There is much talk today about “justice.” People crying out for things like “racial justice,” “gender justice,” and “reproductive justice.” The cries come from people over perceived or real injustices done to them by either government or society at large (usually both). Of course, it was only a year ago, at the height of a global pandemic, that protests broke out all over the world in the wake of the unjust killing of George Floyd (and given further energy by the circumstances surrounding Breonna Taylor’s tragic death). Millions of people giving voice to calls for justice became an everyday part of the news cycle.
What many pundits have called a time of “racial reckoning” has mushroomed into reckonings beyond race. Americans are being confronted with fresh “reckonings” on gender and reproductive rights as Pride Month comes to a close and various states continue to put forth legislation to curtail the practice of abortion. At times it feels as if our country is more combustible than ever with the mood of protest everywhere. It seems like we’re one unfortunate event away from another massive uprising.
PROTESTS AS POINTER
Thinking this morning about today’s crusades for justice reminded me of a “fight” in history that did not happen, an event, one could say, of “justice delayed.” If anyone in history was ever treated utterly unjustly, it was Jesus of Nazareth.
In him, after all, there was no sin—he was holy love incarnate. The cries for justice in our day point to the glory of the eternal salvation accomplished by a wholly other-worldly way. Consider the words of the apostle Peter as he describes what Jesus did in the face of grave injustice:
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).
No push back. No retaliation. No protesting. But entrusting.
I marvel at this.
THIS LUDICROUS WORLD
Some years ago Cornelius Plantinga Jr. wrote an excellent book entitled, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. In it, he describes the biblical portrait of sin:
The Bible presents sin by way of major concepts, principally lawlessness and faithlessness, expressed in an array of images: sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and a stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it — both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door. In sin, people attack or evade or neglect their divine calling. These and other images suggest deviance: even when it is familiar, sin is never normal. Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony. Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God, and it does all this disrupting and resisting in a number of intertwined ways. Sinful life, as Geoffrey Bromiley observes, is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life.1
It is not hard to look out on the world and see in manifold ways this “disruption of created harmony” and the tragic human efforts in “resistance to divine restoration of that harmony.” Both the disruption and the resistance are everywhere — at times obvious and at other times veiled. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Among its incalculable manifestations, sin has created all kinds of injustices in the world (even as sin has worked to distort how people think about justice . . . and what warrants it).
Given this “ludicrous caricature of genuine human life” that is twenty-first century America, what is the church to do? How should Christians face grave injustice in our day? While this reflection is not a polemic against Christian activism, the value I want to add to this discussion is a plea for prayer. For massive marches seem to get all the press which may cause Christians to think that protests are the only way forward and thereby miss the better way of prayer.
ENTRUSTING AND PLEADING
Let me illustrate from a story Jesus tells of a persistent widow facing real injustice:
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.  And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
Luke tells us the purpose of the parable: pray continually and not lose heart (1). To help us do that, Jesus describes a widow who appears to have a real adversary who has treated her truly unjustly. We are not led to believe otherwise, as if this is merely perceived injustice against her by an imaginary adversary. This is real suffering over being really wronged. So what does the woman do? She won’t leave the judge alone, but keeps pleading her case. And what do we know about this judge? Well, he’s godless and has no respect for people (2). Jesus calls him “unrighteous” (6). In other words, this woman is seeking justice from an unjust judge, which is not a circumstance that would cause hope to rise in a person being persecuted. But this woman is not like most people: she persists and “keeps bothering” the judge until he yields. Exasperated, the judge says, “I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (5).
Jesus explains the parable: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” (6-8). In other words, if the unrighteous judge can act for justice at last, how much more will the Righteous Judge of all the earth give justice to his people, and quickly? Of course, how quickly is not known, but we see that Jesus has his second coming in view when he asks, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Indeed, at the second coming of Christ, every wrong will be made right as “elect justice” is dispensed. Therefore, don’t lose heart (i.e., entrust) even as you pray continually in these last days.
The Church should be in a constant disposition of prayer as we wait on God to “give justice speedily” to those “who cry to him day and night.” After all, “elect justice” was accomplished at the cross by the one who “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly,” even Jesus.
Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1996), 5.