Background Scripture: Exodus 23:1-3,6-9
Quotes of the Week:
"It seemed there was no end at all to the lies a person could tell, once she got started."
Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Where in the world is there injustice? It is everywhere. In fact, our world seems to be spinning more and more out of control, with injustice rampant in many places. There is the oppression of cultural and religious groups throughout the world. There is widespread economic and social inequality. In the St Louis area, where Berkley and I live, there has been so much unrest leading to senseless killings of innocent people - certainly unjust. People will disagree as to which types of injustice are the most egregious, but I believe that everyone would agree that there is injustice in our world. Injustice can be so broad that it impacts an entire people group or as a small thing that impacts an area of a person's life.
On a personal level, injustice often occurs when we don't stand up for what is right and turn a blind eye to those around ourselves that are hurting unjustly. While there are all sorts of injustice in our world, this lesson and the associated passage explicitly deals with injustice in legal matters. Have you ever wondered how different the court system would be if people simply told the truth, especially in the context of a court?
Berkley and I are fans of Law and Order, given that reruns seem to be running all the time. I find some of the stories creepy (especially some of the SVU shows), but the storylines do tend to grab you. Often, they end with you feeling greatly unfulfilled, because there really didn't seem to be closure. In each of those shows, there are multiples of courtroom scenes. In the course of events, people on the stand lie, either to protect their own position or to cause harm to others. Perhaps the show wouldn't be so compelling if everyone just told the truth, right?
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul wrote that believers should not be having lawsuits among one another. However, believers are engaged in lawsuits from time to time.. Certainly, if they can be avoided, they should be. If it comes down for a believer to have to be in a lawsuit, you would hope that the foundation would be built on truth. Unfortunately, there are cases where even believers have so blatantly lied that it only lines the pockets of attorneys, causing financial strain on all parties and ending up doing nothing but lead to greater relationship issues. If we must be involved in any sort of lawsuit, we need to clearly understand what God would have us do.
Exodus 20:16 states "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" as the commandment against perjury. The Mosaic law required two witnesses and if they were found perjuring, the sentence would go against the one bringing the charge. It could easily result in the loss of life, and today, perjury in courts cost literally millions of dollars. We have seen many high profile court proceedings in our day and many cases of perjury. I like to follow sports, and unfortunately sports and lawsuits have become very closely tied together, based on terrible behavior of athletes and performance enhancing drugs. You likely remember Lance Armstrong, the winner of seven consecutive Tour de France races. For years, he vehemently denied the use of any drugs, but eventually reversed course and admitted doping in January 2013. In his wake, he ruined the reputation of many others when he repeatedly said that they were lying. Sadly, he is not the only athlete who has followed this pattern and this issue of lying under oath is not just about athletes.
In many lawsuits and motions that may be filed today, you will see words such as the following - "The undersigned, being duly sworn upon his/her oath, deposes and states that the facts and matters stated in the foregoing motion forů. are true and correct, according to his/her best knowledge, information and belief". Some people will gladly sign their name under these types of words even when the allegations that they are bring are without merit and completely false. If the case is legitimate and based on truthful circumstances, it is one thing, but when the motions or charges are clearly based on false allegations, how can anyone, especially a believer, sign under those words?
In Exodus 23:1-3, we read that we are not to spread false reports or to pervert justice when giving testimony in a lawsuit. Would you think that we would even have to be told this? Even though we all know it is wrong to lie, we have all told a lie at one point or another. However, you would think that when we signed court documents or put our hand on a Bible and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we would in fact, be truthful. Unfortunately, many people have made false allegations against others, with full knowledge that what they were doing was wrong. Why do they do this? It could be because they're mad at someone or haven't gotten what they feel they 'deserve' or perhaps they believe the other person/people will cave rather than deal with the courts. The reasons are limitless but happen far too often.
This passage also speaks to others who blindly follow the crowd. This isn't necessarily talking about bandwagon fans in sports that don't care until a team starts doing well and then jumps on board. This passage is talking about the false reports that may be brought by others. As believers, we should be focused on the truth. We should not be helping a guilty person by being a malicious witness or follow the crowd if it is doing wrong. Sometimes, people show such blind allegiance to a person that they will believe whatever they say without even bothering to find out if it is true or not. Have you ever simply believed what you were told, even if it didn't seem true, simply because someone you trusted told you? Have you ever thought that perhaps you should take what you hear with a grain of salt and do some investigation on your own? Ask questions, stay objective and diligently seek other people to confirm the facts as they have been told to you. Too many times we realize that two plus two isn't equaling four, yet we choose to believe what we've been told and ignore some obvious questions.
