A Just Silence
POSTED BY ADAM PARKER; REFORMATION 21
We’ve all felt the pressure to speak out about things that we know little to nothing about. The increasingly prevalent sentiment is that if Christians-and especially Christian leaders-don’t speak up on the hot button issues of the day, then they are complicit in fueling social injustice.
The insistence of many that all of us need to continually speak out about almost every social issue and make official statements of sympathy or refutation in the court of public opinion–when, in fact, the courts that God has established have not had a chance to run their due course–is, quite frankly, wearing me out. I suspect I’m not alone.
The strong insistence of those who press Christian leaders to speak out on any given social issue is fundamentally flawed by virtue of the fact that many of us simply don’t know enough about most issues in order to make educated, timely and necessary statements. It is a very dangerous thing for finite creatures of limited intelligence to behave as though we are infinite beings of unlimited intelligence.
This past summer, a number of individuals insisted that I was complicit in a police shooting when I did not speak out about the evil of such an injustice. I can understand someone leveling that charge against an eyewitness or against someone who was withholding pertinent information. But to tell someone sitting in a living room 800 miles from the incident–who knows virtually nothing about the situation or those involved–that he isn’t loving his brethren unless he speaks out against an injustice is itself an injustice. It is the injustice of placing a biblically unlawful burden on the conscience of another.
Many feel compelled to watch more news, read more pertinent books, research related cases and further educate themselves so that they can knowledgeably speak out and finally absolve themselves of the charge of functional complicity. But is this the right response?
Years ago, John Piper was speaking on the subject of sleep. In that talk, he emphasized that when we attempt to live without sleep we are ultimately trying to become like God. Sleep is the great equalizer. Ultimately, all of us need sleep. We can’t live without it. Sleep is one of God’s ways of reminding us that He is the Creator and we are the creatures. As Psalm 121:4 reminds us: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” The very thing we often want to claim for ourselves is only true of God.
I can’t help but wonder if this urge to watch 24 hour news and to read article after article on a particular social issue is not only an attempt to become a more informed individual–it is a way in which we seek to have such comprehensive knowledge as to render a judgment on everything. It may be that we are simply seeking to do that which belongs to God alone. In the face of a particular human injustice, it may be incumbent on us to speak out. But it can also be just as right to say, “I don’t know. I hope justice is done, but I eagerly await the verdict of the courts and ultimately the verdict of God.” It’s liberating to admit our limits.
Jesus did not speak out against every single social injustice with which He was confronted. On one occasion, a man came to him to dispute a matter about his brother and an inheritance that their Father had left behind. Instead of speaking to that particular social injustice, Jesus said, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you” (Luke 12:14)? He then went on to warn the man about the dangers of harboring covetousness in his heart. Was Jesus wrong for not pronouncing judgment on the social injustice of one man withholding a portion of a father’s inheritance from his brother? Was Jesus complicit in that injustice? None of us would ever dare say such a thing.
As I have been preaching through the book of Revelation, I have been struck by the fact that all of the evils that men think they can sneak past the courts of men will be finally and fully called up at the great judgment seat of God. Those wicked schemes that we pressured one another into speaking about (even in ignorance) will be dealt with by the one who knows all, and who will in no way acquit the guilty.
This doesn’t mean that we are to be indifferent to issues of social or moral injustice. This doesn’t mean that we are to be complacent or fatalistic about evil. But, it should help foster in us a bit of humility and a sense of our human limitations.
Brothers and sisters, let’s make sure that in our zeal for the execution of justice, we don’t fasten burdens around the necks of others that we and they were never meant to carry. There comes a point where the destruction, death, and evil of the world around us can begin to take a very tangible toll on our hearts and lives. In light of our limits, and in light of God’s very own place as the ruler and righteous judge of the universe, we have to be willing to place the injustices and evils of this world into the hands of Him. Let’s make sure that our attempts to be guardians of justice is not an attempt to claim for ourselves what ultimately belongs to God alone.
If you’re burdened by the evils of the world, I want to encourage you not to respond with either conscience binding expectations or with frustrated indifference or fatalism. Rather, I want to encourage you to learn when to sleep and when to let the world rest in the hands of our Father who always knows what is happening, and who always knows exactly what He will do about it. After all, “the Judge of all the earth” will do what is right.
Adam Parker is the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church (www.pearlpres.com). He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Assistant Editor of Reformation 21.