Recent readings in C.S.Lewis have been on the subject of equality, and his thesis is worth pondering. This is what he had to say –
“It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense – if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining – then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is Love. It may be that He loves all equally – He certainly loved all to the death – and I am not certain what this expression means. If there is equality it is in His love, not in us.
I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they are not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that they’re not true without looking further thanmyself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen roost, much less a nation. Nor do most people – all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumours. The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows.
This introduces a view of equality rather different from that in which we have been trained. I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes, which are good because we are no longer innocent. When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget but as an ideal, we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority.”
Before embarking on a search in the Bible, let us remember that the political system called Communism had much to say about equality, but in practice it never worked out according to the sayings of its exponents. When George Orwell wrote “Animal Farm” in 1945, he penned those oft-repeated lines, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Such an evaluation of Communism in its worst form, under Stalin, made Orwell famous.
Our enquiry must now be Bible-centred. Are we to understand that all men are equal in the sight of God? If so, then under what parameter? When St Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, he did indeed place all men in one box labelled “Failures”. Lewis rightly pointed out that Calvary dealt with all these “failures” by virtue of God’s love, and not because of any intrinsic merit in man. In this sense we do indeed see God dealing with mankind in a state of equality, the equality of sin.
This is so important that it must dominate everything else we find on this subject. God is not only Creator of us all, but a Loving Father who sees His creation in a pit from which they cannot climb out. His love for ALL His creatures was demonstrated at Calvary. “He who knew no sin, was made sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor.5:21)
The manner in which God has dealt with the fallen human race should now become the example by which parents look upon their children. God has no favourites. Neither should we have favourites amongst the children God gives to us. Favouritism is an evil seed that produces some of the worst fruit in human history. A few examples from the Bible will exemplify this.
First of all, we must go back to the beginning, and see how Adam and Eve failed in this respect. Shortly after the fiasco in the Garden of Eden, Eve gives birth to a man-child. She remembered the word of the Lord that “the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head,” and straight way interpreted it to mean her own son. Hence she said, “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” She then treated him as a hero from his birth, believing that he would become the Messiah, the Anointed of God to undo the calamity they had brought upon themselves in the Garden. And so she fostered his growth from childhood to manhood with this in mind.
But she soon had a second son, and saw nothing in him that would warrant special treatment, and therefore she named him Abel, meaning “transitoriness”, “ephemeral”, one who would not last. Such was the contrast she saw between her two sons.
This disastrous inequality of parental behaviour was the cause of the murder that followed. The second son acted in faith, but the first son acted according to his pride of place, fostered by his parents. The Lord spoke to him, saying, “Why are you angry? Why has your face fallen? If you do well, shall you not be accepted? But if not, then know that Sin is crouching at the door, and his desire is to get you. But you must master him.” (Gen.4:7)
This was too difficult for Cain. The die had been set for many a year, and he allowed Sin (in other words, the Devil) into his heart and was overpowered. He murdered his brother. “The earth opened her mouth to receive his brother’s blood.” (Gen.4:11) His action was blameworthy, but the root of his problem lay with his parents. Their favouritism, and the inequality of the boys’ upbringing, led to this disastrous end.
Man tries to hide sin, gloss it over, find extenuating circumstances that will exonerate him from blame, but the Bible rips away all such human devices, and exposes the real causes behind human behaviour. The depravity of the human heart has not changed since Adam.
Let us now consider the case of Abraham. God promised him a son, but Sarah did not conceive. So he tried to bring about the word of the Lord by a device put into his mind by his wife. “Sarai said to Abram, ‘the Lord has restrained me from bearing. I pray you, go in unto my maid, it may be that I obtain children by her.’ And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.” (Gen.16:2)
Just as Adam had listened to the voice of his wife, and they had transgressed the commandment of the Lord, so Abram listened to the voice of his wife and the result was a child named Ishmael, “a wild man, whose hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand will be against him.” (Gen.16:12) Over the last 4,000 years history has recorded a continual battle between the Israelites and Arabs as a result. Today it is very marked, and looks to become the source of a world-wide conflict.
In both of the above examples, we see the wrongful interpretation of prophecy producing long-lasting results.
Isaac grows up and marries Rebekah. She conceives and is troubled by the “battle” that rages in her belly. On enquiring about this, she learns that she has twins. “Two nations are in your womb . . . and the elder shall serve the younger,” the Lord said. The two sons grew up with vastly different personalities. Then we are told that “Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed his venison, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Gen.25:28) Straightway we are shown the causative factor in the ensuing saga. There was no equality of treatment shown to the two boys. Rebekah fostered Jacob, and probably told him about the Lord’s word prior to his birth. Isaac may have got wind of this and perhaps tried to even the score by showing favour to Esau, even though his manner of life was somewhat abhorrent to both parents.
