Christians ought to have an acute sense of right and wrong. It stands true that many are losing this outlook on life; after all, this is the age of tolerance. Lately we have been taught that there are no absolutes, that our truth is not really the real truth, and therefore we have to be constantly seeking for “the other person’s truth.” A whole generation of indifferent, watered-down Christians has arisen with no deep convictions about anything except the accepted norm that you should have no convictions.
I grew up under a different set of values. I was shown, from the Bible, that there were certain things that were clearly right and others that were equally wrong. I learned that this applied to attitudes, as well: some were commanded while others were condemned. Often learning through painful experience, furthermore, I saw that the Bible was silent about some things. In these cases “right” and “wrong” had to be discerned through an interpretation of time and cultural context, as well as one’s testimony, rather than obtained from direct propositions. These “rights” and “wrongs” were also important, but, being subjectively asserted, they had less weight than the objective directives of the Bible. Some room had to be left for a constant and charitable examination of the other person’s point of view. I also learned the difference between descriptive historical passages and prescriptive doctrinal exhortations. Thus, I was kept from the many religious pitfalls that I saw displayed in the lives of several strange people who God allowed to cross my path.
This sense of right and wrong leads one to a keen perception and love of justice. It should be natural, in a Christian’s life, that he or she would reflect as closely as his sanctification allows, God’s justice and holiness. It is significant that one of the marks of the ungodly or of the apostate, is that they are “unfaithful in their contracts” (Rom 1.31—covenant-breakers, KJV). So, Christians should be faithful in their dealings. They should keep their word, hating lies and loving truth. They should refuse to watch and accept, with quietness and modern life asepsis, the mistreating, bartering, slaughtering of the young or helpless, wherever it may occur, whether in the streets of New York, in the hills of Bosnia, in the deep jungle of Burundi, or in the Middle East, under the cruelty of Islamic radicals. They should strive to be examples and promoters of justice with their actions and words, without any trace of pride, but based on the fact that we are all servants of the Almighty God of Justice. Perhaps this is why we are called “contenders for the faith” (Jude 3), meaning that we are engaged in a constant battle where evil tries to establish itself as the standard of conduct, contrary to God’s ways. We should never allow, in the areas placed under our responsibilities, that the situation described in Isaiah 5.20 should reoccur, but rather cry alongside with the prophet denouncing those who: “call evil, good; darkness, light; and sweetness, bitterness.”
We are called to display these convictions, and to defend right against wrong, on many fronts: in our school, in our work and even in our church and ecclesiastical fellowships. But, perhaps, in no other place is this task as difficult to perform as in our own home. I am not considering cases where the willful promotion of injustice is served. I am not talking about husbands beating their wives, mistreating their children or neglecting their material support. I am not thinking about child abuse or exposition of pornographic material in the home. To these clear violations of God’s standards, He has spoken abundantly in His Word, and judgment will befall upon the violators of His commands, in both a temporal and an eternal manner. The question that I am considering is when we, sincere and God-fearing Christians, are called upon to act as a judge in our day-to-day lives, by members of our immediate family.
The matter may seem trivial, but it isn’t; it happens more often than we realize. As fathers and mothers God has placed us in a position of authority over our children. In this respect He expects us to impart knowledge of His person to our offspring, as well as to represent Him as far as reflecting his standards of justice (Deut. 6.6-9; Psalm 78.1-8). The shelter and care that we are supposed to provide, go alongside with the sense of security and protection that should be present in the lives of our sons and daughters until they grow up and mature into taking their own initiatives and having their own convictions. They should be comfortable in coming to us not only for sound teaching, but also for protection and vindication of their rights. Those of large families, and some of small ones too, know very well that everlasting harmony is an ideal far from being reached continually in a Christian home. There are fights and strife. Sin takes its toll, confiscating peace. We are certainly called upon, uncountable times, to mediate fights and to reestablish normal relationships. This is also a demand for the identification of sin—where is it occurring, who is displaying sinful behavior, who has the primary responsibility, who has to be protected and who has to be disciplined. We don’t think of ourselves too much under this capacity—as judges, but the calling comes, more frequently than we would like. Failure to adequately address these issues will demean the figure of the father and mother in the eyes of the children and will harm the lessons they intend to give. No matter how good the intentions, if the practice of parenthood is not up to God’s standards, the spoken words will suffer in efficiency. As someone has said, “what you are speaks so loud, I can’t hear what you say.”
