“Don’t Judge! Just Accept!” A Modern Fairy Tale

As a young westerner, I grew up with an almost genetic revulsion against judgment, and hope for world reconciliation. What’s the secret to loving your enemy? Don’t Judge. If educated people to talk things out, forgive, forget and accept, then the whole world would be one grand Coca-Cola commercial.

Early on in my faith I heard Christians speak sweetly of the Psalms. They sounded like Biblical rose garden, so I decided to waft in every delicate scent, slowly reading one a day. Instead of roses, I found a repugnant trash heap of judgment, vindication, and hatred. 18 days in, I was ready to be done. The Psalms utterly insulted all my western sensibilities about judgment, love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Within the first 18 Psalms God laughs in derision at his enemies (2:4), hates evildoers(5:5), whets his sword (7:2), destroys whole nations (9:5), and sits in judgement (17:1). As if that wasn’t enough, King David demands violent vindication (17:2), arm breaking (10:15), and justice against his enemies (3:7). The list could go on. All this divine justice could only lead to one thing: more senseless violence and unrest in the world.

I thought we needed a peaceful, unjudgmental God! But the Psalms, like Jesus, “did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). That deeply disturbed me. As Christians we can chose to ignore these verses or disavow them as Old Testament nonsense. But there’s a third option: take God’s word seriously, and try to see if it makes more sense than the western worldview. What if God’s judgment actually enables enemy love, rather than squelch it?

A voice from outside the western world might be helpful in answering our question. Tim Keller refers to Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf on this topic. Volf argues that the western view is out of touch with the real human experience. He writes in Exclusion and Embrace,

Imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? [Because God doesn’t judge?] I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword…It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

Volf’s point is this: westerners are living in a fairy land. Our coddled existence is justice-saturated. If McDonald’s coffee is too hot, we can sue. If someone steals our property, there’s just recourse to reclaim it. If someone is wrongly imprisoned, we can make appeals. These developments are spectacularly novel in the history of the world (and arguable flow from our Christian heritage). Western justice is (mostly) good, but it’s not available in most the world. So when most westerners make assumptions about how to solve other nation’s problems, it’s not from a non-western context. It’s from our own context. And that leads us to invent solutions that could only work in a fairy world.

Consider racially charged blood feuds in countries like Libya. Consider, like Volf says, that your brother and father were murdered, and your sister and mother raped. Now arrives the westerner with his fairy tale solution: just drop your guns, talk, forgive, accept and find peace. How would you respond? You would probably laugh and wonder, Accept murderers and rapists? If I drop my gun, who will protect me? If I drop my gun who will bring justice?

A just God may appear laughable to secular Americans, but a just God looks like salvation to a justice-deprived people. When justice vacates life, a perfectly righteous, all-knowing, all-powerful, and heavenly judge is great news. “And he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness” (Ps. 9:9). Rejoice.

Like Volf says, it’s only the Biblical doctrine of divine justice that frees us to love our enemies. Only if God promises to justly judge, can I lay down my weapons. If I know one greater than myself judges and punishes, then I can leave vengeance to him. I need not seek it on my own terms. I can love my enemies, only because I know justice will come. The non-western world’s longing for justice is not hatred or evil. It’s simply what westerners have, take for granted, and then criticize others for desiring.

That’s a message even westerners need to hear. Next week I’ll look at three practical ways that God’s justices frees us (even westerners) for enemy love.

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