Have you ever heard of asbestos?
Following World War II, the United States experienced a building boom. The construction industry was thriving and companies that manufactured building materials were seeing high profits. Asbestos is a natural substance that was extensively used in the making of construction materials which were used to build homes, schools, and hospitals.
In the 1980s, it became widely known that asbestos can cause cancer and other diseases. Its prevalent use in insulation, flooring, and other construction materials had made buildings unsafe for human habitation and use. As evidence for the danger of asbestos became more widely known, US companies began to conceal information about their sick employees and paid medical authorities for false testimony before the government. No one knows exactly how many people died as a direct result of such lies and deception. Large amounts of time, money, and effort had to be invested in removing asbestos from workplaces, homes, schools and hospitals.
What does asbestos have to do with God’s covenant with Israel?
Asbestos is to a building what unfair treatment and injustice are to a community: their presence in places where people live, work, learn and recover makes the environment unsafe. Like microscopic asbestos fibers, unfairness and injustice poison the communal atmosphere, leaving sick and dying relationships behind. The answer to unfairness and injustice is the same as the solution to asbestos—purge it from the places where people live, work, and breathe it in. “You must purge the evil from you” (Deuteronomy 19:19).
Fair treatment and right action drive out unfairness and injustice, so God tells His people how to act fairly and justly. He explains how to protect the innocent and how to punish the guilty. He provides both refuge and retribution because He knows that when the innocent are punished or simply left unprotected against the vengeful and false witnesses, no one is safe. God knows when anger and lies are rewarded instead of rooted out and punished, the people suffer and community dies.
I find it very difficult to always be fair and just. Like tearing out asbestos infused linoleum from an old kitchen, it requires great effort and even greater caution. It also involves risk. Failure to be just and fair destroys community. But conversely, fair treatment and right action create an environment of peace and safety where humans can thrive, which is precisely what God wants for His people. When we get it right; when we treat our family and friends and communities fairly and justly, we model His peace and safety in our relationships.