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Christians and the Law-Courts

 

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Christ forbids law-courts

In this non-comprehension I reached a state of perplexity which now astonishes me, and as an example of that perplexity I will give my former understanding of the words, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,'5 Matthew 7:1 'Judge not and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.'6 Luke 6:37 The institution of law-courts in which I took part and which defended the safety of my property, appeared to me so indubitably sacred and accordant with the law of God that it never occurred to me that these sayings could mean anything but that one must not speak ill of one's neighbor. It never entered my head that in those words Christ could have spoken of the law- courts, of the Zemstvo, of the Criminal Court, of the District Courts and magistrates, and of all the Senates and departments. Only when I understood in the direct sense the words about not resisting him that is evil, only then did the question occur to me of Christ's attitude to all those courts and departments. And seeing that he must have disapproved of them, I asked myself: Does it not mean that one must not merely refrain from condemning one's neighbor verbally, but must not judge him in the courts - must not condemn one's neighbor by means of our law-courts?

In Luke 6:37-49, these words are spoken immediately after the teaching of non-resistance to evil and of returning good for evil. Following the words, 'Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful,' come the words, 'Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.' Does not this mean that besides not blaming one's neighbor one must not set up law-courts, nor judge one's neighbor in them? said I. And I only had to formulate that question, and my heart and my common sense at once replied affirmatively.

I know how this understanding of the words startles one at first. It startled me too. To show how far I was from such an understanding of the words I will confess to a shameful stupidity. When I had already become a believer and read the Gospels as a divine book, I used as a joke to say to my friends, on meeting any of them who were public prosecutors or judges: 'And you go on judging, though it is written, "Judge not that ye be not judged."' So sure was I that those words could mean nothing more than a prohibition of evil-speaking, that I did not understand the terrible mockery of holy things my words contained. I had gone so far that, being convinced that these plain words did not mean what they do mean, I used them jokingly in their true sense.

I will recount in detail how all my doubts were destroyed concerning whether these words could be understood except as meaning that Christ totally forbids the human institution of any law-court, and that he could mean nothing else by those words.

The first thing that struck me when I understood the law of non-resistance to the evil man in its direct meaning, was that man's courts of law are not in accord with it, but are directly opposed to it and to the meaning of the whole teaching, and that Christ therefore, if he thought of the law-courts, must have condemned them.

Christ says: 'Resist not him that is evil.' The purpose of the courts is to resist the evil man. Christ tells us to return good for evil.7 Matthew 5:44 "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" The courts repay evil for evil. Christ tells us not to distinguish good people from bad. The courts are entirely concerned in making the distinction. Christ says, forgive all men. Forgive not once, not seven times, but endlessly. Love your enemies and do good to them that hate you. The courts do not forgive, but punish. They deal out not good but evil to those they call the enemies of society. So it appeared evident that Christ must have condemned the courts. But, thought I, perhaps Christ had nothing to do with the law-courts and was not thinking of them. But I saw that this could not be: from the day of his birth and until his death Christ came in conflict with the courts of Herod, of the Sanhedrin, and of the high priests. And I noticed that Christ often spoke directly of the courts as of an evil. He warned his disciples that they would be judged, and he told them how to bear themselves in the courts.8 Matthew 10:17-19 "But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." Of himself he said that he would be condemned; and he himself set an example of how one should treat man's courts of law. Therefore Christ did think of these human courts, which condemned him and his disciples and which have condemned and are condemning millions of people. Christ saw this evil and plainly indicated it. At the execution of the sentence of the court on the woman taken in adultery he plainly repudiated the court and showed that man must not judge because he is himself guilty.9 John 8:7 "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." And he expressed that same thought several times, saying that with dirt in one's own eye one cannot see the dirt in another's eye10 Matthew 7:3-4 and that the blind must not lead the blind. He even explains what results from such a blunder. The pupil becomes like his master.11 Matthew 15:14 "And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."

But perhaps having said this about the judgement on the woman taken in adultery and having put forth parables about the foundations of the house, referring to the general weakness of mankind, he nevertheless does not forbid appeals to human courts of law for the purpose of obtaining protection from evil men. But I saw that this is quite inadmissible.

In the Sermon on the Mount, addressing everybody, he says: 'And if any man will sue thee at law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.'12 Matthew 5:40 Therefore he forbids anyone to go to law. But perhaps Christ speaks only of each man's personal relation to the courts and does not condemn the process of law itself, but allows people to judge others provided they do so in the institutions established for that purpose? But neither can this be supposed. Christ, in the prayer he gave, bids all men without exception forgive others, that they may be forgiven their own sins. And he repeats the thought often. Therefore every man when he prays and before bringing his gift to the altar should forgive everyone. How can a man, who by the faith he professes must always forgive all men, judge and condemn anyone in the law-courts? It follows that, according to Christ's teaching, there can be no such things as Christian courts which inflict punishment.

But perhaps the context shows that in this passage Christ, when he says, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' was not thinking of human courts of justice? But this again is not so; on the contrary, it is clear from the context that when he said, 'Judge not,' Christ was speaking precisely of the institution of law-courts. In Matthew and Luke, before saying, 'Judge not,' he says: Resist not him that is evil, endure evil, do good to all men. And before that, in Matthew, he repeats the words of the Hebrew criminal code, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'13 Matthew 5:38 And after this reference to the criminal law, he says: But ye shall not do so; resist not him that is evil; and then he adds, 'Judge not.' Therefore Christ speaks precisely of human criminal law, and repudiates it by the words, 'Judge not.'

Moreover, in Luke, he not only says, 'Judge not,' but 'Judge not . . . and condemn not.'14 Luke 6:37 "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." That word 'condemn,' which has so similar a meaning, was not added for nothing. The addition can have had only one aim - to elucidate the sense in which the word 'judge' is used.

If he had meant to say, do not judge your neighbor, he would have added that word 'neighbor,' but he adds the word which is translated 'do not condemn,' and then adds, 'that ye be not condemned; forgive all men and you will be forgiven.'

But perhaps, all the same, Christ was not thinking of the law-courts when he said this and I may be attributing my own thought to his words which had a different meaning.

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