As some of you may have heard in the news, former Miss California, Carrie Prejean, has decided to file a lawsuit against the Miss California organization, accusing them of libel and religious discrimination. Now without weighing in on the rightness or wrongness of her decision, I do think there is an irony inherent in her claim, given that Jesus told us to expect religious discrimination. In Luke 21 Jesus prepares the disciples for such treatment, but his response is to “make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves” because “this will result in your being witnesses to them.” (vv. 13-14)
I’m just saying…
But this whole situation brings up the very relevant issue of whether or not it’s right for Christians to sue people. I wrote a post on this topic a couple years ago, so I have decided to re-post it today as a little food for thought. I would be interested to hear your feedback as well.
Lately I’ve noticed an interesting pattern in the news. Again and again, at the tail end of any news report in which a person suffers any kind of loss, we are informed that the victim is suing for damages. I almost expect to hear these words because I hear them so often. And that is how rampant the practice of lawsuits has become. If someone wrongs a person in any sort of way, whether it be legal, medical, spiritual, or emotional negligence, then a lawsuit is sure to come. Granted, there are times when lawsuits are reasonable, but sometimes they are downright absurd. Check out some of these insane lawsuits that I found…
A woman in Israel sued a TV station and its weatherman for $1,000 after he predicted a sunny day and it rained. The woman claims the forecast caused her to leave home lightly dressed. As a result, she caught the flu, missed 4 days of work, spent $38 on medication and suffered stress. She won!(Source: CALA)
A surfer recently sued another surfer for “taking his wave.” The case was ultimately dismissed because they were unable to put a price on “pain and suffering” endured by watching someone ride the wave that was “intended for you.” (Source: CALA)
A college student in Idaho decided to “moon” someone from his 4th story dorm room window. He lost his balance, fell out of his window, and injured himself in the fall. Now the student expects the University to take the fall; he is suing them for “not warning him of the dangers of living on the 4th floor”.(Source: CALA)
Now these examples are definitely extreme, but let them not undermine the reality that we live in a lawsuit culture. Lawsuits are are being filed for every possible reason, and there are a number of things that disturb me about this trend. What follows are the theological pitfalls of this culture, because we as Christians must not fall prey to the secular worldview that this pattern reflects:
1. It stems from the belief that suffering, or even discomfort, is unnatural and always bad. We live in a fallen world, which means that suffering is an unavoidable reality for us. Until Christ returns, there will never come a time at which we are not painfully aware of the ways in which sin mars the world. However, this is not always a bad thing. We serve a Redeemer God who takes that suffering and uses it to strengthen us. What man intends for evil, God uses for good. What’s more, being a Christian means we are called to a road of suffering. It’s a part of the deal, so rather than find someone to blame and punish for it, we should look to the ways in which God desires to redeem it, and how we can be a part of that redemption. Lawsuits are not the solution to sin–God’s grace and forgiveness are, and we should be reflecting that truth in our own lives.
2. It puts a cheap price tag on human suffering. Before I explain what I mean by this, let me first say that there are certainly times when a person or organization’s negligence results in such financial hardship that a person is unable to support themselves or their family, thereby making lawsuits permissible, if not necessary. (Thought I would encourage one to seek the wise counsel of their church community before making such a decision. Not only can they hold you accountable so that you are not suing out of incorrect motives, but they might also provide you with exactly the resources you need, thereby making the lawsuit unnecessary)
However, in addition to acting as a form of punishment or vengeance, lawsuits often imply that we can financially quantify what we have lost. If a doctor leaves you with an unexpected scar, you get money. If someone slanders your reputation, you get money. If you lose a loved one, you get money. The implication here is that money makes everything better. Money serves as a band aid for the wound. Unfortunately, this is an illusion. Money does not dissolve bitterness. Money does not bring that loved one back, or restore your reputation. It only enables you to buy more things in an attempt to fill the void in your heart. We turn to lawsuits to provide us with the healing that only forgiveness can bring. No matter how much money a person gets, it is a shockingly cheap payment. The only gift large enough to heal our brokenness is God’s Son.
