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Is Every Lawsuit An Attack?

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is the parable Jesus told found in Luke 18. It’s the story of a judge who was approached time and again by a widow who had been mistreated and needed help. The woman had no standing, so she turned to the judge who wielded power in the land, but since the judge did not fear God or respect people, he did not care enough to do his job to enforce the law. Despite that, the woman persisted. In Jesus’ words: “She kept coming” to the judge, saying: “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”

“For a while,” as Jesus put it, the judge remained unwilling. But afterward, the judge pretty much said to himself: “Even though I do not fear God or respect people, I will give this widow legal protection because, otherwise, she is going to wear me out by continually pestering me.”

One thing I like about this story is that the woman goes to court, not for the purpose of attacking her adversary, but rather for the purpose of asking the judge to use his power to stop her adversary from abusively taking advantage of her illegally.

This parable gives us a category for what I believe amounts to a biblical lawsuit. Of course, legitimizing a certain type of lawsuit is not the parable’s main point, yet the story nonetheless lets us know in part that God has provided the Romans 13 government as a venue of access for the weak to be able to appeal to a judge who has authority to stop a bully.

I say this because it seems to me that many professing Christians have gotten the impression that lawsuits, by definition, are attacks. Yet in the case of Luke 18, the widow, who apparently was the plaintiff, was herself the one being attacked. Sometimes people sue, not because they’re trying to attack an entity or bring down an institution or seek vengeance against someone, but rather because they themselves lack power to hold compromised authority figures accountable or to stop renegade opponents from doing wrong.

Unless someone calls attention to abuse that needs to be stopped, that abuse gets worse. Thus Edmund Burke famously quipped, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I applaud the widow for badgering the judge because she successfully urged him to put a halt to the evil. We don’t know the details of her specific plight, but we do know she believed that justice is attainable in some measure in court if the presiding judge does what is right.

The widow’s protective lawsuit is the opposite of a frivolous lawsuit that exaggerates a minor offense by suing for millions of dollars over something silly. In other words, the Luke 18 widow in the parable is quite dissimilar from the Corinthian Christians described in I Corinthians 6 who were suing each other over the “smallest” things.

Biblically some lawsuits are permissible, and biblically some are not. Suing from a motive of greed is surely sinful. But did you know that it’s also sinful to “defraud” a party in a lawsuit? Lamentations 3:35-36 says: “To deprive a person of justice in the Presence of the Most High, to defraud a person in his lawsuit -- of these things the Lord does not approve.”

The Lord is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18). God does not approve of any kind of corruption, including any deceit that is used to cover up wrongdoing. Cover-ups are fraudulent. Defrauding someone in their lawsuit by bribing the judge or threatening the witnesses or hiding illegalities by covering them up with a pretense is the type of thing that God disapproves of.

I wonder how many past churchgoers might be heartened to find out that the Bible does, indeed, allow for lawsuits for the widow and for those who plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:7) as well as for other victims who have genuinely been harmed. Due to all the unchecked scandals festering in religious corporations, many people have left the church because they keep hearing Christians say that lawsuits, in general, are forbidden in the church, even if the pastor violates church policy or viciously exploits church members.

Next month I will be teaching a course called Faith Recovery, and in it, we will be talking about compromised Christian organizations, and whether or not God is trustworthy given all the evil in the world, and about parts of the Bible that offend people, and also about how to reconstruct people’s faith after it has been deconstructed.

I hope you will come to get yourself equipped to uphold the gospel, so that you can be of assistance to those who are losing faith in our Lord Jesus because they see victims being trampled by Christians organizations, plaintiffs being scapegoated, religious freedom being abused, and Scripture being framed in legalistic ways that betray the grace of God and make the truth appear to look like falsehood.

Faith Recovery is vital. At the end of the parable in Luke 18, Jesus explains that the purpose of the story is to contrast the unrighteous judge with the Perfect Judge, God. If even an unrighteous judge comes around over time and administers justice to a widow, how much more will God “speedily” bring about justice for the elect?

Jesus clarifies so poignantly that the question in the parable is not about whether or not God the Judge is just. God will for sure bring justice, and soon. The right question, instead, is this: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

In other words, God is not on the hot seat. When Jesus returns, God will not be evaluated or marked down for not administering justice. God faithfully does God’s part brilliantly and completely. This is the stark question that confronts us: If Jesus came back tomorrow, would he “find faith” in us?

Let’s recover our faith and trust God together, even in the face of opposition.

Sarah Sumner, Ph.D., MBA

President, Right On Mission

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