Vigilante Justice vs. God's Justice

by Jun 1, 2009

Like everyone else, I was horrified by yesterday’s news of the murder of abortionist George Tiller. Today, I was horrified again to see people using the situation to accuse those who oppose abortion of intellectual dishonesty. Here’s one example, from William Saletan in Slate:

If a doctor in Kansas were butchering hundreds of old or disabled people, and legal authorities failed to intervene, I doubt most members of the National Right to Life Committee would stand by waiting for “educational and legislative activities” to stop him. Somebody would use force.

The reason these pro-life groups have held their fire, both rhetorically and literally, is that they don’t really equate fetuses with old or disabled people. They oppose abortion, as most of us do. But they don’t treat abortionists the way they’d treat mass murderers of the old or disabled. And this self-restraint can’t simply be chalked up to nonviolence or respect for the law. Look up the bills these organizations have written, pushed, or passed to restrict abortions. I challenge you to find a single bill that treats a woman who procures an abortion as a murderer. They don’t even propose that she go to jail.

The people who kill abortion providers are the ones who don’t flinch. They’re like the veterans you sometimes see in war documentaries, quietly recounting what they faced and did. You think you’re pro-life. You tell yourself that abortion is murder. Maybe you even say that when a pollster calls. But like most of the other people who say such things in polls, you don’t mean it literally. There’s you, and then there are the people who lock arms outside the clinics. And then there are the people who bomb them. And at the end of the line, there’s the guy who killed George Tiller.

If you don’t accept what he did, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself what you really believe. Is abortion murder? Or is it something less, a tragedy that would be better avoided?

The problem with this line of reasoning is the confusion between vigilante justice and true justice. They are not the same.

When David was being unjustly hunted down by the jealous King Saul, he had the chance opportunity to kill Saul in a cave. But he didn’t. Instead:

He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul (1 Samuel 24).

When Christians were being unjustly persecuted and killed by Roman authorities, Paul could have told them to rise up and defend their rights, using violence if necessary. But he didn’t. Instead, he said:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13).

While I consider abortion to be a matter of grave injustice, I see absolutely no biblical justification for taking justice into our own hands. God himself has instituted the authority of our government and its laws, and the only human path to justice is through them.