People are Individually Accountable

Anger at injustice often incites a mob mentality, a blood lust to find those who are like the perpetrator of the injustice and punish them for that person’s wrongdoing. In the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, many Muslims were assaulted by those who blamed them for the actions of the Muslim terrorists. This was wrong. In the same way, calls to harm police, for example, or calls to harm white people or conservatives, are also dangerous and desperately misguided.

This notion that people’s guilt or innocence can be established merely by looking at their outward characteristics is at the heart of every mass slaughter in history: “Blame the rich.” “Blame the royals.” “Blame the Jews.” “Blame the Tutsi.” For anyone who lived long enough to see what humans are capable of doing to one another, it is obvious why the Bible speaks so clearly against the idea of making a whole group responsible for the blood shed by those who share those characteristics.

Without question, the Bible calls for reconciliation between people who are at odds. Injustice must not be permitted to continue. Things must be set right. But in the Old Testament, judges were not to give preference to the poor or the rich (Leviticus 19:15). Family members were not to be punished for the sins of their ancestors or descendants. Each person is individually responsible (Ezekiel 18:20). People are not guilty based on arbitrary categories of race or sex or income level. Nor are they innocent based on any of those categories. Each person is an image-bearer of God with inherent rights. Each person must be accountable for his or her own actions.

One implication of this is that we as individuals are responsible to identify and remedy injustice. Proverbs 24:12 says that God understands all hearts and does not accept as an excuse that we remain blissfully ignorant of wrongdoing. We don’t get to define justice, but we are to know what it is and act on it. Justice begins with you and me.