The Connection Between Truth and Justice


Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8


Imagine a Super Bowl where the entire game is dictated, not by what actually happens on the field, but by the referees. They give one side a touchdown, even though no one crossed the goal line. They move the ball back 20 yards for no good reason. After a while, there’s no more reason left to play the game.

I’ve heard there have been a few referee decisions that were almost that bad. Remember the 1985 baseball World Series, KC vs. St Louis? Maybe you’ve heard about the 3 umpires. The first one says, “I calls them as they is.” The second one says, “I calls them as I sees them.” The third one says, “They ain’t nothing until I calls them.” I’ve got a huge problem with the mentality of the third guy.

Or imagine a courtroom where no attempt is made by the judge or the jury to determine the facts of the case. It doesn’t matter what happened. I like the defendant. I think the complainant is a jerk. End of case. What kind of justice is that?

Truth matters! Truth and justice are inseparably linked. We cannot have justice unless we can establish what the truth is in any given situation. And we live in an age where truth is as hard to nail down as Jell-O, an age where people think that truth is whatever is “true for me,” or that truth is simply a product of whoever holds the shotgun or whoever can shout the loudest, lobby the longest, or manufacture the most sympathy. Without truth, forget about justice – power is the only game in town.

Truth can be extremely hard to find, or at least hard to recognize when we find it. In a case like Herman Cain versus his accuser, how do we figure out who’s telling the truth? The FHA is accused of carrying $54 billion more in losses than it can withstand. The FHA says it’s not true. How do we know whom to believe? We talk about how big is the federal debt – we’re just taking somebody’s word for it, and who knows what the truth is? (I haven’t personally counted the money!) We even debate the truth about the health care law, which is right there on the Net, but it’s so big, who’s actually read it?

Until lately, society has been relying heavily on science to nail down truth for us. What’s scary is that now we’re hearing more and more reports of scientists faking their data, from red wine to repressed memory research to global warming. Decisions on carbon emissions with trillion-dollar price tags have been based on data that appears to have been manipulated. The latest reports are that while CO2 is still going up, temperatures have been falling since 1998, and we may be in for the coldest weather since the 1600’s. Truth matters!

And yet, some truth remains between the ears. The presbytery comes in to investigate problems in a church, or a new pastor comes in and inherits a mess. We hear all kinds of stories about what happened, and they can’t all be true. The last pastor was a jerk. The last pastor walked on water. This person or that person got ripped off by decisions that were made. We try to figure out what really happened, but often we find that it doesn’t matter what really happened. Perceptions become reality, even if those perceptions are false. Unless you can prove them false, you are stuck with perceptions.

What does God say about the relationship between truth and justice? Here in the Law of Moses, God says, “Do not spread (literally: lift up) a false report.” Both in the Iron Age and the age of the Internet, people can lose huge amounts of money and business due to false reports. False reports can devastate a business. They can drive down a stock price. They can knock a candidate out of an election. That’s why we have companies like Reputation Defender and Reputation Rhino, to protect people from that kind of damage. Truth matters!

That’s why this verse goes on to say, “Do not help a wicked person by being a malicious (literally: violent) witness.” False witness is often an act of violence. Verse 7 says, “Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.” Back then, you could easily, literally slay an innocent person with false testimony. Today, it’s usually livelihoods rather than lives on the line. God says: Don’t use falsehood as a tool of literal or economic violence.

Verse 2 – “Don’t follow the crowd to do wrong.” Don’t let the crowd fool you into thinking that truth and justice are calculated in numbers, because the crowd can be very wrong. “When you give answer concerning a lawsuit, do not twist (justice) by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in their lawsuit.” We hear the folks in the Occupy movement trashing the 1% – I thought we weren’t supposed to bash minorities! Justice should not be based on class warfare of either kind.

Verse 3 goes hand-in-hand with verse 6: Don’t play favorites for or against the poor. Usually, in the ancient Near East, the poor couldn’t leverage enough clout to obtain justice. It was the duty of the righteous to come to their defense. Yet the Law of Moses also warns against the opposite danger. Discrimination against the poor can end up being replaced by reverse discrimination, which is what I call equal injustice under law.

Verse 8 says “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted, and reroutes the words of the righteous.” Bribery in the Third World does not always involve paying someone to break the law or change their mind on a legal ruling. In some cases, it’s like tipping an underpaid public servant or paying a higher rate to the Post Office to deliver your package faster. But God rejects the use of gifts to blind people’s eyes to issues of truth and justice.

What about the use of money in politics? It depends on how it’s used. It’s OK to use money to get your message out, to influence public opinion, to proclaim the truth (as we see it). I object to using money to buy the votes or support of public officials, to blind their eyes or reroute their words or their actions, to influence them to do evil.

Truth matters, immensely! People deserve truthful information about matters that critically affect their lives, like what’s in the food they eat and the water they drink, or how’s their money being handled by Social Security or the Federal Reserve, or who exactly are these people we elect to office.

I believe our news media have been guilty of downright malpractice by their failure to tell us the whole story we need to know. The public’s right to know is not well served when the flow of information is controlled by one political party, regardless of which party. That leaves us no better off than the Soviets were with their state-run news media. The Soviets had 2 newspapers, Pravda (which means Truth) and Izvestiya (which means News). As the old saying used to go, “In Pravda there is no izvestiya, and in Izvestiya there is no pravda.”

How do we figure out which sources of information to trust in today’s world? Without telling you where I go to get information, here’s my advice. Watch and see: who gives you only half the story? Who has to backtrack the least when all the facts come out? Who ends up having to admit more of what the other side was saying all along?

Truth matters, immensely! It makes a huge difference in our lives, whether it’s threats to our health, threats to our money, threats to our system of justice (whether it still works or not), threats to our environment, or threats to our nation’s survival. Truth is the only way we can establish justice, the only way we can right the wrongs in this world. And God is the only one who knows the whole story. Only God knows the score. Only God always knows whose case is just. No one can hide the truth from God. No one can fool God into believing baloney.

God is truth.  God puts the lie to the claim that truth is whatever is “true for you.” Some truth is absolute. That means that some truth cannot be changed by wishing it away, that’s just the way it is. Some truth is timeless and universal; it doesn’t change with the times, it doesn’t change when you cross a border. Because he is in the flesh, Jesus Christ is truth packaged in a person. He is the One who knows our secrets. He is the One who knows what is just. He is the baseline by whom we will be judged.

God knows the truth about us. And Jesus says that one day God’s going to do the world’s biggest Wiki-Leaks document dump. He says in Luke 12:2-3, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” It’ll be broadcast on the evening news for all to hear. It will be the ultimate “Oh, (expletive deleted)!” moment.

God knows enough dirt on us to drive us to our knees. And I’m not talking about some notorious sinner whose life is a mess; I’m talking about you and me. If we look in the right mirror, none of us can claim to live a holy life. None of us can claim to be “good” as God defines it. All of us desperately need a Savior.

That’s why Jesus spells eternal relief. Jesus came to take away our guilt, to take away that humongous pile of evidence against us and nail it to the cross. You can go home from here today with the confidence that your sins have been permanently taken away. We cannot be saved by our own goodness. All we can do is receive what Jesus Christ has done for us in faith. That’s the truth that can and will set us free.