3. It make everyone a victim. As I mentioned earlier, we live in a fallen world, which not only means that bad things happen, but that we, personally, are to blame for many of those bad things. Yes, some people are blatantly irresponsible or greedy and should be held accountable, but a lot of lawsuits are filed against people who simply made mistakes. None of us are perfect, but we expect everyone else to be. If they fall short of our standards of perfection, then we punish them. I’m fairly certain none of us would want to be held fully accountable for every mistake we’ve made, so why do we have to be so harsh on others? The reality is that every person is a sinner, which means that every person is bound to make a mistake sooner or later. The question is how we will respond. Will we judge them, or show them the grace that has been shown to us?
As I said, there is a time and a place for lawsuits. Even Paul used the government’s laws to his advantage when he was being denied his rights. However, what’s often at stake is our witness. If we consider engaging in a lawsuit, we must carefully consider what it says about our dependence on God. Do we really need the money, or are we seeking it out of a need to be vindicated?
In Matthew 5:39-41, Jesus teaches us, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Ultimately, it would be better to be mistreated in the name of Christ, proclaiming that our satisfaction comes from him alone and nothing else, than to push people away from him due to our need for vengeance or personal justice. God tells us, “It is mine to avenge,” (Rom. 12:19) so we can leave that in His hands to a certain extent. Instead, we must do the hard work of forgiveness. Forgiveness is far more difficult than all the legal complexities of lawsuits, but it is worth the effort, and reaps a treasure that cannot be destroyed by moth or rust.
I have somewhat had the philosophy that if you were suing because someone wronged based upon the fact that you were a Christian, then you were wrongfully suing to begin with. On the other hand, I think that one should exhaust all other means before resorting to suing (even when we are within our biblical rights to sue) and I believe the Bible teaches this in the beatitudes–Matthew 5:25-26.
I have kind of a related question. Is it okay to be a Christian lawyer that has clients that sue other people?
Also, I think that suing might be okay if it is to bring justice to a group of people being wrongly hurt, like civil rights cases and stuff like that. But I’m not sure if those court cases are technically different than suing. I’m not up on my law termonology. Also, I would say if you feel you have no other option to sue (which personally I would never want to come to that) i think suing for extra money for emotional damage is kind of skeezy (not sure if that is a word.) That stuff just seems petty to me and vengeful so you can get more money. That could be a misunderstanding but that is what it sounds like to me.
I one time had a patient at the hospital whose doctor had made a mistake during a back surgery, cut a nerve, and this caused him to be paralyzed from the neck down…he could talk and move his head slightly but that was it. When he was telling me this, I asked if he had sued and he replied, “No, I’m a Christian.” I was very surprised by this and kind of wavered between whether this was the right choice or not. Sharon, would you think this situation should be treated any different? Would it have been wrong if he HAD sued? I’m just not sure which would be the answer. Thanks 🙂
Curious–I think that scenario is not so much about right or wrong as it is permissible versus beneficial. And even then, I think there are a lot of factors that a person would need to consider. For instance, if the person was a parent with small children and he was no longer able to provide for them, then I think it would be permissible for him to sue. I hesitate to say “beneficial” even though the children would benefit, because I think there is a missed opportunity to witness to the doctor and his community. As I mentioned in the post, it would be such a tremendous example to the world around us if Christians took care of one another so that we didn’t have to sue. If Christians could go to their church community and say, “I am trying to honor God by not suing this person, but I still need to feed my family and pay my bills. Will you help me do this?” and the church responded with aid, that would be incredible!
Wow Sharon! Thanks for the response. I never imagined that scenario to this situation, but I agree God will provide in other ways besides suing, and it would be an extreme witness opportunity to others by doing this! Thanks again!!! 😀