Some things are impossible for human hands to capture, no matter how hard we try.
I had a buddy back in high school who begged his dad to borrow the family van. His dad agreed, provided the vehicle was treated with the appropriate respect, etcetera, etcetera. The problem was that my friend had seen way too many fast car movies. He was eager to get out on the road and make a statement. As soon as his first red light turned green, he floored the accelerator, hoping to create a loud squealing noise and a big cloud of smoke. Back in the day we called that “peeling out.” And that’s exactly what he did—he peeled out all the tread from one of the tires, and got a flat right there on the spot. Some people would refer to this as instant karma, or, instant pay back.
Another time growing up, some people came over to our house and brought their eight-year-old kid with them. This boy was unruly, and started looking for something to get into. Before long, he saw my mom’s potted cactus. I advised him not to touch it, but translated into the elementary school vernacular, that means, “Touch it immediately!” He walked over and grabbed the thing like it was a Nerf football. After a handful of thorns, and lots of tears, it was clear what had happened. Instant payback.
At times we’d love to see reality play out like this a little more—where annoying misbehavior would receive instant retribution. For sure we’d like to see it in cases of unrighteousness, and injustice.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” but we manage instead, to hunger and thirst for revenge. Our alleged desire for righteousness is actually being driven by vindictiveness, and unforgiveness. Under those circumstances, we often find ourselves wanting injustice to answer injustice.
Ecclesiastes chapter three does not address seeking justice, nor how to get it, as much as it deals with how to act when it doesn’t come fast enough, or in the way we want it.
16 “Moreover, I saw under the sun in the place of justice even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness even there was wickedness.”
Solomon appears to be in despair about his observation, but ironically, he is the king. He is the government. Why can’t he do something to fix the situation? In fact, one of the first distinctions of the Solomonic government was how Solomon had made a judgment between two women, both of whom were claiming a baby to be their own. He used his superior understanding of human nature to determine which was the real mother. The news of the verdict had gotten out and impressed anyone who heard about it.
But even a government like this one, so famous for justice, can fail to consistently deliver it. The reason behind this deficiency is that injustice and unrighteousness are rooted in human nature. The problem does not begin on the outside; it originates from within, with something broken, warped, perverted—indwelling sin. Sinners (of which we are all included), populate law enforcement, occupy benches in courts, and fill the chambers of legislatures. Solomon realized he couldn’t pass enough laws, or render enough judgments to make a dent in any of it. In fact, he himself had been a factor of corruption in Israel.
What is there left except despair?
In verse 17, Solomon answers himself:
“I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and every work.”
We ought to pursue justice through every righteous means available. However, at the end of the day, when we have tried our best, and things still have not turned out, we trust that nothing will escape God’s judgment. Only then can we hope for a thorough, exacting account, and appropriate consequences delivered. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
Even the secret things hidden from view will be brought out and evaluated—the evil things that were made to look good, as well as the good things that were made to look evil, and all the motives that drove each. Nor does this necessitate God waiting until the end of the world before he touches anything. We see events transpire everyday, as matters are exposed, and people brought to account for their deeds. Still, final justice in its perfect, purest form, only comes at the end.
Meanwhile, we find ourselves waiting and learning to pray like the psalmists, who cried out, “How long, O Lord?” and like the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10 who say, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge?” There is a principle that the greater the promise, the more time it takes to fulfill. As Habakkuk 2:3 says, For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.“
Why the delay? In Ecclesiastes 3:18, Solomon writes,
18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.”
Human beings can act like animals due to their broken sin nature. But in response to their evil and injustice, beastly qualities can emerge from us as well. We’re warned from scriptures like James 1:20, that tells us “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” The Bible reminds us of this because we think our wrath solves things. It actually makes situations worse by complicating them with additional unrighteousness. Destruction inevitably ensues.
In a gospel parable, angels approach the Lord and offer to go around the world and pull up all the weeds—evil doers. Jesus tells them no, lest while they pull them up, they accidentally uproot the wheat—the children of God. He tells them to wait until the end of the age, when all are clearly manifested, and then the weeds will be bundled up, and thrown into the fire, while the wheat will be gathered into the Father’s barn. If angels could make mistakes in judgment, how much more could human beings, who are full of sin, bias, and misunderstanding?
