Is Social Justice Biblical?

Social justice is defined as “the redistribution of resources and advantages to the disadvantaged to achieve social and economic equality.” The aim of social justice is to tear down all distinctions between social classes and income disparities so that all are financially and positionally equal. Another has defined social justice as “the ability of people to reach their full potential within the societies in which they reside.” Notice, that definition says “ability” not “opportunity.” Some versions of social justice seek to redistribute resources, but not equally. Those in the lower classes would be given more to help them reach the level of the upper classes. The redistribution of resources by taking more from the wealthy and giving more to the poor is a key component of social justice.

God is deeply concerned with justice. God is described “a just God” (Isaiah 45:21) who requires His people to “do justice.” (Psalm 82:2-3; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1; Micah 6:8). However, Biblical justice is far different from social justice. In short, the Bible is not concerned with equal outcomes, or even equal opportunities. Income inequities are a non-issue in Scripture. Biblical justice is concerned with protecting individuals, especially the weak, from abuse (Leviticus 19:11-14), fairness in business (Proverbs 20:10, 23) and punishment of evil doers (Proverbs 18:15; Leviticus 5:17).

The Bible holds every person responsible for their own decisions. Social justice treats people as a group. It assigns group guilt and looks for group solutions. Personal liberation is achieved through group liberation. The Bible teaches that each person will stand before God and be judged according to his own works. (Revelation 20:12) Condemnation and salvation is individual. “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20) The salvation God offers is not the salvation of a system or a group. Salvation is personal. Romans 9 denies that any person is condemned for being a member of a particular group or is saved by being part of a particular group. Instead, God puts no difference between any people group. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

The Bible does not teach forced equality of outcomes. Instead, Scripture teaches charity and generosity, but not financial or positional equality. In Israel God provided compassionate means to care for the poor. He gave the Jews certain laws that required charitable actions. The Israelites were commanded to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor could come in and harvest food for themselves. This practice should be significant in the discussion about social justice. The landowners were not required to evenly distribute their profits to the poor. The government did not confiscate the land’s produce to distribute it equally to all citizens. The poor did not receive a gift of grain. A small portion of the fields were left for the poor to labor in so they could earn their food through their own efforts. Those who did not labor were not given food. God commands His people to be compassionate (Deuteronomy 15:7) and He shows special care for the poor (Proverbs 14:31), but the Bible does not teach that inequalities in condition or income are wrong.

Biblical justice does not insist upon equal outcome but upon equal treatment of all under the law. Israel was to have the same laws for foreigners as for those born in Israel. In other words, immigrants and citizens were under the same law. This same law put equal responsibility on the immigrant and the citizen. Immigrants were not exempted from obedience to the requirements of Israel because of their immigrant status. (Numbers 15:30) They also were not denied justice because of their status. (Exodus 12:49) Immigrants were protected from harassment and oppression. (Exodus 22:21) Everyone in Israel was to be treated the same in punishment and protection, regardless of their national origin.

Social justice believes the social status of the individual should be taken into account and benefits given to members of the lower classes. The laws of Israel make a specific point of teaching that wealth and status must never be a factor in dispensing justice. Judges can not take bribes. They must not rule in favor of the rich because of their influence. Judges must not show favoritism toward the poor. The difficulties of a person’s situation never justify their breaking the law or gain them advantage in the eyes of the law. The poor ought not be awarded a judgment because they are poor. To give preference to one because of their financial condition is injustice. (Leviticus 19:15)

The laws of Israel are an excellent case study on God’s views regarding justice in a society. Since all the laws given to Israel were given by God for the governance of His chosen nation, then the reasonable conclusion is that Israel’s law is God’s definition of social justice. God’s justice does not match modern conceptions of justice. This does not mean God is unjust. God is perfectly just. His instructions on justice ought to be considered justice, not the definitions of critical theorists. We need to correct our definitions of justice to bring them in line with God’s justice. “Shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4:17)

The Bible is generally unconcerned with income and class distinctions because the wages of sin is death. The reality is that every person has a brief life on this earth. What matters most is not that poverty be eliminated. What matters most is that God has provided everyone the same opportunity for forgiveness of sin and eternal life. The greater need is salvation. That has been provided. Jesus gave up the vast riches of His glory to become a man and suffer the penalty of sin for humanity. His gift of forgiveness is available freely to all who believe Him. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The redistribution of sin and righteousness is the redistribution we should be most concerned about.

