Category  |  Ethical Issues

Joy and Justice

At a conference in Asia, I had two eye-opening conversations in the span of a few hours. First, a pastor told of spending 11 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction before he was cleared. Then, a group of families shared how they had spent a fortune to escape religious persecution in their homeland, only to be betrayed by the very people they had paid to bring about their rescue. Now, after years in a refugee camp, they wonder if they will ever find a home.

In both cases, victimization was compounded by an absence of justice—just one evidence of our world’s brokenness. But this vacuum of justice is not a permanent condition.

Psalm 67 calls on God’s people to make Him known to our hurting world. The result will be joy, not as a response to God’s love but because of His justice. “May the nations be glad and sing for joy,” says the psalmist, “for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth” (v. 4).

Although the Bible writers understood that “equity” (fairness and justice) is a key component of God’s love, they also knew that it will only be fully realized in the future. Until then, in our world of injustice, we can serve to point others to our God’s divine justice. His coming will see “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). 

Removing the Barriers

I saw Mary every Tuesday when I visited “the House”—a home that helps former prisoners reintegrate into society. My life looked different from hers: fresh out of jail, fighting addictions, separated from her son. You might say she lived on the edge of society.

Like Mary, Onesimus knew what it meant to live on the edge of society. As a slave, Onesimus had apparently wronged his Christian master, Philemon, and was now in prison. While there, he met Paul and came to faith in Christ (v. 10). Though now a changed man, Onesimus was still a slave. Paul sent him back to Philemon with a letter urging him to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (Philemon 1:16).

Philemon had a choice to make: He could treat Onesimus as his slave or welcome him as a brother in Christ. I had a choice to make too. Would I see Mary as an ex-convict and a recovering addict—or as a woman whose life is being changed by the power of Christ? Mary was my sister in the Lord, and we were privileged to walk together in our journey of faith.

It’s easy to allow the walls of socio-economic status, class, or cultural differences to separate us. The gospel of Christ removes those barriers, changing our lives and our relationships forever.

 

Getting Away with It

In June 2004, at a Vancouver art gallery, Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott received an Olympic gold medal. That’s interesting, because the Winter Olympics had been held in 2002—in Utah. Scott had won bronze behind two athletes who were disqualified months later when it was learned they had used banned substances.

It’s good that Scott eventually received her gold, but gone forever is the moment when she should have stood on the podium to hear her country’s national anthem. That injustice couldn’t be remedied.

Injustice of any kind disturbs us, and surely there are far greater wrongs than being denied a hard-won medal. The story of Cain and Abel shows an ultimate act of injustice (Gen. 4:8). And at first glance, it might look like Cain got away with murdering his brother. After all, he lived a long, full life, eventually building a city (v. 17).

But God Himself confronted Cain. “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground,” He said (v. 10). The New Testament later recorded Cain as an example to avoid (1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11). But of Abel we read, “By faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead” (Heb. 11:4).

God cares deeply about justice, about righting wrongs, and about defending the powerless. In the end, no one gets away with any act of injustice. Nor does God leave unrewarded our work done in faith for Him. 

Silence

Skittish chickens scattered as relief trucks clattered past the weathered huts of the village. Barefoot children stared. Traffic on this rain-ravaged “road” was rare.

Suddenly, a walled mansion loomed into view of the convoy. It was the mayor’s house—although he didn’t live in it. His people lacked basic necessities, while he lounged in luxury in a distant city.

Such unfairness angers us. It angered God’s prophet too. When Habakkuk saw rampant oppression he asked, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab. 1:2). But God had noticed, and He said, “Woe to him who piles up stolen goods . . . who builds his house by unjust gain!” (2:6, 9). Judgment was coming!

We welcome God’s judgment of others, but there’s a pivot point in Habakkuk that gives us pause: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (2:20). All the earth. The oppressed along with oppressors. Sometimes the appropriate response to God’s seeming silence is . . . silence!

Why silence? Because we easily overlook our own spiritual poverty. Silence allows us to recognize our sinfulness in the presence of a holy God.

Habakkuk learned to trust God, and we can too. We don’t know all His ways, but we do know that He is good. Nothing is beyond His control and timing.

The Lighthouse

By its very existence, a ministry center in Rwanda called the “Lighthouse” symbolizes redemption. It sits on land where during the genocide in 1994 the country’s president owned a grand home. This new structure, however, has been erected by Christians as a beacon of light and hope. Housed there is a Bible institute to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders, along with a hotel, restaurant, and other services for the community. Out of the ashes has come new life.

