Peeking Past the Blindfold
Lady Justice — a figure most of us are familiar with — stands with a blindfold over her eyes, clasping a beam balance in her hand, and wielding a sword with the other. With a certain simplicity she beautifully personifies the attributes of justice, and a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. As one author wrote about her: “Among all the symbolic images the one pertaining to justice possess primacy by its nature, bringing with it a special patrimony of emotions and values and a capacity to kindle the sentiments of individuals as well as those of the masses.”
There are, however, interpretive difficulties. Leading the debates of interpretation is the meaning of the blindfold. In the earliest depiction her eyes were uncovered but beginning in the sixteenth century she was portrayed with the blindfold. Nevertheless, the path of least resistance commends a simple but profound message. Her eyes are bandaged because Justice cannot see what might cause her judgment to be partial. What is partiality? Partiality is when in matters of justice you base your judgment — in attitude, word, or action — on something that shouldn’t be the basis of your judgment. In the words of one poet: “I am known as justice, I know the rich and poor equally; My eyes are bound, So that rich and poor appear the same.” Interestingly, the eyes can become a means of corruption. One peek out from behind the blindfold can compromise Lady Justice’s obligation to impartiality.
Impartiality is a lesson learned beyond the sculptures of artists. In fact, it comes with divine authority in the Bible. For instance, Solomon wisely spoke: “Partiality in judging is not good” (Proverbs 24:23). It can’t get more straightforward than that. Additionally, James pointedly writes: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1). Partiality is contrary to the glory of God. Also, with tremendous force and in the context of holding elders in the church accountable, Paul wrote to Timothy: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Timothy 5:21).
Again and again God commands his people to be impartial. Why? Because our hearts are inclined to partiality. We have a natural tendency to slip off the blindfold. Again, as Solomon instructed: “To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong” (Proverbs 28:21). The point is well made. For the smallest profit a man will sell justice – for the tiniest excuse he will sneak a peek. The sinfulness of favoritism can hardly be overemphasized. That’s because partiality doesn’t reflect God — the quality of his handiwork (Job 34:19), the purity of his wisdom (James 3:17), the rectitude of his judgments (1 Peter 1:17), the breadth of his promises (Acts 10:34-35), or the glory of Jesus who wasn’t swayed by appearances (Mark 12:14). To express it this way: how unlike God we are when we show partiality. For, “There is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality” (2 Chronicles 19:7).
Biblically, the sin of partiality is often played out in favoring the rich over the poor. After James tells us not to show partiality, he adds — and you can almost hear the derision dripping from his pen — “For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4). How trite the human heart is! For the sake of clothes and a bit of a metal on the finger we show favoritism and preference. No wonder James brings the full weight of the law against such an attitude: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
Does that happen in churches? Absolutely. I remember once visiting a church and speaking to one of the men in leadership. As we were talking, a woman came through the door. Her appearance, admittedly, was very unkempt. Her hair was disheveled and her clothes betrayed her poverty. She was alone, and the stares of people around her showed she didn’t belong. No one intercepted her to say “Hi.” No one offered a warm invitation to the seat next to them. The man leaned into me and whispered: "Where there is honey the flies will always swarm." Instantaneously, with the blindfold off, a partial judgment was rendered. This woman – whoever she was, wherever she came from, whatever her history – was nothing more in that man's eyes than a buzzing fly.
But don’t be mistaken. Partiality isn’t only expressed in favoring the rich. The reverse can be true as well. So, the Bible directs: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor” (Leviticus 19:15). To put it simply, the figures in a person’s bank account have absolutely no bearing on rendering a right judgment. It’s not at all the basis of how we should think, speak to, or treat someone. And beyond that, of course, we have such talent to constantly be categorizing people and making distinctions. We determine with a fierce partiality who is deserving of our favor and who is not, and we invent excuse after excuse to justify our partiality: money, influence, race, gender, age, credentials, friendships, party spirit, shared convictions, possessions, relationships, politics, status, titles, affiliation, personality, and on and on. In matters of judgment these things are irrelevant to God and of absolutely no significance. And his justice will spare none who show “favoritism to gain advantage” (Jude 1:16).
Partiality has no place among Christians. It’s an enemy to the message of the gospel, to the worship of God, to the life of a congregation, and to the ministry of discipline. Rather, as we hold our faith in the Lord of glory and are controlled and influenced by his interests and purpose, our eyes are veiled to the face of man and impartiality becomes our blindfold.