For more on social justice tune in to 92.7 FM on Sunday, September 26 at 9:30 AM to hear Everlasting Truths Radio.

Are Ghosts Real?

Ghost stories are for many people a cherished part of childhood. Ghosts still attract a lot of attention today through reality shows which follow the investigations of ghost hunters and paranormal experts. Some surveys have suggested that as many as half of all Americans believe in ghosts.

Ghosts stories become serious when people speak of beloved family members who have returned to offer comfort or guidance. This kind of ghost story is found all around the world. Many cultures have stories of ancestors whose spirits remain in contact with the living. Several of the major Oriental religions and nearly every tribal religion believes their ancestors are still present and interact with the living. Since belief in ghosts is so widespread, is that not proof ghosts are real? Does the Bible say anything about ghosts to help understand this topic?

The Bible teaches that every person has an eternal spirit. Genesis 2 tells how God breathed into man to make him a “living spirit.” From that point onward the Bible treats man as a physical creature with a spirit which continues to exist after the death of the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:7) The Bible teaches that the spirit departs at death (James 2:6), but it never indicates that the spirit of the dead remains on the earth. Instead, the Biblical picture consistently teaches that when this life is over so is the person’s interaction with the earth and the living. At death the body goes into the grave and the spirit goes directly into heaven or hell (Luke 16:22-23; Phil 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). Consequently, whatever strange things the living may see or feel, they are not the spirits of people consigned to remain on the earth.

If ghosts are not the souls of the dearly departed then what is the explanation for the unearthly phenomena seen by people? Many ghost stories can be attributed to emotional agitation. Grieving family members often see everyday events, like a bird perching nearby or a gentle breeze through the garden, as the actions of the spirit of a loved one who recently died. Such events need have no ghostly origin. Birds perch, breezes blow and butterflies flutter on a regular basis. These everyday events only gain significance when a grieving person associates them with the memory of a with a departed loved one. Such attributions prove nothing about the reality of ghosts. Many of the other experiences of ghosts are nothing more than strong emotions. Feelings of fear, nervousness, agitation or excitement are just feelings. They prove nothing about the existence of ghosts. The cause of those feelings may be nothing more than overworked imaginations.

Stories of moved items, damaged property or manifestations of a dead person present a more difficult challenge to explain. No certain answer can be given. Two plausible explanations can be suggested which do not require the existence of ghosts. First, unknown physical forces may be the cause of many mysterious movements. A shelf that suddenly falls over may be the result of nothing more than a weak leg that gave way, or an unnoticed vibration in the house which caused an already precarious shelf to topple. Second, though people do not become ghosts when they die, spiritual creatures do exist. These spiritual creatures are able to interact with the physical world. The Bible speaks of angels and demons involving themselves with the affairs of this world. Demons are described as inhabiting people and causing them great harm. (Matthew 17:15-18) Possibly demonic influences are the cause of some of the phenomena attributed to ghosts. Possibly certain demons afflict a location for the purpose of terrorizing or deceiving people.

In the end, no matter what strange experiences a person may have had, the Bible teaches that death ends a person’s involvement with this world. All explanations for unfamiliar phenomena have to be filtered through the Biblical teachings about life, death and the afterlife because the Bible is the only reliable source of information for what happens to a person after death.

If the Bible forbids drinking, why does it mention people drinking wine?

A reader recently asked the question, “Why is wine mentioned in the Bible when wine drinking is forbidden?” Below is a portion of the answer given.

The fact that the Bible talks about people drinking wine does not necessarily mean it approves of such behavior. Many actions are described in the Bible which are not necessarily approved by God. For example, the Bible never records a rebuke or condemnation of David for having multiple wives, but we know from other passages that his polygamy was a sin. (Deuteronomy 17:15-17) The fact that the Bible describes people drinking alcohol does not necessarily mean it approves of such behavior or encourages Christians to practice it.

