When the Judge is Crooked–Ecclesiastes 3:16-18

What happens when a high-schooler publicly insults the assistant principal on social media? When this happened in Judge Mark Ciavarella’s courtroom, the offender was sent to a juvenile detention facility. The problem with this “tough judge” was that he was receiving kick-backs from the owner of the for-profit detention facility. That might be the sort of thing Solomon had in mind when he spoke of “wickedness at the place of judgment”:

I also observed under the sun: there is wickedness at the place of judgment and there is wickedness at the place of righteousness. I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work.” I said to myself, “This happens so that God may test the children of Adam and they may see for themselves that they are like animals.”

Ecclesiastes 3:16-18

Lest we within the church grow too full of ourselves as we look at the corruption in government and justice systems, we need to remember that lots of bad things, not all of them newsworthy, have taken place on the church’s watch. From the unfathomable sin of sexual abuse by a senior pastor to the church member swiping a box of pens from the supply room, the “wickedness at the place of righteousness” is all too real.

Where are the hypocrites?

Hypocrites can be found in courtrooms and church-house for a very simple reason. People go to those places. There’s wickedness everywhere.

  • The climate advocates who fly around on private jets.
  • The free immigration advocates who build walls around their houses.
  • The actors who preach being happy with the simple life in multi-million-dollar roles.
  • The bank that claims to be on your side until you really need their help.

And of course there is hypocritical wickedness in your heart as well. At least I assume there is since there is such stuff in mine. And before you start judging me, we need to remember that the Apostle Paul had the same problem in Romans 7:15:

For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.

Why is everything such a mess?

Turn on the television news–something that I almost never do willingly–and you’re almost sure to see some story of incomprehensible wickedness. Again, it could be a woman being shot when she tried to break up a fight, a bunch of idiot adults brawling at a kids’ baseball game, or vandalism of the World War I memorial in Kansas City.

These stories leave a lot of people shaking their heads and asking a pointless question: What would make people do something like that?

What WOULD make people do something like that?

I called that question pointless because we all know the answer. People do unpleasant stuff because they are sinful. In the verse before the one quoted above, Paul provided a solid answer: For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold as a slave to sin.–Romans 7:14. Specifically, we’re slaves to

  • Pride
  • Covetousness
  • Lust
  • Anger
  • Greed

That’s five of the “seven deadly sins,” and I’m pretty sure that gluttony and sloth cause some of our public wickedness as well, but they’re just not quite so active.

Just like in Solomon’s day, the flesh is “under the sun.” As long as we are “under the sun” and in the flesh, we’re going to see this wickedness.

Getting in Tune

Rather than shaking our head at the wickedness we see around us, we need to acknowledge what this text says. We are like animals, and similar, although perhaps less visible, wickedness abounds in us.

Your prayer should be that God will more and more reveal your wickedness and help you to overcome it. If millions of Christians were to take that seriously, then the contrast with the Judge Ciavarellas of this world would become more pronounced and perhaps they’d not get away with their wickedness quite so long.

Bernie the Millionaire?

Have you heard the latest? Hero to the millennials and democratic-socialist icon Bernie Sanders has made a startling confession. He is a millionaire. People on the right–and that’s where I typically see myself–have been having a field day pointing out the supposed hypocrisy of this thing. The item below is typical of some of the Twitter sentiment.

Let’s do a little bit of math. As a U.S. Senator, Sanders earns, this year, at age 77, $174,000. I assumed that he’s been working since age 25 and that his income has risen by about 3% annually. Then I assumed that Bernie has prudently set back a very conservative 5% of his income since day one. Over those 50-plus years, his savings would have accumulated, earning, let’s say, 6% per year, and, wonder of wonders, crossed the million-dollar threshold just this year.

I earn considerably less than $174,000 a year, and I set back a good bit more than 5% each year. If I earned the sort of money that Sanders is bringing in, even ignoring his book royalties, then I’m sure I’d be socking away considerably more than my suggested 5% amount.

The wonder of things, I would suggest, is not that Bernie Sanders is among the ranks of the millionaires. The wonder would be if he weren’t there. Of course it seems that his books have made him a great deal of money. Will we fault him for that? Should he have intentionally written bad books so that no one would buy them? I suppose he could donate his royalties to some charity, but he would still have the income.

So far, this post has not been terribly spiritual, but I share it because of the problematic things I encounter on social media from solid Christian brothers and sisters. When we get into that political realm, all that stuff about love and forgiveness seems to fly out the window. I see it on both sides of the political spectrum. Sweetness-and-light liberals become ravening savages when they speak of President Trump, while rock-solid conservatives want to disembowel Nancy Pelosi.

Stop it! We will disagree. That’s okay, but we need to continue to disagree together. In Galatians 2:11-12, Paul shares this intriguing tale:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. 

So Paul and Cephas (Peter) disagreed. How did they work out this issue, which they apparently did since they worked together later in life according to tradition? They were apparently able to do it because they stayed in touch. How else could Paul oppose Peter to his face unless they were still speaking?

Sarcasm and blame-fixing is beneath a follower of Jesus. Yes, we will disagree about the matters of this world. That’s completely acceptable, but if that disagreement places a wedge between us, then both parties lose. If we take seriously Jesus’ instruction to “seek first the Kingdom,” let me suggest that it’s not found in snarky social media.