those responsibilities that we shirked.
Consider caring for the poor? Do widows and orphans and the infirm look to the church for their needs? Or do they turn to the government? And when people turned to the government for help, did the church stand up and say to the government, “No! It’s not your place to care for the poor. That’s our job!” Or did pastors and deacons and congregations across the nation look at each other, quietly holding their tongues, enamored of lucre and forgetful that the money they thought of as their own was in fact the Lord’s, and silently think how much nicer their sanctuaries and worship services could be once they didn’t have to spend so much on handouts?
Of course, we’re not the first to disobey God, to subvert His will to the slaking of our own lusts, only to try and obfuscate our disobedience as though it were service to Him. Once upon a time God told Saul to wipe out the Amalakites, right down to every last sheep and ox. God was very clear that none should be left alive. Still, when Samuel showed up at their camp he found something else.
And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed [be] thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. And Samuel said, What [meaneth] then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
I Samuel 15: 13 – 15
And Samuel said, Hath the LORD [as great] delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey [is] better than sacrifice, [and] to hearken than the fat of rams.
I Samuel 15: 22
So tell me this. Which do you think God is most impressed with? Our finely appointed sanctuaries or our state-of-the-art multimedia audio/visual systems? Or might He have preferred that we care for the poor? Does anyone really believe that He might one day say, “When you amplified your voices through mixing boards and projected my words onto screens for all to see and hear, you did it unto me?”
No, that’s not right. Oh yeah! I remember now. He’s going to say …
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did [it] not to one of the least of these, ye did [it] not to me.
Matthew 25: 45b
So if the government is taking over responsibilities that it was never intended to bear, it’s at least in part because we chose disobedience as our course. And make no mistake, the consequences of our disobedience are tragic.
Are the poor cared for? Is their circumstance improved? Or are they now condemned because of our disobedience?
Think about it for a moment. Are the poor grateful to God for their provision? Are they grateful to anyone? Are they humble in their asking for, and appreciative when they receive, help? Or are they now emboldened with a sense of entitlement? Does their sense of pride make them more or less amenable to accepting God’s grace? Or do they now look upon charity, the very definition of Christian love, with disdain, as though it were evil?
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto [them that are] wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto [them that are] mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
Isaiah 5: 20 – 23
So no, I don’t think the poor have been well served on our watch. They are made prideful and unthankful toward God. With vanity they think government handouts are their goodly due, protecting them from being humbled, and they despise Christian charity as an affront to their pride. In other words, they call evil good and good evil, all because we all too happily allowed the government to usurp our responsibility.
Yes, in time every judge that uses our First Amendment to protect filth-mongers like Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner, while also using it to prevent high school students from praying at their own graduations, will stand before God to answer. And God has already told us what He’ll say to them. He is going to say, “Woe unto you, who justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!”
When judges and government officials fail to do as God ordained, they will be held to account. Many judges like to point out that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Similarly, even if they refuse to admit it, those judges derive their legitimate power from God, and He will hold them accountable, both for failing to do what they should and for trying to do what they shouldn’t.
But don’t think that we are blameless in this. We didn’t just allow this, many of us welcomed it. Indeed, many of us caused it by refusing to do as God required of us. Eve blamed the serpent, Adam blamed Eve and God both. Saul blamed his soldiers. Let’s not you and I try to blame anyone else. Even if the government insists on doing what it shouldn’t, that’s no reason for you and I to not do as we should.
So what exactly is it that we’re supposed to do? Just care for the poor?
What we are supposed to do is love God above all others, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love our brothers and sisters in Christ as He loved us. In this is the fulfillment of all the Law. In other words, we really should take the Law into our own hands.
[Editor’s note: Special thanks to Joseph Hebert for permission to reprint and share some of his articles here on Finding Gems & Sharing Them. He is a believer and a scientist and has recently challenged my thinking and touched my spirit on many levels. I hope you will delight in the wisdom he brings to issues we as a society are currently wrestling with. May we hear the Lord above the noise and serve Him well with our time and treasure! Sandra Crosnoe]