If You Can, Must You?

I recently saw “Black Panther” and I must admit that this is probably the best Marvel Movie in my humble opinion to date.  Many are praising this movie, and to be honest, I haven’t read one article or review by others.  These are just my thoughts that the movie brought to my mind.  I am not that deep of a guy, so I would say that this was the main question the movie was asking: If you can, must you?

The plot of the movie involves the Wakunda nation of Africa. They have a mountain of vibranium which allows the people to have advanced technologies, and the king to have the strength of a panther.  The question that continues to be asked is if the country has the obligation to help others less fortunate that they.

I am not going to spoil any more of the movie for the readers, but I want to think through the answer biblically, or at least present a biblical response.

This response flows out of Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” (ESV) .  of course, this raises the question as to whom does our food belong.  Context dictates that those to whom it is due is to our neighbor.  The very next verse says, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it‘–when you have it with you,” (Prov. 3:28, ESV: emphasis mine).  The neighbor is to whom it (the good) is due.

The next question then is: who is my neighbor.  If you’re a believer, you know from where this answer comes. Jesus made it clear that everyone is our neighbor, or at very least, everyone in need is our neighbor.

The only question that is left is to ask if what is true for the individual is true for a nation.   This is a bit trickier, but I believe that the Bible, though not explicit, shows yes.  There is at least precident for saying it is true.

When Joshua was leading the Israelites into Canaan, the people as individuals(and as a whole) were instructed not to take anything. Scan however did take some items. An individual did the deed, but the nation was responsible  “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel,” (Joshua 7:1, ESV).  One individual, one nation.

Another thought is that an individual must follow after Yahweh, but the nation’s are as well.  We see this in the Psalms, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage,” (33:12, ESV).  This verse comes on the heels of verses 10-11 that clearly juxtaposes nations who reject the LORD and those that do not.  Likewise, we as individuals are to receive Christ as Savior and Lord, but we are called to make disciples out of all nations.  (Cf. Matthew 28:19)

I am not so naive as to think that the answer (or at least the implementation of the answer) is so simple.  However, I still would argue for the necessity of a people doing what they are able to help those who are not: their neighbor.  These abilities must also take other factors into consideration.  A person should not be the surety of another, “Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts, (Prov. 22:26, ESV).  A nation should not go into debt for another nation.  However, should one sacrifice for the good of others?  Though we are not under Israelite law, we can learn and apply principles from it.  The landowners could not harvest from the edges of the field and could not pick up anything that was dropped in the field. It was left behind for the poor and hungry.  They had to sacrifice their abundance for those in need.  Should we not as well?  There are still more things that need to be factored in as well.  More than any of us I am sure could imagine.

Let’s say a nation was overtaken by famine and the people were starving. The British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs received the report, but ignored it.  The U.S. Secretary of State received the same report, and thus ignored it too. But North Korea’s minister received the report and sent aid to help fill the hungry people.  Which one of these is the neighborly nation?

I simply go back to Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” (ESV) .

Judgment Without Condemnation

We tend to live in a day and age where “judgment” is a bad word.  If someone used the word, those around seem to have a proverbial bar of soap ready to wash their mouths out.  Yet judgment happens all the time, and judgment can be a good thing.  We judge books by their cover.  We’re told not to, but let’s face it, if we see a book with bright colors and an intriguing picture we are much more likely to reach for it and read it than a book that looks to have lost it’s jacket.  We judge candy bars. I can tell you right now that if a candy bar has coconut on or in it (or pineapple) I will deem that candy bar a product of the devil.  (People tend to think that Adam and Eve ate an apple; I think however it was a pineapple.).   We judge styles and what we will wear.  This shirt or that shirt?  These boots or those sandals?  Judgment happens a million times a day.

Yet, when judgment comes against a person, then suddenly we have that word deserving of a good disinfectant soap.  After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” (Luke 6:36, ESV)?  But the question is really, what does it mean to judge?  Does it mean that we can’t ever make decisions about right and wrong?  Surely not, because we cannot exist in a world without decisions being made.  So what does this mean?

In the context, Jesus just stated, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:35, ESV).  The mercy and the judgment are in contrast to one another.  Mercy is often described as not getting (or giving) what is deserved.  Judgment is giving (or getting) what is deserved.  Judgment, in this case, is similar to the second part of verse 36: “Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.”  It was part of Jewish culture to state something and then restate it in a slightly different way. It’s what is known as parallelism.  One of the easiest examples is from Numbers 6:24-26, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”  These three verses essentially say the same thing (the parallel each other), but they each use different words to convey the same idea.  So when Jesus stated that we are to judge not, he was referring to condemnation.  Rather than give what is deserved (Luke 6:36), we are to be merciful (Luke 6:35).   It does not mean that we cannot call a spade a spade or a sin a sin.

The clearest example of this (and what led to this blog), is seen in John 8.  A woman has been caught in adultery.  The Pharisees and Scribes bring her to Jesus to trap him.  They ask what they should do with her since the law of Moses stated they should stone her.  Jesus knelt down and started writing on the ground.  When they had demanded over and over again for an answer, “he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,'” (v. 7, ESV). Judgment (condemnation) would state that stones should be thrown.  Mercy says, “should I throw a stone as I too am a sinner?”

Here is the key ingredient that helped me out with this idea of judging but without condemnation.  One by one, beginning with the oldest, the accusers (condemners) all left.  It was just Jesus and the woman.  Notice these first three words : “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you,'” (v. 10, ESV)?  Jesus stood up.  He took the very same posture with the woman that he did with the Pharisees and Scribes.  He took the position of authority over both.  He taught one group about giving mercy, and the woman about receiving it.  But when she agreed that no one was left to condemn her, the only one who was able to bring condemnation against her stated, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” (v. 11, ESV).  No condemnation in that sentence.  But there is judgment.  She had sinned and Jesus said as much.  Jesus’ judgment was right; what this lady had done was sinful.  He rightly decided about her state of being: sinful.  But rather than condemn her for being in such a state, he was merciful to her.  He was merciful by not being a stone-thrower and by warning her to stop sinning.

Remember what Micah wrote so long ago:

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God,” (6:8, ESV).

A man who condemns, is a man so full of self-righteousness that he is not even able to do one of those requirements, let alone show mercy.

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” (Matt 5:7, ESV).

That being said…