The System

Matt, a fine young man I watched grow up, made a comment that got me to thinking. Matt’s heart aches over the current situation in Ferguson; it is broken at the comments expressed by some who cheer the grand jury’s decision not to indict. Matt sees clearly what so many are forgetting, that a young man was killed. There is nothing to cheer in this, one way or the other.

What jumped out at me in Matt’s comments was: “…read the comments of way too many white people desperately holding on to the lie that the system is fair.”

“The system”… how it developed is a discussion for another time. What touched me is Matt’s underlying heartfelt plea that the system might be “fair.”

I suppose what we view as “fair” is different from one person to another. In my youth I dated a young lady who thought every time she did not get her way, it was not fair. But at the root of it all, most of us see fairness as the system working the same for me as it does for others. When I coached high school football and wrestling, I quickly learned that regardless of what the rule book actually says or does not say, the best I could hope for was that the refs called it the same way for both sides.

God laid his own view of this down, telling Israel, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:15, KJV) In other words, call it the same for both sides.

When we speak of “fair,” we’ve entered the realm of justice. Loosely considered…

  • Justice means each getting what (s)he has coming, generally in terms of reward or punishment coming, with an eye toward equitable treatment in comparison to others.
  • When talking of Mercy, loosely speaking, we’re looking at not getting the equitable punishment we have earned.
  • When we speak of Grace, loosely speaking, we’re looking at getting a reward that we have not earned.

When we insist on “fair,” mercy and grace have left the conversation; we’re talking justice, and in New Testament language, that spills over into righteousness as well. (See Leon Morris,The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross).

The main problem with any system of justice which includes man in the process is, man is not God. At best we can only hope for a generally, or crudely shaped justice. By involving imperfect people in the system – no matter how good the system is – the best we can hope for is an imperfect justice, but we’ll generally take that over no justice at all.

God knows all and knows how to judge all; he also knows that we are not him and does not hold us accountable for lacking omniscience in our rough attempts to bring about a just system. He knows our limitations and calls us to a Standard far above the worldly standard. And while holding us accountable for judging righteously, still, he recognizes our limitations. When we render judgment, whether upholding our part in the system or as one who judges the system and its results, we will also feel the pressure of Matthew 7:1-5 in rendering such judgment.

Only God can judge in perfection, without limitation. Until the appointed “day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by” Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31), when all the wrongs will be righted – until that day the best we might attain is a coarse attempt at providing a just system.

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