The elephant in the road

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:19 NKJV).

On a rural road in South Asia, our van was stopped by an elephant and its “mahout” (trainer/driver), and a toll was demanded of us. Toll roads and bridges are not uncommon there but they are normally collected by people with official authorization operating from booths. This was obviously private enterprise. It was also obvious that the business had some significant support from influential people. No common person could maintain that process without such backing.

We often use the phrase, “the elephant in the room” to mean a subject which is obvious but is overlooked or ignored by those present. Perhaps no such matter better fits that description than public corruption in our societies. Such corruption is no doubt more prevalent in some places than others, but nowhere is it absent entirely. And it is always more common in cultures of toleration. When people are willing to accept dishonesty and pay the demanded bribes, corruption thrives. And the honest and non-powerful always suffer.

Biblical morality is marked by its absolute intolerance of corruption. Bribery, theft, cheating of all kinds, and all lying are frequently and emphatically condemned. Isaiah pled with ancient Israel: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17). Another prophet, Amos, condemned those who “sell the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals. They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor and pervert the way of the humble” (Amos 2:6-7).

In the New Testament Paul taught, “Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor . . . Let him who stole steal no more . . . Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:25-29). Among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God are thieves and extortioners (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Perhaps it is because widespread corruption is empowered by tolerance that God is so emphatically against those who “call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). In his description of the utter depravity of the world, Paul concluded with the charge that “knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).

God’s people are urged to shine light upon a darkened world, that is, to expose sin and uphold righteousness. When they do that, the oppressed are freed, the dishonest are restrained, and God is glorified.

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