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“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
In this past Sunday’s sermon on justice and community, I challenged people that any ideology that seeks justice by dividing people into groups instead of emphasizing what unites us is not of God. As Christians, we believe that in two main things that unite all humans: first, that we are all created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect, and second, that we are all sinners, rebels against a holy God, out of step with His design for us and in need of salvation. With these two truths framing the way we see each other, we can avoid much of the pride, anger, and division found in cultural conceptions of justice.
One of the most powerful stories I have heard regarding the second truth, that we are all sinners, was something I heard in a Tim Keller sermon. In 1983, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes interviewed a man named Yehiel De-Nur, a survivor of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. Twenty-two years earlier, in 1961, De-Nur had testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the men primarily responsible for the holocaust. When De-Nur had entered the courtroom to testify against Eichmann, he had started to sob uncontrollably before collapsing. The judge had to restore order in the court after the commotion that ensued.
In the 60 Minutes interview, Wallace asked De-Nur what he had been feeling there in the court. Was it post-traumatic stress? Rage? De-Nur answered by saying that when he walked in and saw Eichmann, he suddenly realized that he was no demon. He was not a superman either. He was an ordinary human being, exactly like De-Nur. And suddenly De-Nur became terrified about himself. He told Wallace that he realized that he was capable of doing the exact same things.
In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus tells the crowd that anyone who has ever been angry with his brother has committed murder in his heart. According to Jesus, the seeds of murder exist in all of our hearts. If we grew up in an environment that watered those seeds through false teaching and twisted values, we might do the exact same terrible thing as Adolf Eichmann.
Why is this important to consider as we think about how to do justice in this world? Any ideology or justice movement that seeks to divide people into different groups and then label or demonize one group as worse than the other is not of God. That kind of tribal thinking has always been deadly, whether it is the Germans and Jews, Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, whites and blacks, or any other man-made division. The gospel proclaims that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Paul is clear in Romans 1-3 that no one has any reason to look down on anyone else. We are all in need of the salvation offered in Jesus Christ.
In your desire to see justice in this world, do not fall prey to ideologies that divide people and feed our tribalistic tendencies. Rather, seek the unity, love, and respect found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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