The Justice Equation

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Growing up, my mother would often say to me, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” It was a direct exhortation to watch out for the temptation to respond to injustice with injustice.

My guess is you’ve heard the same thing in one way or another, maybe even from your mom. Theologically, my mother was memorably affirming what Scripture calls for in Romans 12:17:

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

Admittedly, this is very difficult. Our depraved nature, when offended, desires to strike back in a way that hurts the one who hurt us. It wrongfully wishes to create another injustice to “get even” for a previous one. But God commands his children to resist this urge and instead, respond rightly. Justly.

In fact, the next several verses lay out an approach so counter-intuitive that it could make one bristle in a time like we’re in. Notice:

“If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” (v 18)

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (v 19)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (v 21)

These are jaw-dropping admonitions to us pilgrims on earth, spiritual exiles who are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. They demand a patience only produced by the Holy Spirit, a compassionate endurance only brought about by the divine promise that one day God will make all things right. Like it or not, waiting is part of the justice equation.

Keep in mind Scripture here isn’t asking you to stop working for justice. Not at all! Paul urges his fellow believers, prior to 12:17, to “abhor what is evil” (12:9). And even the concluding verse of this chapter commands us to “overcome evil,” but “with good.” So as I stated in an earlier post, let us seek and call for justice without qualifiers. I so appreciate our law enforcement officers who do exactly this, our civic leaders who serve to this end, our spiritual shepherds who speak up for all, and our many citizens of all colors who biblically and consistently echo God’s heart for justice. Even though we don’t do it perfectly, we committedly stay at the task of Micah 6:8—do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.

But Scripture is equally clear: Waiting for it is as important as working for it. Yes, the rule of law and the role of government affords us the opportunity to pursue justice, albeit imperfectly. And temporarily. Yet, the very ones working for it must know there’s only One who can deliver it perfectly. Eternally. That One is God, and his people should lead the way in responding justly today while longing deeply for that day. Yes, that day of ultimate justice.

While we are waiting, remember—reactions matter as much as actions. Justice should be present in both. While Christians can peacefully demonstrate, no Christian should consequently engage in an injustice to highlight a former one. Protesting a first wrong with law-breaking activity and violence is the second wrong that never makes anything right.

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