"Woe unto them...who justify the wicked for a reward and take away the righteousness of the innocent!" Is. 5:22-23
Justice is a popular virtue these days, and injustice is an equally popular bogeyman. Properly understood, justice is based on balance: rendering unto everyone what is rightfully due to them. It is an error, however, to then simply equate injustice with imbalance. There is more to it than that, for imbalance is merely the effect of a more fundamental cause: corruption. That is the meaning of Isaiah reiterating immoderation at this point: "Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink..." (vs. 22). Injustice is a product of a prior corruption, the final effects of far deeper decay, and the sequence of this decay has already been made clear by the five previous "woes" in this passage.
From the endless void of greed spawns the reckless imbalance(!) of immoderation, which in turn leads to the greatest of all immoderation: the hubris of impiety. Once we consider ourselves to be equal to or greater than God and His law, the crooked unreality of immorality is a necessary consequent, and consequent to that is the paranoid stronghold of pride, for what else is that fear but a failure to see clearly? Finally, from there injustice blooms, the rear-guard of all moral decay, the crown jewel of that deadly diadem. The rot began long ago, and the decay is inevitable (and in worse cases, final). If woe is upon those caught in the net of sin, then greater woe is upon those who underestimate the insidiousness of Sin itself. This is the great strength of Christian ethical thought: Sin is not doing bad yet pleasurable things. "Bad things" are merely a superficiality, like the skin to a skull. The harder substance is beneath the surface. Sin is not bad doing but bad being. It is an inherent corruption and rottenness, a cancerous and infectious malady of the soul.
Both pagan philosophers and church fathers spoke of an "ascent" of loves, i.e., progressing upwards from the love of lesser things to the love of higher things until you reach the highest of all: God. But there is a descent to match the ascent, a downward spiral to match the upward flight. The true terror of this is that while in the ascent every step upward makes it harder and harder to take a step back, so every step downward makes it harder to step back up again. Glory is alluring; so is evil. "Sin is behoovely," said Lady Julian. It has its siren songs and seductive wares, and every step into its domain is another step deeper into the mire. At some point, there is no return. The descent into Hell is a consummation as irrevocable as the ascent to God. That is the horror and great darkness of Sin.
Sin is that dark, however, so that Grace may be all the brighter. The room is made pitch black so that the light may be like lightning. Herein lies another great strength of Christian thought: we are all of us born the sons and daughters of Hell. We need not concern ourselves with a descent into the mire; we have descended. We need not worry about dying that death; in Adam, we have all already died (I Cor. 15:22). We need not obsess with how to rise or fall; we have already fallen, and we are beyond the aid of men, but not beyond all aid. There is another who descended into Hell, one who was like us and yet not like us. Jesus came, born like a man and died like a man, plunging head-first into death, the dread offspring of Sin. But when He made that plunge, it was like a spark falling into an oil pit. The dungeon could not help but flame with light.
To all who reach out to Him, He laid hold of us and we of Him. And by that mystic, sweet communion, out of the pit we rise, not by might nor by power but by the love of Him who loved us (Rom. 5:6-8; Col. 1:12-14; I John 4:9-10). Sin is behoovely, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, for grace is greater than all our sin and is able to save to the uttermost of its decay (Heb. 7:18-25). If the woes of Sin are great, it is so the blessings of Christ may be greater, for darkness can do nothing against the light but magnify its brilliance.
-Jon Vowell (c) 2012