Human Rights Put God's Name at Stake

Now that I've caught you off guard, and hopefully earned your ear, let me make the case that our noble crusades for justice may in fact disgrace the Name of God, for which He is fiercely jealous...

Much of today's rhetoric regarding justice and human rights attributes such values to God's character and will. Understandably, we take God's greatest commandments to us--love God and love others--and infer infinite possibilities of how we might "love our neighbor." For if we knowingly allow injustice to happen to our neighbor--and we are indeed in a position to prevent or counter it--then we are failing to love him/her. This line of reasoning is then extended as far as the imagination can stretch, and increasingly so as globalization emerges as an inescapable reality for all of us. It is extended into government: We are obligated to participate in government, because government presents opportunities for relief of the oppressed and a platform for preventing mass chaos not unlike what is presently happening in the Middle East (and such mass chaos brings mass suffering). It is extended into military action: We are obligated to participate in the military, because military action is required to impose a threat to totalitarian regimes which otherwise would commit holocausts day after day, year after year (a military who never uses violence to substantiate their threats will quickly be found out). It is extended into liberation movements of all types into what is termed "liberation theology": We are obligated to participate in all efforts to liberate every man and woman who is under any type of oppression (By the way, punitive measures for lawbreakers does not constitute oppression unless it becomes "unreasonable" for the crime committed).

With this in mind, it should follow that God is at least as adamant about fighting injustice today as we are, and has been since the creation of mankind (or at least this is what we imply when we fight injustice in His name). And if He has been and continues to be at least as abhorred by human injustice as we humanists are, then it follows that He would act and give instruction in such a way as to reflect this, from the beginning of time until now. I would like to examine, for a moment, the evidence for or against this.

A few days ago, I read Exodus 21, which immediately succeeds the passage which records God's giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. The chapters following Exodus 20 contain extensions of the Law. They are the standards to which all of Israel had to adhere until the New Covenant era instituted by Christ (which was the fulfillment of that Law). In other words, these were not obscure regulations for a select group of people in a short window of time. They were the norm for God's people throughout history, pre-Christ.

A couple of these laws strike a dissonant chord with the liberation theology espoused by a majority of contemporary Christian thinkers. In Exodus 21:2, God begins relating the laws to Moses concerning slavery: "If you buy a Hebrew servant..." Stop right there. God had the opportunity right from the get-go to set the record straight with regard to slavery. If the practice of buying, selling, trading, and exploiting human beings for personal gain was abhorrent to God, He had the power and authority to ban it right then and there. God's failure to ban slavery in Exodus 21 indicates one of two things: Either (a) He ordained that slavery should happen, that it was the most beneficial method of agricultural labor available to fallen humanity (similar to the way he ideally opposed human government, but ordained it because of the need for it to bring order to a fallen world), or (b) He did a wicked thing by neglecting to utilize His power and authority to prevent the institutionalization of one of the most heinous forms of injustice known to mankind.

As if that's not alarming enough, in verse 7 He instructs: "If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do." God fails once again to prevent a horrendous injustice, according to our standards. All He had to say was, "Do not participate in the buying and selling of slaves. This is detestable in my sight, for I have created all men and women equal." But as is, we are stuck with a delimma. He is either in favor of slavery, even selling one's own children into slavery, or else He is horridly cruel for giving commands which indicate this. There is no other alternative (If you feel I am painting a false dichotomy, please read the text I am referencing for yourself and come up with a solution for this delimma. I should be relieved to learn of legitimate alternatives). And if there is any inclination that the work of Christ and New Covenant in the Church finally set the record straight with regard to human rights, then we are still left pondering the Apostle Paul's command for slaves: "Obey your masters." And even if Paul had commanded Christians outright to rid themselves altogether of the practice of slavery, we would be stuck with a form of heresy which was present in the early Church, where Christ supplanted God as a "new God" with "new rules".

Before I go any further, please note that I have not staked out my position on this. I'm merely exploring the options available for us so as to better discuss the implications of each on present day Christian liberationism and egalitarianism.

Keeping with the nature of God's attitude toward human injustices such as slavery, let us look now at how our preoccupation with human rights may actually put God's name at stake. First, we need to know whether this is of any import. How exactly does God feel about His name? Allow Him to speak for Himself:

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Exodus 20:7)

"Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exodus 34:14)

"...you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 18:21b)

"...anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death." (Lev. 24:16)

"If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." (Deuteronomy 18:19-20)

"If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name--the Lord your God--the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses." (Deut. 28:58-59)

"For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people." (1 Samuel 12:22a)

"He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." (Psalm 23:3b)

"I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols." (Isaiah 42:8)

"For my own name's sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off." (Isa. 48:9)

(Italics mine)

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture. God is terribly jealous of His name. Every act and command of God aligns with the purpose of propagating, protecting, and glorifying His Name. He most certainly is not going to slip up and say or do something that would cause it to be profaned among the nations. His name is above reproach, and as such, we should be above reproach as carriers of His name.

How then do our liberation efforts in the name of God jeopardize the glory of that name? To start with, we pin God's words against Him. We cite Micah 6:8 ("do justice, love mercy") and Matthew 22:38-40 ("Love the Lord...Love your neighbor") over against passages like Exodus 21, 1 Corinthians 5, Ephesians 5 & 6, 1 Timothy 2 & 3, and so on. We say that these are inconsistent with love for our fellow man, and we very well may be right. However, in condemning slavery, women's omission of ordination for eldership in the Church, exclusion of unrepentant brothers from the fellowship of the Church, and other "unloving" practices, we make God appear to contradict Himself, thus profaning His name.

In conclusion, I simply do not know how to reconcile this apparent contradiction. I do not feel a sense of admiration for a God who condones slavery and oppression of any kind (again, excluding punitive "oppression"). But neither am I able to cling to the passages that paint a picture of a loving, impartial, humanistic God at the willful ignorance of passages like Exodus 21 which paint a different picture. The question I am left with--and I hope you are able and willing to work with me on formulating an answer--is, Is there any way to reconcile these seemingly contradictory paintings of God? Must we choose one over the other? What would it look like if we chose both?

I must confess, that I am madly in love with this God. I do not believe that He should be subjected to our standards (which are always lower than His), however noble they may seem to us. He has, however, revealed His standards to us in the Bible--Old Testament and New. Because of my love for His name and my desire for it to be honored and revered, I long with great intensity to dispel the confusion surrounding issues like this one. Even in the midst of my love for God, I am conflicted by scriptures that seem to me to demonize God. I want to be able to read His word and say with confidence, "That's why He said this or did that!" when I come upon a difficult passage. But currently, I am unable to do so with regard to this particular issue. That's why I need you to share what insight God has granted you as you have encountered these same struggles. We're in this together. The forum is open. My conclusions are not drawn. It's your turn to enter the arena. What do you have to offer?

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