The Old Testament Hebrew word and the New Testament Greek word that are usually translated “wine” are generic terms. Both Greek and Hebrew words refer to drink made from grapes. This drink could be fermented grape juice or it could be unfermented grape juice. The only way to know whether it is describing wine or Welch’s is from the context. At times the context is unclear and sometimes we only think it is clear because of our preexisting ideas. For example, in the account of Jesus turning water into wine, most people naturally assume Jesus made a big jug of Merlot because alcoholic wine is often served at weddings today. Who would serve their guests grape juice? Yet, other cultures drank fresh squeezed grape juice. One example from the Bible is found in Genesis 40 when Joseph was imprisoned in Egypt. He met Pharaoh’s cupbearer who told him of a dream in which he squeezed fresh grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and gave it to him to drink. Some of the details of the dream were a bit fantastical, but Joseph and the cupbearer seem to have thought grape juice a normal beverage for a king to drink.

When the Old Testament talks about alcoholic drinks it often uses one of two different terms: “wine” and “strong drink.” “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:31) The modern reader thinks wine is something like Chardonnay and strong drink is something like Vodka. This is impossible. Fermentation can only produce a drink with an alcohol content up to 15%. The only way to get higher concentrations of alcohol is through distillation. Distillation was not discovered until sometime after A.D. 600. The last book of the Bible was written over 500 years before anyone made distilled liquors. The Bible never speaks of any alcoholic drink stronger than the strongest naturally occurring alcohols. Therefore, strong drink is not 150 proof Whiskey. Strong drink is full strength wine with an alcohol content of, at most, 12-15%.

History and archeology also show that in ancient times alcoholic wines were commonly diluted before drinking. The usual ratio of dilution was one part wine to 3-5 parts water. This means that in Biblical times the average alcohol content of wine (not strong drink) was the same or less than that found in the average beer today. The wine drunk in Biblical times was not the same as the wine commonly drunk in America today.

I believe the Biblical warnings about alcohol are strong enough that no one should drink distilled liquors or modern day wine. When the Bible discusses the merits of drinking alcohol it almost always presents drinking as a course of action filled with many dangers. Without a definitive Biblical prohibition I cannot say the Bible forbids all consumption of alcohol, but I would warn those who drink low alcohol beverages, such as beer or wine coolers, to do so with great caution. In my opinion, the wisest position for the Christian today is to avoid drinking alcohol.

As Solomon said in Proverbs 23, “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.”

Are Christians Forbidden to Judge Others?

Possibly the most widely known Bible verse in America is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” The verse is often quoted when one person declares the actions of another to be wrong. Was Jesus saying that no person should ever tell another person they are doing something wrong?

A recent conversation is a good example of how this verse is commonly used. A man claimed to be “a Christ” and then claimed that everyone who believes also become Christs. He was informed that he was not Christ, Jesus is the only Christ and Christhood is not conferred upon any believers. The immediate response was “Judge not.” Many use the verse in the same way in situations where they feel like their decisions or actions are being attacked. The two words are wielded as if they are a magic shield able to deflect every attack, criticism, question, confrontation or uncomfortable conversation.

To bowdlerize the famous words of a Hollywood sage, “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The Bible says, “Judge not.” The Bible also says. “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) “Try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) “Prove all things.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Each one of those verses requires a judgment that discerns between right and wrong.

