Power and Privilege

Our Supreme Court wrapped up another year with some decisions that evoked concern or celebration, depending on a person’s convictions. Yesterday, 5 of the justices struck down a Louisiana law I thought was reasonable. But, I am not a judge, nor would I want to be. What a weighty position. Judges, from the Supreme Court all the way to a local municipal court, are entrusted to administer justice, to apply the law. They are supposed to be non-political, capable of discerning the facts of a case. She is to resist the demands of the mob as well as her own emotions, acting without bias.

Many people think that judges are like Judge Judy and those other ‘judges’ that are part of so-called ‘reality’ television.  We may find their outbursts amusing. The truth is that an emotional demeanor is not the ideal for a person who is entrusted with decisions that shape the lives of others, that hand down sentences.  Partiality and quick judgments may be entertaining, but this is not actual justice.

Now, why am I talking about this?  Because, my Christian friend, like it or not, you and I have a place of great responsibility in the world, given to us by God Himself.

Go with me to a Psalm that the Spirit inspired, words that must to convict us to act as God desires. The 82nd Psalm speaks to the people of God. The words are a compelling reminder of a weighty responsibility that is part of that privilege. Without some help, the message of the Lord can be lost in translation from the Hebrew to our English language.  Here is the Psalm of Asaph.

“God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the “gods”:
“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

“They know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
“I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’
But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.”
(Psalm 82, NIV)

Let’s work to understand this text.  God addresses His people, (the great assembly) who were to represent Him and His justice on the earth. They are given the place of ‘gods,’ not the clearest English translation of the Hebrew word– elohiym  (el-o-heem’). It is a word which has multiple meanings. Elohiym is one of the OT titles of the Lord God but it is also a word used of princes, judges, or angels. The context shapes how we understand the meaning.  In that opening line, we read it used both ways:  God (Elohiym- the supreme Lord) has entrusted His people to be judges (elohiym) on the earth.

In that sacred responsibility they are to take up the cause of those who are without resources to defend themselves, administering the justice of the LORD GOD. “Defend the cause of the weak…. Maintain the rights of the oppressed … rescue the needy.”  But, God says that instead of showing insight and discernment, they have chosen to ignore the plight of those for whom they are to care. They have chosen to ‘know nothing,’  and as a result the world has descended into chaos.

The Lord reiterates His declaration about their great place of privilege, to administer His justice on the earth, a privilege that comes from their calling as His own family. He then tells them that they have failed miserably and therefore He has revoked their calling, consigning them to ‘fall like every other ruler.’  Here the Hebrew changes word for power and place, from elohiym to a word that speaks only to a place of earthly royalty, rather than divine commission.

The closing line becomes a prayer of response that turns to God to give justice, to remember that we all belong to Him. Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.

Truthfully, I find that Psalm disturbing and pointedly applicable to my life right now.  God asks me (and you, my Christian friend) to act on behalf of those who have known injustice, oppression, and deprivation. We may be tempted to turn a blind eye, to retreat into the safety of our churches. In all the chaos, with all the propaganda that is thrown at us from every side, with the fury that fuels anything but a calm environment in which to ponder the most godly response, we are to act as representatives of the High Court of Heaven. It is a daunting commission, isn’t it? Like Paul, I ask “who is equal to such a task?”  

There is an assurance that we can do this.  Look! “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, NIV)  If we humble ourselves before Him, if we die to the impulses of our emotions, if we lean hard on the Spirit, He will make us competent.  “Oh, Lord,” I sigh, “this is a hard thing that You ask of me.”  But, it is a high and holy calling.

Quiet your heart. Focus your mind. Know Him.

Here is a word from the Word.  Spend a few moments soaking your mind in this truth and pray that God will make you a just judge, a person who represents Him well.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ  … this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:3-6, 9-11, NKJV)

_________

Abba, my God, each day brings more information about a world in chaos.
It is so hard to know what is true, what is right, Lord God.
Holy Spirit, secure my heart in You, settle my mind on Your truth.
Make me fearless in pursuit of Your cause, Your justice,
regardless of the pressures of the culture.

May I not just follow the loudest voices or the road that leads to
the approval of the crowd, but rather walk in Your path which is life and health and peace.
Jesus, You are my hope, my help, my security.

Teach me to give of myself, as You did,
‘seeking not to be serve, but to serve’ for Your glory.
Remind me often that the judgment that matters is not
what is handed to me by mere mortals, but that which
is wholly right in Your eyes. Amen.

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