Our church recently finished a series through the book of Judges. I won’t sugar-coat it: the book does not end well. The last five chapters of Judges depict the darkest moral hours of Israel’s checkered history. Priests are available for hire to the strongest clan. Women are bought, sold, kidnaped, raped, and murdered with impunity. One horror follows another, until the book merely grinds to a halt: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
It’s easy to read Judges and condemn the people for their heinous acts. But we’ve got to realize that we aren’t any different. What we see in Judges 17–21 is just the inevitable result of casting off the rule of God. It begins with re-defining morality, and it always ends with the strong oppressing the weak.
This raises the question for us: who are the weak among us today? Where has our society, in a frantic rush to dismiss the wisdom of God, left a trail of pain and brokenness in its wake?
For many years in our country, the weak were those of minority races. Far too much of our national history has been tainted by the codified mistreatment of Africans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and others. Even today, after many of the overt legal prejudices have been corrected, recent events should open our eyes to see that all is not well. We who are in positions of cultural strength ought to constantly ensure that justice is not being skewed in our direction, because it happens extremely easily. And we ought to empathize with those around us who aren’t the beneficiaries of the same privilege.
Isaac Adams, an African-American UNC student at our church, wrote an article on the anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, urging his white brothers and sisters to at least put themselves in the place of their black neighbors:
“Imagine being white and every cop who surrounds you is black. The cops pulling up in their car to your once-peaceful scene? They’re black, too. You’re the only guy who is white. One of the cops just descended on you. Two of them. Three of them now pin you down. Imagine that. You wouldn’t think twice about if race were a factor?”
“Imagine saying, ‘I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!’ only to have your face further pressed into the unforgiving sidewalk…. [And now imagine all of this in the context of] having seen the slaying of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the memories of situations like Rodney King [or lynchings throughout history]. Might you be even just a little bit weary of the police? A little discouraged?”
What Isaac isn’t saying is that police are bad, or that we should rush to judgment in each of these situations. But he is saying that we in the majority culture have got to consider the viewpoint of others, and to speak up for them like we’d want someone to speak up for us. Because all people—black, white, brown—are created in God’s image and ought to be treated like it.
Who are the weak among us? How about the fatherless? In our country, one in three kids is growing up in a single-parent home. And 80% of the time, that means no dad. In our own Durham County, there are 20,000 kids growing up without knowing the love of a father. That’s a group big enough to fill the Durham Bulls ballpark—twice.
Or I think of the foster children in our area. Wake County has 716 children in foster care, a number that is growing by the day. Many of them bounce from one house to another, constantly feeling like nobody wants them or loves them. And every year, dozens of them age out of the system, where it’s a near guarantee that they’ll end up on the streets.
Don’t kids like these deserve the love of a parent? Are they not also created in the image of God, like my kids? Like yours?
Or I think of the prisoners in our society. I read a study recently about how one of the primary predictors of prisoner recidivism is whether they have visitors while in prison. Unsurprisingly, the more prisoners have healthy relationships with people on the outside, the less likely they are to return to prison. But in this study, 40% of prisoners had no one come visit them a single time. Not family. Not friends. Not someone from a local church. Are they not also created in God’s image, regardless of their offenses?
Or I think, with shuddering, of the unborn in our nation. The recent revelation that Planned Parenthood traffics in the body parts of aborted babies ought to make us ask an uncomfortable question: What does it say about us as a society that we have a use for aborted human organs…but not the babies that provide them? If it’s true that these unborn children aren’t human, then it really shouldn’t bother us if people are buying and selling them. And yet, when the veil is lifted, it does bother us. Why? Because many of us see that children in the womb are, in fact, tiny, defenseless, voiceless humans. And if that’s true, then no justification for their destruction can hold water.
As Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “Without God, all things are lawful. Everything is permitted.” And when everything is permitted, the only person I need to protect is me. In a world without God, only the strong survive. But if there is a God, then we recognize that each person created in his image—and that really does mean everyone—is worthy of respect, dignity, and love.
To get involved with some of the broken and hurting in Raleigh-Durham, click here.
For more from this message, be sure to listen to “Christian Atheism” here.