Like many of you, I have been wrestling with events in this nation over the past week. I have been contemplating justice, and what a just society should look like. I have questioned how deeply we even think about the concept of justice in an age of sound bites and video clips. We get pushed from one issue to the next so quickly by the media and by social media that we do not always take the time to slow down and think carefully and extensively about the issues at hand. But, justice is too important of a topic to do that with. We all want justice, but that desire for justice means so much more than what is bubbling at the surface of current events. Justice is at the very heart of the gospel, and God loves justice. Yet, in this world, injustice brings death, pain, and grief. It threatens to rob people of their dignity, peace, and security. Injustice is an enemy of individual freedom and of a flourishing society. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We Need Justice
But what is justice? The word justice carries the idea of administrating laws impartially. Justice is when the punishment or reward fit the crime or good deed. Simply stated, justice is when you get what you deserve, good or bad. Injustice, then, is when this principle is violated. Injustice is when people are treated differently, not because of the law, but because of some other factor. Last week, in our nation, we witnessed a grievous injustice when George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. This act of injustice, as it has become apparent, is representative of a pervasive injustice in our society: black men and women are often treated differently simply because of the color of their skin.
For most of my life, this reality has escaped me. As a white man in America, I have never experienced it, and I simply could not see it. It’s hard to imagine fearing the very authorities who are there to protect us. It’s hard to imagine feeling a sense of dread just for being pulled over for speeding. It’s hard to imagine being killed in broad daylight while three other officers look on and do nothing. This kind of injustice must stop, and we must seek reforms in the laws that protect the rights of every person. There should be no difference in the treatment of a black person or a white person. The degree to which we allow injustice to exist in our society is the degree to which we undermine the health of our society. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Vengeance Is Not Justice
In our recognition of injustice and the need for change, however, we must not fall prey to the very real human temptation to seek vengeance. Vengeance is when we inflict punishment in retaliation for an injury or offense. It is a matter of revenge, of inflicting injury in return for injury. It is the desire to get even.
Vengeance is not justice. Vengeance bypasses justice, and it quickly enters the realm of injustice. Vengeance leads to the suffering of the innocent. In the case of what has been happening in our nation this past week, vengeance has taken the form of looting and rioting. Those who have been injured, killed, or suffered loss during this time are not those who committed the crime or those who deserve to be punished. This means that this vengeance is also an injustice, and this injustice threatens the very justice that is being sought. This injustice threatens to undermine the very desire for change. Remember, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Injustice is a Human Problem
Indeed, justice is threatened everywhere in this world because injustice is a human problem. It is a human problem because it is a sin problem. Injustice begins when we do not justly apply God’s laws in our own hearts and relationships. How many of us can say we acted with perfect justice in every interaction in the last week, month, or year? We know that when we examine our own hearts that injustice rears its ugly head in so many ways.
One way this evidences itself in our lives is by holding others to a standard to which we do not hold ourselves. We start to pick apart the outer shell of the lives of others while ignoring the massive issues in our own lives. Jesus hated this kind of hypocrisy and injustice: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).
There is no race, nation, or people where injustice is not a problem because it is a problem within the human heart: it is an outworking of human rebellion against a perfectly just God. Once God and his perfect law was rejected, the human heart lost it’s orientation toward what justice even is. Our sense of justice is warped by the self-interested pursuit of sin. It is now human nature to seek our own advantage at the expense of another. Human nature is to make ourselves look better than we really are while making other look worse than they really are. Human nature is to seek to justify ourselves through our own righteousness or good deeds. Since we are all corrupt and “there is no one righteous” (Romans 3:10), we can only make ourselves look and feel righteous by emphasizing the good things about ourselves and bad about others. We can only feel self-righteous through the ugly exercise of comparison.
This human problem of injustice looks a little different in each society and nation. In our nation, one prevalent form of injustice that has persisted for generations is the unjust treatment of black Americans. And although much progress has been made, there is still much work to do, and we must come together, all of us from every race, to see change in this area. My concern, however, is that, as a nation, we want justice without the God of justice; we want righteousness without repentance; and we want the blessings of God without the rule of God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
Since the human heart is so skewed away from a right understanding of justice by the allurement of sin, we need a divine solution to the injustice in our world. The solution to justice has to be divine because, ultimately, the human heart cannot produce true justice. True justice comes from the one, just God. In Deuteronomy 32:4, Moses said, “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
The solution to injustice is intertwined with the solution to sin, and that solution is at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no one who cares more about justice than God, and there is no one who cares more about righteousness than God. There is also no one who cares more about redemption and reconciliation than God. We have to know that injustice is not fundamentally a problem we face in the human race in our interactions with one another. Injustice is fundamentally a problem God must solve. All acts of injustice, as acts of sin, are directed toward Him, and all sin deserves the outpouring of justice by a holy God.
So, for God to be just, he must punish sin. He must punish our lack of justice as an act of his perfect justice. This includes every act of sin. Although some sins may have more severe repercussions in this world, every single sin, no matter how small we think it is, demands the justice of God. As James wrote, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker” (James 2:10-11). This means we are all guilty of breaking the law. What person has not hated, lusted, lied, or coveted? We are all guilty before a just and holy God. The law shows us that our pathetic attempts at righteousness could never save us.
Justice at the Cross
God knew there was only one solution to the problem of justice: he must send his own Son into the world to suffer the injustice of man and to take on the just wrath of God against sin. The Son of God, perfect in holiness, matchless in wisdom, died an unjust death, where he was put to death as an innocent man. In the same moment, he experienced the perfect justice of God against our sin. God cares so much about justice that he was willing to give his own Son so that we could be forgiven and sin could be punished. What man among us would give his own son to take the punishment for another? As Paul wrote to the Romans, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). This is the heart of the gospel: Christ died for us. Christ died for us because we, each one of us, have failed to live up to his righteous standard. We have all sinned, which, by extension, means we have all been unjust.