Below are some of the reasons why the task is so difficult and why we fail so often as God’s representative as rightful judges in our families:
1. Sin does not come in isolated chunks. Were it possible to easily isolate and identify a specific sin, our task, as judges, would be made easier, for we could then deal with that sin, and with the sinner, in a proper and swift manner. But real life shows this to be a rare case. Sin has a way of contaminating and spreading itself beyond the original occurrence. Actually, the Bible speaks of it almost as having a life of its own—from conception to birth (James 1.14, 15). In a home incident, the identification of sinful behavior in one single member of the family, is a frustrating and, many times, an impossible task. We are all too familiar with the shout: “He started it!” But a sinful action many times provokes a sinful reaction. Not always do Christian values and guidelines take control of our responses before these erupt, especially in the lives of the younger ones. Often deep regret settles in, afterwards, but much harm has already been done, in the mean time. So, if “someone started it” and someone else reacted, it is easy for us, confronting a chaos of sinful behavior, to simply come down hard on top of the whole brawl, distributing equal punishment to all. Even though sin is sin and all of it is abhorrent to God, we find in the Bible diverse degrees of gravity attributed to different sins and various kinds of punishment for them. The Westminster Confession of Faith, while recognizing that any sin is opposed to God’s holiness and subject to His wrath and judgment (Ch. VI, Sect. VI), also acknowledges that there is a gradation of sins (Questions 150 and 151, of Larger Catechism). Are we trying to discern that or do we indiscriminately and uniformly apply our own distorted version of justice?
2. We are slow at hearing and quick at talking. Many times we speak too soon. We think that we already know the answer and we proceed to sermonize. We should, instead, think of hearing in the sense of a court of justice (In judicial terminology a hearing is what takes place before the judgment. In it the judge hears the preliminary assessments of the case that will be tried. It establishes the ground work upon which judgment will be effected, after the trial.) Also, we often fail to realize that our children have difficulty expressing thoughts in a logical pattern. They do not always have the exact vocabulary to convey their facts and feelings. We are, sometimes, overtaken by impatience. Many times we say, “I don’t want to hear any more about this”, when there was need for some final words that were going to be said. We often leave our children frustrated in their communication. By doing so we proceed to judge without pertinent data, often confusing sermonizing with discipline, frequently addressing ourselves to a different issue than the one that was the occasion for the dispute. Harsh and wrong judgments can be the consequence of our impatience. We forget that God is “slow to anger” and that long-suffering is one of His attributes and a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5.22) that must be present in our lives.
3. Our quest for justice clutters the vindication of the right. This could be the other extreme position. If we have the Biblical vision of our duties, we fear promoting injustice. Many times we want to thoroughly search all angles, examine every corner, but in doing so we probe too much, and suddenly the innocent party becomes guilty by pressure. “OK”, we say, “you were wronged, but perhaps, possibly, you also did something wrong that caused the other person to react this way”. We are so aware of the universality of sin that we do not want to furnish any excuses for our children. Also, we do not want to be overprotective. These are well meaning counter reactions to a society that excuses the wrong, that is quick to judge, that sees some as saints and others as sinners, based on family bonds and not on God’s standards. But we have no sanction from God to wrong the right and to be lenient with the offender. I cannot help but think of David and how he fled to God, exposing his cause and pleading with him to vindicate his problems, against his enemies (Psalm 86.14-17; 140; 142.5,6; 143.1-9). Our children should be able to come to God in the same manner and they should also be able to expect wisdom on our part to rightfully judge with love. We must be aware, without encouraging self-righteousness, that they can be right, wrongly pulled into a fight, slandered, intimidated and bullied. If we are not careful we may promote insecurity and give to our own a permanent sense of failure—if when problems arise and they turn to us, they are never right, even when they actually are. Have you ever had a child come to you, and say: “Dad, why am I never right?” Do they have the security, freedom and comfort to come to you and ask questions such as this?
4. Unwarranted reliance on time. “Time will take care of it”. With this we brush aside the urgent need for intervention. Nothing serves injustice more than slow justice. In the secular world, the slowness of due process of justice has been a matter of grave concern; most of the time criminals are not swiftly punished, and the ones falsely accused suffer unjustly. There is no reason that we should expect time to heal things in our home. The Bible gives us no warrant to expect inactivity from our part to be a solution of sinful situations. It commands us, even when the sinful action is sighted at the other end, to take the initiative in the contact, starting up the healing process (Matthew 18.15-16). Tardy discipline is as ineffective as no discipline at all. Are you passing on to “time” the responsibilities that are your own? Are you just seeking the easier path of non-confrontation, when action is demanded, by God’s precepts?
There are no quick steps to instant wisdom. We should all be aware of these difficulties and constantly ask God to accompany us during these trying times. At the same time, we should be conscious of the imperceptible harm which we may be causing our children and our family when we fail either to assume the role of judge-in-the-home, or when we improperly perform our duties under this capacity. On many occasions it will be we ourselves, imperfect regents, who will be the ones that will have to cry for mercy, saying “I am sorry, forgive me,” to those that we have wronged, and to the Perfect Judge, our Lord Jesus Christ.
F. Solano Portela Neto