If the popular view of Matthew 7:1 were correct, then Jesus Himself would be guilty of violating it’s command. Jesus judged people. He told an adulterous woman to stop sinning. He called religious leaders white washed mausoleums, poisonous serpents and hypocrites. The Apostle Paul judged the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11). Paul also judged Alexander, Hymaneus, Philetus, Demas and various other unnamed teachers. Jesus and the Apostles often committed the cardinal sin of the 21st century. They judged people. They did not violate the command of Matthew 7

“Judge not” is a warning to not judge superficial, self-righteous judgment. Jesus condemned the condemnation of others based upon personal preferences and shallow relationships. The self-righteous, malicious condemnation of another person because they do not meet your own opinions of what they should and should not do is forbidden. The irony of the misuse of Matthew 7:1 is the majority of the people who attack others with “Judge not” or its derivatives are disobeying the command of Jesus. They are guilty of condemning the actions of another based upon nothing more than their own personal preferences. The Bible condemns self-righteousness which replaces the Biblical standard for a cultural or personal one. The Bible commands Christians to evaluate the actions, beliefs and motives of ourselves and others according to the standard of the Word of God. Christians are not forbidden to warn others about sin, call a person to repentance or confront a false gospel. They are commanded to do those things.

Is it right for a Christian to disobey the government?

Diethrich Bonhoeffer was a young pastor in Germany when Adolf Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer believed it was his duty to oppose Hitler. He actively sought the overthrow of the Hitler regime, was implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was eventually put to death for his role in the conspiracy against the Fuhrer. Were his actions against the ruler of Germany Biblical?

The mandates of our state and federal government is nothing like the tyranny or atrocities of Hitler, yet many people today are questioning the legitimacy of the orders imposed in response to the Coronavirus. Lawsuits have been filed and protests have been organized. How should a Christian respond to laws they disagree with or believe to be unconstitutional? This article is not concerned with whether the measures taken are wise, safe or helpful. The question is when a Christian genuinely believes a law to be wrong, hurtful or unconstitutional, how should he respond.

The Biblical answer is much more plain than many would like to admit. The New Testament leaves no doubt that Christians are required to obey the government and every law handed down by that government. 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

The words of the New Testament were written to Christians living under the dictatorial rule of some of the worst rulers history has ever know. The Caesar’s were incompetent, insane, indifferent or corrupt. The entire system of the Roman government was incredibly corrupt. Officials were willing to issue any edict they thought would promote their own wealth and power. Often the only time the power of local rulers was questioned by Rome was if the officials incompetence or greed diminished Rome’s revenue or caused so much hardship that the subjugated people began to protest Roman rule. Despite the wickedness and injustice of Roman rule the apostles instructed Christian’s to obey all the capricious, malicious, excessive, petty or ridiculous laws handed down by their rulers.

The situation in America is complicated by the fact that we are a nation whose government is, “Of the people, by the people, for the people.” We are under the rule of elected governors, legislatures, judges and president. We are also under the rule of the constitution. What is a Christian to do when he believes a law to be unconstitutional? As Americans we have every legal right to protest laws, but the dissenting Christian must still obey the law even while protesting a law he believes to be illegal. The laws of the land provide means to address illegalities, but the commands of the Bible do not permit the Christian to disobey laws with which he does not agree.

The only exception is when the government orders something which would cause the Christian to disobey the clear commands of God. During the spread of the Coronavirus many states forbade all gatherings, including church services. Yet, the Bible clearly commands Christians to not forsake the assembling together with other believers. Many churches continued to gather despite the prohibitions because the laws of the land contradicted God’s commands. When obedience to the law would cause a Christian to disobey a clear command of the Bible then the Christian is obligated to obey the higher law- God’s command. (Acts 5:29)

In summary, the Christian must obey every law, even those which seem unconstitutional. He may use every legal means available to protest the law or see it repealed, but as long as the law is in force it needs to be obeyed. The only law the Christian is not bound to obey are those laws which oppose the clear commands of God.

Can the dead speak to the living?

“The dead are still with us and death is just an illusion. The dead try to connect with us every day. To receive guidance and comfort from them, we only have to be open and aware of the signs they send us.” Mystics and mediums promise they can help people hear from the dearly departed. Many people wonder if the dead really can speak to them. Many claim to have had contact with a deceased relative. Whether it be a touch of the wind on their cheek or a vision of a loved one, they believe they have had personal contact with a spirit. While these experiences offer a sense of comfort, are they real? What does the Bible say about speaking to the dead?