Finally, Rebekah tries in her human way to bring about the Lord’s word, and establish Jacob as God’s chosen vessel. She invents a deceitful subterfuge, agreed to by Jacob, in order to obtain the father’s blessing. The outcome was to be expected. Bitterness and hatred was generated in Esau, who now determined to be another Cain and dispose of his brother as soon as opportunity arose.
Jacob makes a quick exit and grows up in Laban’s house. He has two wives and two concubines, and eventually a family of twelve sons. However, there was no equality in his behaviour towards Rachel and Leah. Everyone knew that Rachel was his favourite. As a result, the Lord restrained her from bearing sons, in order to bring Jacob round to a better mind. It was a repeat of the Lord’s word to Cain, “If you do right, will you not be accepted?” If he were to show a better attitude towards Leah, would not the Lord open Rachel’s womb?
Eventually Rachel conceived and Joseph was born. Later on, she conceived again and Benjamin was born atBethlehem. But Rachel died in the process. The joy of Jacob’s life was snatched from him.
This is not the end of the tale. Jacob showed undue favouritism towards Joseph and Benjamin. Hence the other brothers were filled with anger and resentment. “They said, ‘Behold, this dreamer comes,’ and they conspired against him to slay him.” (Gen.37:18-19) The lack of equality in the parents’ treatment produced all the later drama of Joseph’s journey to Egypt and what came out of it. In all these things, the Lord’s plan is never frustrated. He uses even the weaknesses, and human resentments, the anger and bitterness as vehicles to carry His purposes through to their culmination.
Now we must look at Joseph. He went down into Egypt a young man with a high opinion of himself, fostered by his father. He was the one who had the coat of many colours. He was the one who had dreams, even that inflammatory one in which he saw his father, mother, and 11 brothers bowing down to him. (Gen.37:9-11) He was not past sharing that with his father, and his brothers heard about it as well. It was the last straw that triggered the event of selling him to the Midianites.
Joseph was now reduced in stature and self-opinion, but not in respect of God-centeredness. His behaviour in Egyptwas exemplary. It caused him yet further trouble, but even in the prison he behaved himself in a manner that was not overlooked by the authorities. Eventually he was given a meteoric rise to fame, but handled the new-found authority in a fair and just manner.
Eventually there was a meeting with his brothers, and this is where we see the reversal of the human problems. Joseph loved his brothers, and his method of dealing with them showed all the elements of true filial affection, combined with justice. In the end he broke down with deep emotion and embraced them, and all the hatred, jealousy, and even the guilt at what they had done, was leached out of their hearts. A true bond had become established. Jacob’s family went to live in Egypt, and finally Jacob showed that he had learned the lesson by crossing his hands when blessing Ephraim and Manasseh.
These wonderful O.T. records have many things to teach us, but seen from the point of view of parental failure there is an obvious lesson to be learned. Parents have a duty before God to treat their children with equal and identical love, even as the Father treated us all when we were lost in sin.
Now we must look at this same question from the angle of siblings and brethren in Christ. We have just seen the wonderful way in which Joseph purged away the evils perpetrated by his father. He could never have done so without first having to go through many painful years in Egypt, in which all his self-opinionated ego-trip was quenched. Only then did he see the truth, and act on it with righteousness. He was able to say to his brothers, “Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves that you sold me hither, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Gen.45:5) All the lesser human feelings and emotions had been trodden underfoot in the blazing light of God’s greater purposes. Joseph was so glad to share that with his brothers.
Turning now to the N.T. we must investigate the nature of our relationships with each other, not just as siblings within a family, as in the O.T. stories, but in the wider sphere of the working together of brethren in Christ.
In what sense are we all equal? It goes without saying that as sinners saved by grace we are all equal. But in respect of duties towards our brethren certain inequalities automatically appear. We are told by Paul that concerningequalities, “There is one body, one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, through all, and in you all.” (Eph.4:4)
But then he goes on to say, “But to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Eph.4:7) Elsewhere he says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us . . .” (Rom.12:6)These represent the inequalities that must inevitably be found in any group of believers. The manner in which we deal with each other in respect of these differing gifts and abilities, is a subject that was very much on our Lord’s heart as He trained His disciples.
