Biblical Justice vs. Worldly Justice: Avoiding the Scapegoat Mechanism


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Job's accusers were well aware of his innocence.

I am currently reading Douglas Wilson’s Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, and I was particularly struck by a chapter that focuses on what Wilson calls Christ’s “inexorable love.” The chapter’s fundamental argument is that Christ’s love is widely available to humanity and cannot be suppressed by natural forces.

Wilson begins by discussing the common approach that paganism has taken to achieving justice, namely scapegoating murder to achieve serenity:

Pagan civilizations have always been built on the bedrock of scapegoating murder — this kind of turmoil is managed until it gets to a crisis point, and then everyone wheels on the designated victim. After the murder of this victim, everything becomes tranquil again…For the carnal man, this is the most natural thing in the world. Accusation equals guilt, and condemnation for him equals salvation for us. (emphasis added)

But Christianity also has its fair share of scapegoating, so what’s the difference?

From beginning to end, the Scriptures stand squarely against this pagan mentality — the mentality that is always serene and self-confident about the guilt of the designated victim. Think of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused. Think of Job, falsely accused by Satan in the heavenly courts and by his so-called comforters here on earth. Think of all the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah, son of Berechiah.

As we can see, Christianity is told from the perspective of the victim rather than the accuser. In addition to this, the victims are almost always innocent and are understood to be so by their accusers — a significant departure from paganism. On this point, many of Wilson’s arguments echo those of René Girard (see The Scapegoat). As we all know, Christianity’s history of scapegoating climaxes with the ultimate (and finally redeeming) murder of innocence — the crucifixion.

But in addition to finding individual redemption through the cross, Wilson also offers a few words about using the cross as a launching point for properly understanding justice itself. Yes, false accusers will judge innocents. Yes, we are redeemed from such accusation through the cross. But from our earthly disposition, who is the accuser and who is the (wrongly) accused?

As previously noted, it is entirely natural to assume that “accusation equals guilt.” In the United States we have the presumption of innocence, but as we all know, it is quite difficult to maintain the purity of such presumption when we start hearing the dirty details. It is in our very nature to doubt and judge others.

Wilson’s point is simple: We need to avoid our natural, worldly assumptions about who is guilty and who is innocent and constantly think about how God views each situation. This is difficult because we like to lump people into neat little categories that are materially comprehensible. To take an example from economics, Karl Marx based his entire manifesto on a generalized, materialistic dichotomy (proletariet vs. bourgeoisie).

Wilson cautions us to avoid such hasty accusations, taking a few examples from the Bible:

Another important detail we can see in the Scriptures is the fact that the divide is not between prince and peon, but rather between the accuser and the accused. Sometimes the accuser is a slave girl (think of Peter), and sometimes the accuser is a prince of the people (think of Caiaphas). Sometimes the accused is entirely defenseless (think of John the Baptist) and sometimes he is the king (think of David). The issue is biblical justice versus worldly justice, always.

Indeed, this is quite similar to the judicial disinterestedness encouraged by Leviticus 19:15:

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

So how can we properly discern? How can we as fallen, natural beings hope to properly understand justice in our own lives without falling into the typical paganistic cycle of the past? As I’ve mentioned before — and much like our individual redemption — such discernment is impossible without proper justification through the cross and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that must follow.

Heaven Misplaced by Douglas WilsonWilson agrees:

In the resurrection, Jesus finally and completely crushed the head of the lying, enticing, accusing serpent. The resurrection of Jesus is therefore for our own justification (Rom. 4:25). This is not condemnation — it is only condemnation for those who cling to the old satanic order, which is teetering.

And here’s the kicker:

The cross is a scandal to worldly justice because worldly justice is a scandal to the ways of God.

Observing the material realm may at times be beneficial in our quest for justice, but if we are really concerned about ultimate justice, it it is imperative that we begin with the cross and follow by listening to the Holy Spirit.

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  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/24485658619 Remnant Culture

    Humans love to scapegoat and falsely accuse, but how do we overcome such impulses & achieve Biblical justice? http://bt.io/G0Cf

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/24590706781 Remnant Culture

    @douglaswils I'm still reading it, but I have some comments on Heaven Misplaced here: http://bt.io/G0Cf

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/25247503978 Remnant Culture

    Too often we confuse Biblical justice with worldly justice. How do we distinguish the two? http://bt.io/G2rb

  • Pingback: Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom Now, Apocalypse Later «Remnant Culture