The Book of Genesis 27-34: This Week In God's Word
The biblical model is Jesus choosing to forego justice. Justice would have not served His purpose. In the end, justice is a terribly limited quality. It is ultimately subjective. Justice often if not usually means “Just Us,” as in, “We are the only ones who are just—everybody else is evil/wrong/whatever.” It is righteousness by exclusion. So much so that now we have more killing, more evil, perpetrated in the name of justice. Justice is cyclical. It ultimately achieves nothing. Which isn’t to say justice plays no role in our lives, but that our primary concern should be growing closer to God and becoming more like Jesus, who left justice to other hands.
I believe His thinking was on a different level because His
awareness was so much more broad than ours. The temptations and
stresses of this life certainly touched Him, but only during
extreme circumstances where His humanity became both a hindrance
and a distraction. His choices were otherwise informed by His
awareness of the bigger picture, having answers you and I can
only content ourselves to wait and hope for. For, if we had
those answers, if we ourselves had visceral experience of such
things unseen rather than hope in them, we’d make better
choices. We’d be more patient. We’d be better equipped to
withstand temptation. But, like Christ Himself, we’d still be
vulnerable to our own transient humanity, which would betray us
and cloud our judgment at times most critical. When we so
desperately need clarity and resolve, we are robbed of both—just
as He was.
I don’t believe Jesus Christ would celebrate the murder of Osama bin Laden. I don’t believe Jesus was all that much concerned about justice. Justice was not His mission. Crime and punishment were not the measure of His ministry on earth. Jesus was wholly unconcerned about the Roman state or the actions of the government. He taught us to obey the law, to pay our taxes, to submit to those in authority over us. But He demonstrated absolutely no nationalism, no flag-waving, fist-pumping pride. It is likely that, while all of that was going on, Jesus would more likely have been in a quiet corner somewhere, engaging some stranger about the Kingdom of Heaven.
I doubt Jesus would have absolved bin Laden of sin and let him go. Had bin Laden repented in earnest, given his life to the Lord, Jesus would surely have forgiven his sins. But He would not have prevented the Roman centurions from taking bin Laden away. Actions have consequences. Our relationship with Christ does not necessarily change our earthbound circumstances.
Genesis 27-34 tells another story about justice.
Twins Esau and Jacob were born at the same time, but Esau—a
hairy redhead—was born first, with his twin Jacob grasping his
heel. Esau was therefore considered the firstborn and entitled
to his father’s inheritance. But Esau was short-sighted and
lacked vision, trading his birthright to his twin brother for,
essentially, a bowl of stew (Jacob must have been a really good
cook). Jacob then tricked their father into giving Jacob his
blessing rather than the recognized elder son Esau. Esau
harbored a grudge against Jacob, and told himself that he would
kill Jacob upon Isaac’s death. (Genesis 27:41) When Esau’s words
reached Rebekah, she told Jacob to flee to Haran and her brother
Laban and remain there until Esau’s fury subsided.
Five chapters and twenty years later, the brothers prepare to meet again. Jacob receives word his twin Esau is approaching, ringing 400 men with him. Jacob shifts into paranoia mode, panicking, fortifying his camp and hiding his children. He bowed to Esau seven times as he cautiously approached, referring to his brother as “My Lord,” and repeatedly sputtering that everything he has now belonged to Esau. There was no question Jacob thought he was about to be killed.
But Esau raced forward to his brother and hugged him, smiled at him, embraced him. Maybe tussled his hair. He was overjoyed to see Jacob again. The old hatred was long gone, a product of youth. Esau foregoes the vengeance, the revenge, that was rightly his. He traded it in for love.
Was justice done? Jacob, having lived in fear and immersed himself in paranoia for so long, could not receive Esau’s love. He made excusers for them to not travel together and did not allow Esau to post guards to protect Jacob on his journey. Jacob’s inner conviction poisoned their reunion and reconciliation as he made a grinning, surfacey attempt to reunite with his brother, but remained convinced it was all a charade, that Esau was out to kill him.
Like most of us Church Folk, Jacob couldn’t get past his own flesh to receive the power of forgiveness. His suffering and continued estrangement from his twin may have been an act of justice, but it was not justice dispensed by Esau—as was his Old Testament right. It was the consequence of Jacob’s own conscience and his choice to be a con man, a liar and a thief.
This week read Genesis chapters 27-34 and meditate on the differences between justice and revenge.