Problems are compounded when someone is involved in a lawsuit and others just assume that what they are hearing from one party must be the truth. We should support one another, but when the person you are supporting (a close friend, a parent, a sibling or a child) is lying, we are not called to blindly support them in their lies, but help them to understand that what they are doing is wrong. How would you feel if someone took you to court based on a whole series of false allegations and your friends (and perhaps even family) simply assumed you had done what you were charged with, just because it went to court?
There is a false assumption made that courts would simply not allow people to get away with making false charges against others. The misconception that one must present 'evidence' before they can file charges is simply not true, and unfortunately this problem is running rampant in the courts across the country. The courts have allowed themselves to become a form of harassment all in of themselves, by allowing these types of behaviors to occur and not sanctioning (legal form of punishment) the one who made the false charges or the attorneys who knowingly handle their cases. Instead, innocent people are forced to defend themselves at an exuberant cost - both financially and emotionally. Can you even for a second, imagine having someone charge you with something, that they know you didn't do? Then, instead of making the accuser provide evidence of the accusations to the court before the charges are ever formalized or things move forward, you are forced to defend yourself, and against what - nothing but lies. In the end, the only truthful evidence will show that you were never the one in the wrong. And far too often, nothing is ever done to the one who made the false allegation to begin with. Does this seem upside down to you? Do you see the damage that can happen? When something seems to ring untrue and we just blindly believe what someone says, in effect, in the end we are as guilty as the one telling the lies.
Once again, justice should be based on the truth of a situation. We are told in verse 8 to not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. When someone has to be paid to believe a story, the story is being twisted. Additionally, in verse 9, we read to not oppress a foreigner. The Israelites knew what it meant to be a foreigner in Egypt, and they were to remember the way that they were treated so that they would take care to not treat others that way. Truth should be truth and should not be obfuscated by who is involved or any bribes.
You will find that people often try to excuse or justify their lies, especially when they are lying about another person. Some people are exceptionally skilled at coercion and manipulation, and they will often try and turn the tables to make it look as if any 'wrong' action they make is the fault of someone else - in other words, "they made me do itů.I had no other choice". Some people will lie freely about other people and effectively murder their reputation. When there are false allegations about others in lawsuits, they are forms of abuse and abusive people often look for any way to excuse or justify their behavior. If you find yourself making excuses for telling lies about another person (in or out of court), you have effectively created your own issue, which is your problem, and not the problem of the person you are lying about.
This lesson goes beyond lying and tells us that we are not to give false witness in court. The court is meant to ensure that justice is carried out. Whether we like the legal system or not, we know that it is needed in some cases. When we have been wronged, legally, the court is there to protect us and our rights. However, if we bring false allegations against other people or if we lie in responses to questions while in court proceedings, we are serving an injustice and make a mockery of the court system. Is this how believers should behave?
If you've ever been involved in any sort of litigation, it's not usually a fun time. But if you've found yourself on the end of false allegations - you may personally understand the utter helplessness, anger and frustration one feels when someone is allowed to levy un-substantiated claims against them in a court of law. I find it hard to imagine that anyone would think that those actions are fair or right. But furthering that anger is the fact that the accused has to defend themselves, and when others simply choose to believe that the charges or motions are true, the situation is compounded. Unfortunately, no evidence must be presented to the court before motions or charges can be legally filed. While we are certainly no experts on the law or the courts, we all have seen a number of cases that leave us shaking our heads and asking, "How can this be happening in a court in the USA?" We have an assumption of how our courts and the law function, and unfortunately, they are often times quite the opposite of what we expect.
So if you know someone, or know of someone who is being taken to court, don't rush to convict the accused until you have weighed the evidence for yourself. We should all strive to seek the truth - no matter what. Regardless of the one bringing the charge or the one being charged, the truth must be precious to us and sought after at all costs. As believers, we should be above snap judgments and we should certainly be above lying about others, but we should certainly not be the ones escalating those lies into false charges in our courts. When we have done wrong, we should be willing to deal with the consequences. If we believe that we will somehow get even or make our situation better by bringing false allegations against another, we are effectively promoting injustice. Whether or not you have been personally involved in court proceedings, we are all called to promote justice.
We are called to love one another and support one another, but we are to do so in truth. Supporting the propagation of lies divides people. It's really this simple - when speaking, tell the truth - and when listening, find the truth.