On one occasion He found that two of them were anxious to be seated on either side of Him in His kingdom. This infuriated the others, who at that particular juncture firmly believed in equality, but probably for the wrong reasons. The Lord didn’t reprimand James and John, (who were egged on by their mother) for asking such high and mighty privilege, but just asked them whether they would be able to go the way He would go, drinking of the same cup of suffering. They said they would, and He accepted their word, but could offer them no guarantee concerning heavenly positions in His Father’s Kingdom. (Matt.20:20-23)
The Lord then had a lesson for them all to learn. “When the ten heard about this they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them and said, ‘You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, and oppress them. But it shall not be so among you, but whosoever desires to be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever desires to be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” (Matt.20:24-28)
The Apostle Paul found that he was an offence to many, simply because he referred to himself as an apostle, a title given him by the Lord, whereas they saw him as outside the twelve, and therefore could not accept his authority. Listen to his gentle reprimand, as spelled out rather well by Eugene Peterson from 2 Cor.10. “And now a personal but most urgent matter; I write in the gentle but firm spirit of Christ. I hear that I’m being painted as cringing and wishy-washy when I’m with you, but harsh and demanding when at a safe distance writing letters. Please don’t force me to take a hard line when I’m present with you. Don’t think that I’ll hesitate a single minute to stand up to those who say I’m an unprincipled opportunist. Then they’ll have to eat their words. . . . Believe me, I’m quite sure of my standing with Christ. You may think I overstate the authority He gave me, but I’m not backing off. Every bit of my commitment is for the purpose of building you up, not tearing you down. . . . We’re not putting ourselves in a league with those who boast that they’re our superiors. We wouldn’t dare do that. But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point. . . . Will you please put up with a little foolish aside from me? If someone shows up preaching quite another Jesus than we preached, you put up with him quite nicely. But if you put up with these big-shot apostles, why can’t you put up with simple me? . . I know what I’m talking about. We haven’t kept anything back. We let you in on everything.”
The early church was full of squabbling, divisiveness, and inability to work together, in other words full of human faults. But as we have seen from the O.T. patriarchal stories, God rides over all these things and smiles at our weaknesses whilst He continues to work out His purposes. This should cause us to smile with Him, turn our thoughts away from each other’s faults, and look upwards and forwards, trying to catch every glimpse of the early eastern light that heralds the Millennial Dawn.
Having said that, it would be incorrect to conclude this study without a mention of a more serious note. Although God overlooks human weakness, and even uses it as part of His training programme, we must not think the Master is untouched by attitudes of jealousy, injustice, and evil comparisons with our brethren. One is reminded of the situation that obtained in the wilderness, when Moses was accosted by his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam. (Numbers 12:1-3) “And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, . . . and they said, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Has He not also spoken by us?’ And the Lord heard it. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all menthat were on the face of the earth.)”
Hebrew commentaries say that Miriam was mentioned first because she was the chief perpetrator of this mischief. Hence she found herself a leper. Such was the anger of the Lord at this monstrous assertion against her brother. And she had to stay outside the camp for seven days before being readmitted, and being healed. One is reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy. “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine.” (1 Tim.5:17) Double honour for ruling well, means adopting Jesus’ teaching about the chief man being servant of all.
Not long after the event between Moses and his brother and sister, we find an even more grievous situation arising. (Numbers 16) “Now Korah, Dathan, and On, . . . took men and rose up before Moses with 250 princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown, and they gathered together in the sight of Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you lift yourselves up above the congregation of the Lord?’ And when Moses heard it he fell upon his face.”
The Lord was very angry at this snide accusation, and separated the men of Korah from the rest of the congregation, after which we read that “the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up.” (Num.16:31) Weakness of human nature is one thing, but if there lurks within the human heart something akin to the attitude of Korah, then it is quite another thing altogether. And all this has to do with the inter-working of each man, each woman, in the Body of God’s People, whether it be in O.T. days or now in the 21st century. Even if we don’t find the earth opening its mouth to swallow up the worst offenders, we must realise that the mind of the Lord is equally grieved now as it was then. This should inculcate an attitude of humility, whereby we are ready to accord double honour to those who have shown a good work in their ministry for the Lord.
So we conclude by saying that amongst the members of the Body of Christ there are bound to be human problems, weaknesses, and misunderstandings, and we should treat these very lightly, knowing that our Lord is more merciful than the best of men.
But any sign of a Korah-like attitude should be addressed with forthright vigour in an attempt to save such from the Lord’s wrath.
There is no equality amongst us when it comes to individual abilities, ministries, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each part of the body is there to serve the rest. There is no place for jealousy and offence. No one can do without the rest, and each part should be willing to play its part without murmur or complaint.
He that is down need fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.