I don’t watch Bill O’Reilley, though I do occasionally catch one of his .... well... interview thingees, say, when it shows up on the “Crooks and Liars” website. Some of my friends do admit to watching him, though when asked about it, they respond, “Well, it’s not like it’s news or anything, but it is entertaining.” I suppose. One wonders if the man has ever had a basic course in logic, but I digress.
Well, on the aforementioned website, I happened to catch the clip of Colonel David Hunt and his consistent reference to “Biblical justice.” I’ve listened to the clip twice now, and I am still trying to figure out what in the world he meant. He presented three distinct points:
1. Terrorism should be the number one topic on every agenda.
2. No country should be allowed to offer sanctuary to known terrorists.
3. Americans should hack into foreign bank accounts and steal money that might be going to fund terrorists.
Now, let’s look at these; see if you can help me figure out what he has in mind -- particularly as to how this would constitute “biblical justice.” On the first point, anyone who has actually read the bible knows that the concerns for justice attributed to God are by no means focused on acts of violence that could be even roughly analogous to terrorism. My friend Jim Wallis has rightly noted that, if we proportion our concern to the frequency of concern expressed in the bible, treatment of the poor would be at the top of the list. On the second point, it seems Hunt has a reasonable suggestion, though as he went on to explain what he meant some concerns were raised for those interested in biblical justice. The problem, of course, is having an acceptable degree of certainty about the presence of terrorists before one goes knocking doors down. Hunt seems to think that “we” should arrogate to ourselves the right to make judgments about the location of terrorist sanctuaries (I suppose he bases this on our record to date in getting correct where the threatening people/weapons are), and then, to act as we deem appropriate. It would be a strange read of the bible indeed to suggest that it would be acceptable to allow anyone but God unilaterally to make these judgments, and Hunt’s position fails adequately to account for another biblical concept--universal human sinfulness. Do I really need to respond to the third point? If Hunt thinks that “biblical justice” would allow anyone to steal the assets of another either on the suspicion that those assets had been misused or as a tool to spur the actions of others, well...all I can do is paraphrase the title of his recent book back to him: He just doesn’t get it!
Perhaps, though, Hunt (and those who find his position attractive) had a broader set of issues in mind when he referenced biblical justice. His energetic expression of his views were laced with such things as an affirmation for us to get more aggressive (he must think a couple hundred billion dollars, nearly 2000 American lives, untold Iraqi non-combatant lives, etc. are rather on the wimpy side), for us to “have some fun,” and to “take the gloves off.” And, though the phrase “biblical justice” was scattered throughout, I was left puzzled--what bible is he reading? Maybe Hunt thinks one can simply pick a verse out of the bible, without any thought to either the immediate context or the broader context of the bible as a whole, and then use that passage as a guide for action on terrorism. Well, if this is what he thinks, he’d be seriously mistaken; the bible is simply not intended to work like that. In fact, I rather doubt if Hunt would want his own writings to be taken that way.
If I had to guess, it seems Hunt probably has in mind a biblical passage like Leviticus 24:20 (an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth). If so, there would be numerous problems in his attempt to use this to define “biblical justice.” First, placing this passage in it’s historical context makes it evident that God’s command here is a movement toward less vicious responses to wrongs. The practice of the day in responding to terrible wrongs might well have been to kill the offender’s family, take his property, etc. The intent here is to soften things a bit--no unlimited response, only an equal one, such as tooth for tooth. Second, however, even this immediate context is not adequate, since the bible has to be taken as a whole, not in piece parts. So, by the time we get to the life of Jesus, we are instructed to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44ff) Hardly what Hunt seems to have in mind--I suppose by his standards, this wouldn’t be much “fun.” And, before any refer me to, say, Romans 13 as the paradigmatic expression of the Christian response to governmental authority, let me remind us of a couple of things. First, Paul’s overall comments regarding “powers” and “authorities” are much too varied to think that one can get any kind of unqualified empowerment of governmental powers from the letter to the Romans (in fact, Paul spent a good deal of time in jail, which suggests he did not see governmental authority as beyond question!). Further, many attempt to separate Romans 13 from the preceding chapter. In Romans 12, we are given a picture of how government ought to function, and the statements in chapter 13 cannot be separated from these. Of course, if a government lived up to the high standards set by Romans 12, the response suggested in Romans 13 would be quite appropriate.
At the end of the day, my concern is just this: when someone makes reference to the bible, it would be nice if they actually had some sense of what the bible is all about. None of us (me included) will get it all correct, but we should at least avoid reading in a way that sends us in precisely the opposite direction. I recall once reading that past representative Dick Armey claimed that his vote belonged to Jesus, but reading his voting record hardly leaves one confident that it is Jesus of Nazareth that he had in mind. Likewise, Tom Delay likes to talk about his vision of conforming America to a “biblical world view,” but, again, one has to wonder what bible Tom has in mind. Let me ask that you do one thing. The next time someone claims to be putting forth a biblical view of things, make them defend their appropriation of the bible. Push to really understand the nature of their claim, for all too often, as Hunt says, “They Just Don’t Get It.”
(For those who wish further elaboration on these themes, join us here.)