Mailbag

The Mailbag: Should I Sue?

 

I know the Bible tells us not to sue someone, but are there situations where this may be OK?

I have a long term illness caused by bad medical advice given to me by several doctors. I know there are many many others who suffer like I do from the same thing for the same reasons. Because of my illness I have lost my job, friends, and the ability to do things I used to do and enjoy.

While I have never been one to sue someone or take legal action I am considering it in this situation. I am not doing it for the money, but so that awareness can be brought about so maybe others will not go through what I am going through.

I know if I go forward it will be a difficult journey for me and may cause some disruption with the doctors who treated me. I have been praying about it and am going to look into Christian counseling as well, but I have learned a lot from following you and would like to hear what you have to say as well.

Great question. First let’s look at exactly what Scripture says about this:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

So, the Bible doesn’t make a blanket statement “not to sue,” but not to sue certain people for a particular reason. The idea Paul is trying to convey here is that Christians, of all people, ought to be able to work out their differences among themselves. We’re the people who have God-given wisdom for such things, not lost people. So, when Christians drag each other into a worldly court over something that they ought to be able to work out in godly love, humility, and repentance (or at least ought to be able to have mediated by a pastor or elders), it tarnishes the name of Christ and makes the church look foolish. It’s better to just absorb the loss than to do that. So what this passage is teaching us is that it is a poor witness to the world for Christians to sue one another rather than to work things out together.

Now, I realize this isn’t your particular situation, but I’m going to throw it out there for everybody else who’s reading. The passage above does not say this, but I think the Bible would also support the idea that, in most cases of personal grievance, Christians probably shouldn’t sue lost people either. Your neighbor accidentally planted her garden six inches over your property line? You babysat for a couple down the block and they never paid you the agreed upon amount? You had been planning a special anniversary dinner for you and your husband for weeks and the restaurant messed everything up? Try to imagine what these people might think of Christians or Christianity or your church if you sued them, and, conversely, how counter-culturally surprising it might be to them if you didn’t sue them. Would a lawsuit open or close a door for you to share the gospel with these folks? Would you be carrying out Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek, to overcome evil with good, and to repay no one evil for evil, but to bless and do what is honorable? When we make decisions like this, we need to be sure we’re putting Scripture, the name and renown of Christ and His church, and the spiritual good of the other person ahead of ourselves and any benefit we might gain. God is our provider, not the tort system. And, of course, it should go without saying that Christians should never sue others on the basis of dishonesty (ex: faking injuries after a car accident) or in an effort to greedily “get rich quick”.

However, the way our legal system and our laws work in the United States, there are, unfortunately, some instances in which a lawsuit is the legally sanctioned proper channel to go through in order to secure services or for two entities to iron out the details of a fair settlement between them, and this process carries no more ethical implications than, say, filling out a request for services form. This is often the case between insurance companies in the event of a car accident, for example. This can sometimes be the case with a business or entity that is obligated to provide you with a particular service or remuneration. It very much depends on the situation, the laws of your state, the company’s policies, etc. In a case like this, I would recommend setting up an appointment with your pastor for counseling on the biblical aspects of the situation, and consulting with a reputable (preferably Christian) attorney for legal advice.

In your case, it sounds like your goal is to prevent innocent people from suffering at the hands of negligent doctors, and a lawsuit can be one way to do that. I cannot give you a definitive yes or no as to whether or not a lawsuit would be the biblical thing to do in your case, but here are some things I would encourage you to do and consider as you prayerfully make your decision:

•Pray through and consider the Scriptures I’ve linked to above as well as others that will help you examine your heart to be sure your motives moving ahead are godly, not retributive.

•If you’re married, be sure you’re submitting to your husband regarding any action you might take.

•Assuming you’re a member of a biblical, doctrinally sound church, make an appointment with your pastor (preferably, or, barring that, a Biblical Counselor, which is different from a “Christian counselor”) for counsel on all of the biblical ramifications of filing a lawsuit and any other actions you might be considering taking. Counseling is part of his job, he can take the time to walk through all of the details with you, and it is he whom God has placed in the position of shepherding your soul.

•Contact a reputable, preferably Christian, attorney (your pastor may be able to recommend one) who can explain all of the processes involved in filing a lawsuit, and might also be able to give you some more effective alternatives. Discuss all of this with your pastor and get his counsel on it.

•Is there another way to accomplish your goal of protecting and helping other victims and potential victims? What about a local ministry to others with the same illness? What if you wrote a book about your experiences? Perhaps an online ministry and information clearinghouse – a blog, website, Facebook group, etc. – that could reach even more people than a lawsuit could? Brainstorm some ideas with your pastor, husband, or close friends.

If there is any way to avoid a lawsuit while still protecting others, I would recommend exploring that possibility.

Additional Resources:

What does the Bible say about lawsuits / suing? at Got Questions?

Forbidden Lawsuits by John MacArthur

Alliance Defending Freedom


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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