For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. (Ex. 12:12)
In the debate over the blasphemy laws, an argument has been advanced that we don't have to worry about men insulting Jesus Christ because 'Jesus can take of Himself.' Or in the alternative, 'God, if He exists, can look after Himself.'
So that's alright then? Well, no, it isn't. When we use that expression about a mere mortal, even with the stress on the 'after' or 'care' rather than on the 'himself', we mean he has the capacity to knock us into the middle of next week. We take care not to offend such a man. We treat him with respect because 'he can take care of himself.'
If someone 'can take care of himself' we don't insult him or his family. We don't get lippy about his father. If we know what is good for us, we don't call his mother a whore or say his sister's a slag or tell him his brother is gay. We don't do these things out of fear of bringing judgment on ourselves in the form of a beating from this one who 'can take care of himself'.
The Earl of Onslow said in the House of Lords' debate on blasphemy on 5th March:
'It has always struck me that if Jesus Christ exists, and if Jesus Christ in his Godlike form was capable of creating the universe, then he could quite easily hack the bit of left‑wing obscurantism and b‑mindedness that writes things such as "Jerry Springer: The Opera". If he does not exist, nothing will happen; if he does exist, it is up to him to get hold of the chap who wrote it and make sure that he does time in the diabolical house of correction.'
Ah, if only it were that simple. If we applied the Onslow principle to all law we wouldn't worry about locking criminals up. Happily knowing that the diabolical house of correction awaits felons, we could redevelop all the prisons into housing estates. The trouble is, God has entrusted the administration of justice to human society. It is not up to Him to get hold of criminals, it is up to us. The unrepentant crook may well end up in hell, but he needs punishment in this life for his deeds, and the deterrent effect of justice demands it be seen to be done:
And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously. (Deut. 17:13)
The objection is made that the crimes we punish have identifiable victims, but that blasphemy is a 'victimless crime'. Again, that is too simplistic. Firstly, we do punish victimless crimes in
today, from parking on the footpath to driving over the limit. Some of it isn't very Biblical, but the idea is that although there isn't a victim right now, there could be one in the future, and in addition to that, we just do not want people driving around drunk or causing possible obstruction. Like blasphemy, they are absolute offences, in that no intent has to be shown.
Blasphemy has been a crime in our land for centuries because we have recognised that God can take of Himself, that He is to be feared and that He is a God of judgment. And here is where the principle of corporate responsibility comes in. The unpunished action of one man brings judgment on the whole community. The Law of God as revealed to Moses contains a provision for use when a murder case cannot be solved. In Deut 21:1-9, the blood of a heifer is shed for the blood of the innocent victim, precisely to remove the collective guilt of innocent blood from the whole people in the absence of sentence being passed on the perpetrator.
The sin of Achan, who was just one man, brought death to his compatriots as we read in Judges 7. The chapter begins, 'But the children of
committed a trespass in the accursed thing, for Achan ... took of the accursed thing.' They all trespassed because of the actions of one man. In Luke 10:13-15, Jesus pronounces a collective curse on three cities which rejected His message. The judgment fell collectively on
, on the Canaanites and in the opening text, on
. In many of the Biblical examples of judgment on societies or nations, a whole people has fallen into sin, but it is still individuals committing it. Not everyone was sacrificing children to Molech in Jeremiah's day, but everyone who did brought the judgment of blood-guilt on his neighbour.
Is blasphemy that serious? Well, the same Ten Commandments in which we read 'Thou shalt not kill' and Thou shalt not steal' also say 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.' The First Commandment says: 'I am the Lord thy God ... Thou shalt have no other gods but me' (Exod 20:2-3). The use of the singular form 'Thou' in the Commandments (the language of the King James Bible is useful like that) indicates that these are binding on each individual and on the nation as a singular unit. I believe the First Commandment is for the state not so much to enforce as to observe in humility.
Religion has been defined as man's attempt to be on good terms with whatever he sees as divine. Pagans sacrifice and perform ceremonies to appease the gods of sun, moon, rivers, trees, and whatever they have deified as important to them. If God is important to us we shall want His blessing, not His curse. We shall want to be on good terms with Him. We shall appeal to His mercy as a nation in time of need, crying out to Him in the name of Jesus Christ. This actually happened during the Second World War, and the Chiefs of Staff of the time acknowledged God's deliverance as a result. If anyone doubts that, get hold of the booklet 'We have a Guardian' through our resources page.
If we believe God can take care of Himself, we shall also try, as a nation, not to do the things God hates. We shall not allow thieving, lying, the breaking of promises, sexual immorality or the shedding of innocent blood to go unpunished. Equally, we shall treat disrespect of our Almighty Redeemer even more seriously than disrespect of a judge in his court.
In the movie 'The Godfather', a man asks Marlon Brando's character to 'be my friend'. It is better to be friends with someone who can look after himself than be his enemy. And if we are justified in treating a nation as a single entity, every nation should be trying not to offend the omnipotent God who can look after Himself to the extent of bringing judgment on the nations which disobey His righteous laws.
When the Apostle Paul told the Galations 'Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap', (Gal. 6:7) he was remembering a verse from Proverbs: 'He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity' (Pro. 22:8). Another chilling verse says: 'For they have sown the wind; and they shall reap the whirlwind' (Hos 8:7). Once again, the teaching of scripture is that all this applies to a nation just as much as to an individual. A nation that sows family breakdown will reap criminality. One that sows bloodshed in private clinics will reap it in the streets. The nation which sows thieving and lying by government will have those sins visited on its people. The nation which sows disrespect of God in blasphemy will reap the breakdown of every civilised standard. I could go on, but the bottom line is this: The opposite of law is not grace, it is lawlessness, and the nation that sows that commodity as a wind will reap it as a whirlwind.
It can get worse than that. The Old Testament is replete with examples of nations which spurn God, become fat, lazy and dissolute and are inevitably destroyed. It is well to be reminded of the sanguine words of George Mason, one of the American founding fathers: 'As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects,
punishes national sins by national calamities.'
'God is bigger than that,' someone will protest. He will turn a blind eye, like an indulgent uncle. So how big is He? Is He not the almighty ruler of heaven and earth? In that case, it is better to be safe than sorry. After all, the man who can take care of himself might be 'big' enough to allow insults to slide off him like water off a duck's back. He might be 'big enough' to let you tell the whole pub that he is a cheat or that his mother is a slut without raising an eyebrow. Just don't count on it. Not only is it better to be safe than sorry, it is better to trust God's written word than to make up our own ameliorated version of a God whose wrath and judgment have been stripped out and where only some schmaltzy, fudgy stuff remains.
No, the realisation of the power and omnipotence of God in Christ, Sovereign of the universe, King of kings and Lord of lords should fill us with holy fear, not a desire to allow His name to be dragged through the mud. After all, Jesus can take care of Himself.