Modern movements branded “social justice,” often proceed with blind zeal, utilizing even unjust means to obtain their desired outcomes. Why? Because a lot of them (including professing Christians) actually don’t believe in the power of the age to come, and the high-definition reality of resurrection. Instead, we only trust the muddy, hazy justice outcomes of today, as though this life is all that exists.
Solomon then gives voice to people who think this way:
19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
These agnostic statements are actually not so much Solomon’s, as they are the secular spirit of the age. His personal view shows up in Ecclesiastes 12:7, where he speaks of the spirit returning to God after death. But the uncertain, confused mindset that is “under the sun,” always conceives of the so-called afterlife as dubious, shadowy, and unsettled. If anything worthwhile happens, it must happen on this side of the grave. Whatever eludes human courtrooms, or mobs carrying baseball bats, has decidedly escaped justice forever. Solomon wonders who could bring a person harboring this attitude to see anything past their own nose.
In contrast, Peter presents a picture of Christ hanging on the cross through no fault of His own, paying our debt before God. How did He conduct Himself as a man personally denied justice?
“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).
Rather than responding to evil with evil, He entrusted Himself to God. He continued doing it, because the incidents against Him were escalating. The fact that Jesus entrusted his very person to God, means He basically became helpless. The justice of the Roman government, as represented by Pontius Pilate, had failed Him. The justice of the sanhedrin, the religious government of Israel, had failed Him. Human decency itself had failed Him. The man Jesus had been reduced to zero, and all he could do was trust that God would judge justly. It was His statement that there was Someone beyond Him, and beyond the present moment, that would not fail.
Solomon questioned in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, if it is better for people to have never been born, than to endure all the oppression and injustice of the world. Maybe so, if there is no God, and no future judgment, and no restorative justice.
I had a friend who was a jury foreman on a medical malpractice suit. Apparently a young boy had gone to a clinic with a small health problem. He received flawed treatment. This led to complications that snowballed. At each step in the process, medical professionals had missed something, or made poor decisions. Eventually the boy was left a complete quadriplegic, with no ability to communicate except with his eyes.
The court awarded him forty-four million dollars. At first that sounds like a fantastic amount of money. But then number-crunchers had sat down, and begun to consider sheer cost of life—round-the-clock care, highly advanced machines to be purchased, and maintained, visits in and out of the hospital, dealing with infections his entire life, and continuing from eight-years-old all the way up to possibly sixty-five. Forty-four million dollars, they figured, might be just enough to cover everything.
Even if there was something left over for a mansion or a speedboat, what would that have meant to the child, anyway, given his state of complete immobility? Looked at from this point of view, the court judgment, while being the best the world could manage, wasn’t fair. How could it assuage the boy’s suffering, and give back the life he hoped to lead?
The more we expect this kind of justice, the more embittered, and resentful we become when we can’t get it. We’ll invent new demands, new requirements, to satisfy our indignation, because the previous ones couldn’t satisfy us.
There are two things you can do to avoid becoming a bottomless pit of grievance. First, believe that God will bring eventual justice. Trust that He cares more about justice than you do. He is so committed to it, that you should be a little bit nervous. After all, oppressed people and victims are also sinners. They don’t get to say, “I’m innocent, because I’ve suffered many wrongs.” We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, not by victimhood status. Have you, therefore, believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior? God is a righteous God, both penalizing, restoring, and healing. We stand in awe of that fact, and we can rest in it.
The second thing we can do is linked to the first one. Since God is a just God, you can forgive and let go. At a certain point in your pursuit of justice, you should realize when hate is filling your heart, and owning you. For the sake of your Christian life, abandon that course. Perhaps you can’t go farther anyway, practically speaking, into the justice process. Even the outward circumstances are telling you it is time to forgive. There’s an old saying that refusing to forgive is like drinking poison, and hoping the other person dies. A spirit of unforgiveness within you always adversely affects you. Nothing can dilute its properties except for grace shown to the other party.
Besides, with the kind of God we have, you can afford it.
Image credit: Used with permission from http://www.freerange.com