Waiting for Justice

I’ve lately been feeling a tension from two realities.

First, I have felt the groan of injustice in the world. The imbalance of justice which waits for God’s retribution is staggering. It’s easy to see injustice in the big things, like the unjust murder of a journalist in Saudi Arabia, the deaths of dozens in the latest mass shooting, those maintaining a booming sex trafficking industry, or the deaths of millions of aborted children. But think even of the garden variety injustices of being cut off in traffic, criticism received by someone who is simply impatient or annoyed, or shame imposed on someone being told they don’t look a certain way or measure up to some cultural standard. I can remember sitting in traffic, watching someone cut someone else off behind me and getting mad about it. I wanted to slam on my breaks, teach that guy a lesson in patience.
In those moments, you can feel injustice in big and small ways, even the “micro-injustices” which stem from sinful attitudes and hearts that aren’t operating from faith.[1] These seemingly inconsequential things too will be punished, either in the death of Christ or in the death of those who do not receive his death as payment for them on their behalf.

Second, in equal measure, it staggers the mind how great the balance sheet of justice that God has already canceled by paying for it himself in the death of Jesus.[2] God has already swallowed an incomprehensible quantity of injustice at the cross. God has punished injustice once for the salvation of many. Someday he will again punish wrath for the vindication of himself and those who have suffered at the hands of unrepentant sinners.

Between these two realities, it’s easy to be grateful for God’s grace to us, in his canceling our own debts, while also longing for God’s justice on those who act wickedly. We might even feel the attitude of Jonah, calling for God’s wrath on his (or our?) enemies without remembering that God also rescued us from his wrath when we ourselves were (and are) the perpetrators of many injustices, great and small.

How do we rightly desire justice and desire that God’s grace reach out to those perpetrating injustice? The first step, I think, has to be remembering who we were and indeed, still are in ever decreasing ways. Paul notes this struggle in Rom 7:15:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

We all struggle here. No one on earth is yet free from this battle. The glorious truth follows in chapter 8, “There is now no condemnation _for those who are in Christ Jesus _.” Part of justice is not simply seeking for justice to be balanced in holy retribution. Or rather, it is, but in seeking to draw others into the retribution that was poured out on Christ. By drawing people into identifying with Christ (the idea of being “in Christ Jesus”), the circle of God’s justice widens. Justice requires punishment, retribution, and restitution. The gospel still requires those aspects. But it also provides those things in Jesus.

The tension remains: We feel injustice; we combat injustice with the gospel; and we hope, even when people reject God’s justice in Christ, that one day God will make all things new. Do not simply long for justice. Receive justice already given while we wait for justice’s completion.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thess 1:5–8).

  1. Rom 14:23b. We must be careful not to overextend our use of this text to simply say, as Augustine does, that simply because a person does not have faith in Jesus every single act they perform is sin. This may be true, but that is not the bent of this text. However, it should be obvious that the things I’m describing (cutting someone off in traffic, shaming someone with our words, etc.) cannot be done in faith. ↩︎

  2. Col 2:13–14. ↩︎