Concern for Justice
The Christian concern for justice, then, is built into our understanding of salvation by grace. When we place our faith in Christ, we understand that God’s justice is good news for us. We go from fearing God’s justice to loving God’s justice. We know God is just, and that the payment for our sins by Jesus was accepted once and for all. A just God gives us the righteousness of Christ. Our sins are paid for, and there is no longer any payment required (Hebrews 10). By God’s amazing grace and mercy, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
For those who have not placed their faith in Christ, however, the justice of God is terrifying. The death of Jesus Christ demonstrates to the world that God’s justice against sin is sure. No sin will go unpunished. God is just. If we reject Christ, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. Now is the time of salvation, and now is the time to repent, to confess Jesus as Lord, and to be baptized. Now is the time to receive the forgiveness of sins. For those of you reading this who have not responded to God’s call for salvation, now is the time. As Paul said, I “implore you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God.” Your desire for justice in this world will come to nothing if you do not survive God’s justice in the last day.
For those reading this that are in Christ today, you should see the clear implications: if God’s concern for justice runs right through the center of the cross of Christ, it should run right through the center of our hearts, as well. We should long to see justice done in this world on all levels. We should act to ensure justice for others when it is in our power to do so. Yet, we recognize that only God can actually restore justice in its entirety, and there is a day coming when Christ will return and will bring an end to every injustice.
Until that day, we trust in the justice of God revealed at the cross of our Savior, we trust that God will one day bring all men into judgement, and we trust that the power of the Holy Spirit will be at work in us for good in this world. Yet, our hope is never in legal reform, social programs, or social justice. Our hope is in Christ, the one who is just and who justifies those who have faith in him (Romans 3:26). That is the message that changes the world, and that is the mission of the church. Our mission is to bring light into darkness: to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. In Christ, we find justice, peace, freedom, redemption, and reconciliation. When we are brought into Christ’s family, we experience a taste of the world to come, where people of all races and economic situations are brought into unity by the Spirit, being reconciled to one another in Christ.
What Can We Do Now?
So if Christians have the only true message of freedom for this world, and if we should be concerned for justice, how do we go about living a life that is worthy of our calling during such a time as this? It would be nearly impossible to make this list exhaustive because each of us has different circumstances in front of us, but there are a few things I know we should do because these are things Christians should always be doing. These are principles that should guide you through this time:
1) Love your neighbor as yourself
Jesus summed up the law with this commandment, and Paul reminded the Galatians, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:14). If you want to change the world, it starts with loving the people in your life as you love yourself. It starts with laying down your life for your neighbors. It does not start with attacking those who disagree with you or who see things differently than you because of their experiences in life. We live in a culture that seems to revel in attacking and mocking others. Let’s be different, let’s look for ways to serve one another, not for ways to devour one another. Let us look for ways to promote peace and justice in our communities, bridging racial divisions inside and outside of the church.
Part of what this means at this time is that we must keep social media in its proper context and actually engage the world around us. We are not social media accounts, we are people created in the image of God. The sum of a person is not what they post or do not post on social media. We need to engage those around us through real interactions and conversations, whether through a phone call or through spending time with others. Social media is a useful tool for spreading information quickly, but it is no substitute for community.
2) Be quick to listen and slow to speak
James said, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20). When tensions rise, our natural reflex is to retreat to our predetermined positions. We want to retreat into the answers we feel comfortable with. In the process, we might block out what others have to say, especially when what they say means we could be wrong or need to change. Now is a time be quick to listen and slow to speak. This does not mean we never speak up, but it does mean we take the time to hear what everyone is saying. If you are a white American, like I am, now is a time to listen to the the black Americans who are airing their grievances about the justice system. We need to listen to one another.
Now is not a time to be angry with others, especially other Christians. Now is a time to seek the righteousness of God. Now is a time to seek the wisdom of God. As James said, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18). We are called to bring peace. So let’s slow down, let’s listen, and let’s look for opportunities to sow peace. We are not to be those who pay back evil with evil or who rejoice in the downfall of our enemies. Rather, we are to bless those who persecute or revile us. We are to bless and not curse, we are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and we are to mourn with those who mourn. We are to be humble and not conceited (Romans 12).
3) Be faithful in prayer
Paul wrote to the Romans, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:9-12). As we love and honor one another, as we hate evil and cling to the good, let us not forget to be people who are praying.
Prayer is not a passive response. Prayer acknowledges the rule and reign of Christ, it trusts in the sovereign power of God, and it displays our humility before God. We can pray at all times in the Spirit, and we know our prayers are heard by God. God is over all, and his power can change things that seem impossible to change. Be people who are praying at all times.
We Long for Restoration
As Christians, our citizenship is in heaven, and our actions and words in this world should reflect the King we serve. Our lives and community should look upside down compared to the values and agendas of the world. So, take some time to consider what this means for you, and for us. I encourage you to think outside of the boxes of the political left and right. I encourage you to think outside of the agendas being pushed on you by factions inside and outside of the church. Instead, I challenge you to think Biblically as to how a Christian should respond with love. As Christians, I firmly believe that we should make people on all sides feel uncomfortable because our way of thinking and living is fundamentally other-worldly.
The justice this world craves can only be found in Christ and his death and resurrection. The resurrection power of Christ has the ability to restore dignity, to heal what has been broken, to bring peace, and to give eternal security. Let’s wait with patience, enduring in faith, as we look forward to the day the Judge returns to set all things right, to completely heal our human brokenness, and to live with us on the perfect new earth. Come Lord Jesus! Amen.