Those who built the Lighthouse look to Jesus as their source of hope and redemption. When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He read from the book of Isaiah and announced that He was the Anointed One to proclaim the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:14–21). He was the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted and offer redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus we see beauty coming from the ashes (Isa. 61:3).

We find the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, when inter-tribal fighting cost more than a half-million lives, mind-boggling and harrowing, and we hardly know what to say about them. And yet we know that the Lord can redeem the atrocities—either here on earth or in heaven. He who bestows the oil of joy instead of mourning gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest of situations.

Sacrificial Faith

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in the garden of our home, which is near the church where my husband is the minister. I hear wafts of praise and worship music floating through the air in the Farsi language. Our church in London hosts a vibrant Iranian congregation, and we feel humbled by their passion for Christ as they share some of their stories of persecution and tell of those, such as the senior pastor’s brother, who have been martyred for their faith. These faithful believers are following in the footsteps of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Stephen, one of the first appointed leaders in the early church, garnered attention in Jerusalem when he performed “great wonders and signs” (v. 8) and was brought before the Jewish authorities to defend his actions. He gave an impassioned defense of the faith before describing the hard-heartedness of his accusers. But instead of repenting, they were “furious and gnashed their teeth at him” (v. 54). They dragged him from the city and stoned him to death—even as he prayed for their forgiveness.

            The stories of Stephen and modern martyrs remind us that the message of Christ can be met with brutality. If we have never faced persecution for our faith, let’s pray for the persecuted church around the world. And may we, if and when tested, find grace to be found faithful to the One who suffered so much more for us.

I Am With You

When I served as an intern for a Christian magazine, I wrote a story about a person who had become a Christian. In a dramatic change, he said goodbye to his former life and embraced his new Master: Jesus. A few days after the magazine hit the street, an anonymous caller threatened, "Be careful, Darmani. We are watching you! Your life is in danger in this country if you write such stories."

That was not the only time I have been threatened for pointing people to Christ. On one occasion a man told me to vanish with the tract I was giving him or else! In both cases, I cowered. But these were only verbal threats. Many Christians have had threats carried out against them. In some cases simply living a godly lifestyle attracts mistreatment from people.

The Lord told Jeremiah, "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you" (Jer. 1:7), and Jesus told His disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves" (Matt. 10:16). Yes, we may encounter threats, hardships, and even pain. But God assures us of His presence. "I am with you," He told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus assured His followers, "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20).

Whatever struggles we face in our attempt to live for the Lord, we can trust in the Lord's presence.

A Legacy Life

While staying in a hotel in a small town I noticed that the church across the street was having a service. People were jammed into the church with a standing-room-only crowd of both young and old flowing out onto the sidewalk. When I noticed a hearse by the curb, I realized it was a funeral. And given the crowd, I assumed that it was the celebration of the life of some local hero—perhaps a wealthy businessperson or a famous personality. Curious, I said to the desk clerk, “That’s an amazing turnout for a funeral; it must be for a famous person in town.”

“No,” he replied. “He wasn’t rich or famous but he was a good man.”

This reminded me of the wisdom of the proverb that says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). It’s a good idea to think about what kind of legacy we are leaving for our family, friends, and neighbors. From God’s perspective it’s not our resume or the amount of money we’ve accumulated that matters but rather the kind of life we have lived.

When a friend of mine passed away, his daughter wrote, “This world has lost a righteous man and in this world that is no small thing!” It’s that kind of legacy that we should be seeking for the glory of God.

Who Are You Defending?

When Kathleen’s teacher called her to the front of the grammar class to analyze a sentence, she panicked. As a recent transfer student, she hadn’t learned that aspect of grammar. The class laughed derisively.

Instantly the teacher sprang to her defense. “She can out-write any of you any day of the week!” he explained. Many years later, Kathleen gratefully recalled the moment: “I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could.” Eventually, Kathleen Parker would win a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.

As did Kathleen’s teacher, Jesus identified with the defenseless and vulnerable. When His disciples kept children away from Him, He grew angry. “Let the little children come to me,” He said, “and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14). He reached out to a despised ethnic group, making the Good Samaritan the hero of His parable (Luke 10:25-37) and offering genuine hope to a searching Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-26). He protected and forgave a woman trapped in adultery (John 8:1-11). And though we were utterly helpless, Christ gave His life for all of us (Rom. 5:6).

When we defend the vulnerable and the marginalized, we give them a chance to realize their potential. We show them real love, and in a small but significant way we reflect the very heart of Jesus.