This Sunday we examined some of the unfair ways in which Paul was treated as he was on trial in various places before various leaders for much of the latter chapters of Acts. We often remind children that “life isn’t fair” when they complain that they’ve been a victim of some imbalanced scale or another. We intuitively know it to be true all the while our souls yearn for it to be otherwise. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that human beings have some sense that we should pursue fairness as a means to safety and happiness. (see full quote below) So we understand that even though life isn’t fair, we ought to strive for fairness as much as possible.
Human beings, after all, have some sense; they see that you cannot have any real safety or happiness except in a society where every one plays fair, and it is because they see this that they try to behave decently.
Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 19). Harper Collins. Kindle Edition.
But alas, an imperfect people implementing an imperfect system of government and operating with an imperfect justice system will (can’t not) result in life being, as we remind the children, unfair.
I think we have a case study in unfairness with the Apostle Paul on trial. By surveying a few of those instances, I think we can achieve two things: 1) We are (helpfully) reminded of the fact that – one more time – LIFE. ISN’T. FAIR! and 2) as Christians we can strive to stand in the gap of unfairness and injustice and work at never being the cause of those things ourselves. Where the world gets it wrong, we can strive to get it right! (or, at the very least, less wrong!) Here are the things we shared Sunday in bullet-point fashion:
- Paul’s voice wasn’t heard. Time and again when Paul would attempt to speak in his own defense or to explain the situation more fully, he would be cut off by the angry mob of people who didn’t altogether care what he had to say – even if he was speaking the truth! As Christians, we should care deeply about the truth and about giving a voice to those we might be tempted to put on trial ourselves. I have been working at this as a parent. When I’m about to scold one of my children for this or that thing, I try to first give them a voice in the matter and explain themselves. I just might find out that the scolding wouldn’t have been necessary in the end anyway. (See Acts 22:1-22)
- Paul was treated as “Guilty Until/Unless Proven Innocent.” Because the Roman authorities valued the rule of law, the Tribune was interested in the charges against Paul. When he couldn’t get a clear sense of that from the angry mob, he decided to try to “extract” the information from Paul by way of a brutal flogging session. Playing bad cop is one thing, but these floggings often resulted in the death of their victims. As the church, we should be slow to draw conclusions, majoring instead on understanding and mercy. The world is already a cruel enough place without adding to it ourselves!
- Paul was denied a “Speedy Trial.” Paul’s case was sent to Governor Felix in Caesarea where, ostensibly, he would be tried and let go because there were no reasonable allegations being leveled at him! Even the Sanhedrin failed to find a reasonable charge that would stick, concluding “We find nothing wrong with this man!” (Acts 23:9) Instead of a speedy trial, which our Constitution in this country thankfully assures us, Paul was put in prison for two years as Felix attempted to win some favor with the Jewish people. It didn’t work for Felix and it really didn’t work for Paul to be detained for two years! As the legal maxim suggests, “justice delayed is justice denied.” We, as followers of Christ must love justice enough to not delay in granting it where it is in our power to do so.
- Paul was denied the ultimate justice. Put more plainly perhaps, Paul was inflicted with the most severe of injustices – he was eventually put to death after his case finally reached Rome. We don’t know much about how quickly it happened and there is a chance that Paul enjoyed a temporary amount of limited freedom in the meantime. But ultimately, it is believed that Paul was executed by beheading at the behest of Nero. Rather than offer an example of how this can inform our behavior as Christians, I’d like rather to remind the Christian reader that this is not something we are not all called to be willing to risk ourselves! The cost of discipeship (following Jesus) is indeed high! He repeatedly told his would-be followers that this was the case! Just today in my daily Bible reading, I was reminded again of the expectation that attaches itself to following Christ. (see Luke 14:26-27) But it will be so worth it to following Him anyway! Imagine the ultimate prize of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” after a life lived for Christ. That is why we “press toward the mark” or “strive for the goal!” (Philippians 3:14).
This life isn’t fair. We were never promised that it would be. We were simply promised that if we persevered anyway it would be worth it. Especially apropos is Revelation 2:10 “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”