Justifying the wicked
Imagine for a moment freely handing your credit card over to a friend and giving him free reign to spend as much as he wants. Your friend might consider you a kind person, and perhaps you would feel good for a moment about extending kindness to a friend. But you would likely be a little less thrilled at the end of the month when the bill arrives. You would find yourself paying not only for your own expenditure, but also for that of your friend.
Let’s pretend now that your friend is one whom you trust implicitly. You handed him your card in good faith. You knew that he would be responsible in his spending. He promised you that he would not spend more than he could afford to pay you, and you believed him. But as you scan the bill at the end of the month it is quite clear that he spent far beyond his means. You experience that sinking feeling in your stomach because you know that, no matter how much you protest, the credit card provider will assume that you approved of the expenditures and will hold you liable.
As you read that, I imagine that you are immediately identifying a host of issues with the proposed situation. Likely, you wouldn’t just hand your card over. If anything, you would go with your friend and swipe the card yourself. You would check carefully beforehand what he intends to purchase and ensure with absolute certainty that he is able to cover the payments. Knowing that you will be held liable for what is spent on the card, you would be very careful about approving what is purchased on it.
All things considered, the illustration probably falls a little flat. No one with any amount of discernment would give bland approval to irresponsible spending if he knows that he will be held accountable to repay the debt. How foolish that would be.
And yet I am afraid that we are all too often guilty of doing precisely what we can clearly see is so foolish—albeit in a different realm altogether.
The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that God will bring to account everything we do: “God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). But we can go further, because God will not only bring every deed into judgement, but also “every careless word” that we speak (Matthew 12:36). Every word, thought, deed and motive will be brought to account on the day of judgement. The mechanics of what this will look like are not made clear in Scripture, but the fact that it will happen is crystal clear.
If this is not sobering enough, Scripture takes the matter one step further. God’s call to holiness is so serious that Scripture frowns not only upon “those who practice” evil, but also upon those who “give approval” to evil (Romans 1:32). Stated another way, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15).
In the age and the culture in which we live, these are words that we must take to heart. And it is not always easy. Just ask the Christian baker who faces legal sanction because she believes that using her creative abilities to bake a cake for a same sex wedding is tantamount to justifying the wicked. Ask the Christian photographer who faces legal action for refusing to photograph a same sex wedding for the same purpose. Ask the Christian father who faces vitriol from his daughter for refusing to approve of her marriage to an unbelieving man.
Sometimes, Christians are called to live with the consequences of refusing to give approval to evil, of refusing to justify the wicked. In fact, in the world in which most of us live, we are called upon to do this almost every day.
I am thinking here about our interactions on social media. Social media is ubiquitous in the world in which we live. It is precisely that ubiquity that often presents Christians with the temptation to call evil good and good evil (see Isaiah 5:20).
Barnabas Piper calls social media the place “where common sense and decency go to die.” One way in which common sense—sanctified common sense—often dies on social media is when Christians unthinkingly like or favourite posts without giving thought to what they’re doing. It can often be a reflex, but it is something to which we really ought to be giving great thought.
Think for a moment that you liking a post or photo, or favouriting a tweet, is visible to anyone else who can also see the post or tweet. Think for a moment that your liking or favouriting a post or tweet sends a message to all who can see it: that you approve of what was just posted or tweeted. And then, before you click the magic button, ask yourself, is this something of which I should be approving as a Christian?
Social media is simply an extension of our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. Our Christian testimony should be as consistent on social media as it is in the four walls of the church building. Think about that tweet you just favourited. Would you express approval if that thought was uttered at the next church service you attend? Or consider that photo you just liked. Would you express approval if it was replicated in the walls of your church building on Sunday? Do you give serious thought to the things that you approve by liking or favouriting or sharing them?
If we will give account to God for every idle word that we speak and every idle thought that we think, and if God warns us against approving evil, should we not give very serious contemplation to the things for which we express approval on social media?