Most importantly, Scripture strongly condemns attempts to get instruction, input or guidance from the dead. Deuteronomy 18:11-12 says, “There shall not be found among you anyone who . . . practices divination or a sorcerer or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” This is not just a command for the Israelites that no longer applies today. All throughout the Bible witches and mediums were closely connected with idolatry. The New Testament condemns all forms of witchcraft and sorcery, which includes necromancy, mysticism and divination. If it were possible for the dead to speak to the living, the living are prohibitted to seek guidance from them.

The dead cannot speak to the living. The Bible describes the dead as no longer able to speak to the living. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “The dead know nothing.” and Ecclesiastes 9:10 says there is no knowledge or wisdom in the grave. Psalm 115:17 calls the grave a place of silence. These verses teach that the dead have no more voice upon this world.

But what about King Saul? Didn’t he speak to the spirit of the prophet Samuel? In 1 Samuel 28 King Saul visits a witch to seek guidance from the deceased prophet. The witch of Endor was genuinely surprised when Samuel appeared. Her surprise hints that she did not actually expect the spirit of a dead man come at her call. This incident is the only one of its kind in the Bible. None should read the description of Saul’s sin as permission to seek guidance from the dead. Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor is specifically mentioned as one of the reasons for his death in battle against the Philistines. Samuel’s appearance to the witch of Endor was a unique event that God allowed to happen for His own purposes. The dead do not possess any ability in themselves to speak to the living.

Everything the Bible teaches about the spirits of the dead shows that we should not expect to hear from them. The Word of God gives clear and strong condemnnation against seeking to contact the dead. These supposed contacts may offer a measure of comfort to some, they are fleeting and ultimately unnecessary. Wer have no need to seek input from the dead. The Bible gives all the comfort, instruction and guidance that anyone needs.

If God is real, why do terrible things happen to innocent people?

One of the great problems many people struggle to address is the presence of terrible evil in the world. Why does God allow tragedies to happen to innocent people? Why do so many evil people go unpunished through life? Why do little children in Africa starve while pedophiles die at a comfortable old age?

These kinds of questions are not contrary to the Bible. Scripture asks and answers them. In Psalm 73 the Psalmist wrestled with why the wicked prospered. He said, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no (pains) in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” The Psalmist was tempted to think serving the Lord to be a waste of time, but he says, “then understood I their end.” The problem of evil cannot be answered without considering the future of wicked people. The prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent is very brief. This does not mean suffering is insignificant. This means the wicked will never get away with their wickedness. The time of evil is going to come to end. The time of judgment is coming. No one ever gets away with anything. The murderer who dies in his sleep at an old age does not get off the hook. He will be judged by God and will pay the full penalty of his heinous sins. God’s justice never fails. Every sin will be fully punished.

But why do evil things happen in the first place? Evil happens because man rebelled against God. Man sank so deeply and so thoroughly into sin that only 1,500 years after the first sin, God wiped the Earth clean with a huge flood. Noah’s flood shows the severity of the problem of sin, and also points to the problem of God’s judgment.

The holiness of God is not limited to hatred of the really bad sins like murder and rape. God hates all sin. Murder is no more deserving of judgment than lying. If God were to remove evil from the world today, all evil would have to be removed. Gossips and rapists, angry men and genocidal maniacs, drunkards and murderers, all will be judged. Which is also the reason God has not yet removed evil from the world.

Why doesn’t God just punish sin now? What is He waiting for? The answer given repeatedly in the Bible is that God will punish sin, but not yet. God delays judgment so some will have the chance to repent. When God judged the world in the flood, the waters did not just destroy the most violent. The flood took away all but the 8 on the ark. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah did not spare those who were not as bad as the rest. God’s judgment will be upon all evil.

Most people do not actually want God to remove all evil from the world. They want Him to remove the really bad sorts of evils, but leave us with the evils we are comfortable with. Sin is not a minor a problem, like a sprained finger. Sin is a cancer that corrupts all creation. The terrible things that happen remind us that sin, all sin, is a horrible curse afflicting the world. God is not overlooking any sin. He will punish all.