“Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.” — Psalm 37:1-2, NRSV
Now THERE is an answer that is far easier said than done! I got asked about God’s justice this week on a popular question/answer site that I am a part of, and it is always a question I am sure to handle carefully (even for a seminary-trained individual). It usually comes from a place of vulnerability, particularly in cases of bullying and abuse.
The person who asked, like the Psalmist, was concerned about the seemingly easy life being lived by the wicked, those who have inflicted pain upon others and are apparently facing no consequences. This is a situation we see quite often in our world, and it is just as difficult to understand now as it was thousands of years ago. In fact, this very question has driven many away from believing in God, as a just and loving God could not possibly allow such injustice (for my views on that, see this post).
So how do we think about this?
The “phoned in” answers include:
- Just have faith
- Get over it
- Maybe what happened to you was punishment for sin, so look at yourself
Yikes. Naturally, I wouldn’t go with any of these… at least, not at face value. You see, there are elements of these to consider, but those elements must be presented with hope, compassion, love, and absent of judgment. Let’s take a look!
First, the “just have faith” answer requires attention. While this generic response is unhelpful as it is, a little explanation can go a long way. Namely, what does it mean to have faith in God when it comes to this particular situation? Paul actually gives us a wonderful answer in 1 Thessalonians 5.
Paul encourages the Thessalonian Christians to “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all” (5:15). This is what faith in God through Jesus Christ looks like. You see, Jesus didn’t kill or even wish harm on those who crucified and ridiculed him, and he definitely had every reason to do so! This is not an unrealistic example for us to follow, but it does take daily intention and practice. It is up to us to respond to the presence of evil in the world with love, which means we can’t spend every waking moment in misery over the pain that we have experienced. We have to believe that God has all of it handled, so much so that we free ourselves to do what we need to do. This is not just believing in God, this is believing in a just God to the effect that we live our lives in light of that loving justice, as opposed to living in light of our want for vengeance.
Next, when it comes to “getting over it,” forget it. That doesn’t happen, and it is unfair to expect that from anyone. What does happen, however, is healing. Healing is a process that results in our freedom from the grasp of those who have done us harm. It eliminates their control over us bit by bit. Healing is achieved with effort, patience, and a lot of help (sometimes professional). It is never easy, but it is always worth it. Part of maintaining our faith in God as a just God is going about the business of healing, severing those painful ties that continue to plague us. As we get healthier and healthier, we recognize our worth, accept that we have been wronged, and commit ourselves to defeating those wrongs by letting God handle the wrongdoers while we live life to the fullest.
Finally, we have this whole “self-judgment” piece. Much of what has befallen me in my life has been a result of my wrongdoings, I do not deny that. However, there are plenty of instances where the opposite is true. Telling someone who has been a survivor of abuse or bullying that it could have been their fault is the height of cruelty, and we should be careful not to do this.
Unfortunately, we often do this to ourselves by making ourselves responsible for the justice of God being enacted on those who have harmed us. If we dedicate time to watching them and waiting for evil to befall them, we are guilty of taking onto ourselves a responsibility that was never to be ours, and we actually neglect to do the one thing required of us: LIVE. We are made to live in light of the love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, and while we cannot be responsible for the actions of God or the actions of others, we are ultimately responsible with how we choose to live out our days. Are we seeking the good of all or just for some? Are we living out of love or bitterness? Part of being involved in a free creation is having to make these choices, and the choices we make in the face of pain and oppression are the most important. Should you be blaming yourself for the evil of others? No. Should you be wasting your life waiting and watching for them to “get theirs?” Also, no.
So what is the point of all of this? Three new things:
- Faith in God means trusting that God is just and will eventually handle all that needs to be handled. This faith is not evident in what you say you believe, but in how you choose to live. Live in light of God’s justice and victory, and you will see the fruit of that.
- You have to take time to heal. This isn’t a speedy, shallow, “get over it and choose to be happy” kind of thing. This is a hard process that is so worth the trouble, because it frees you from the control of the wrongdoers in your life, which keeps you trapped in a bitter mindset. Be patient with yourself, and seek any help you may need. There is no shame in seeking counseling and support.
- Claim the power you have over your life. This doesn’t mean taking God’s judgment upon yourself (see point 1), but instead, you should seek to meet the evil you encounter with all the love and grace of God you can muster. There will always be pain and suffering, and you can either help it by remaining trapped in a need for vengeance, or you can combat it by intentionally living daily in the love of Christ. You can only control what you do. The rest must be left to others and to God.
I hope that some part of this muddled mess has been helpful for you. I know that the counseling and help I have received over the years has led to a powerful, positive change in me. Does this mean I no longer feel hurt or worry or grief? Absolutely not, but I do know that I am now more capable of living according to the grace of God that I have received, and I covet that for you.
God’s justice is just that: God’s. It is not our job, and it shouldn’t be. We are not just creatures (in the sense of having justice within ourselves). However, when we find ourselves dissatisfied with that, let us remember what the Spirit has taught us today through the Scriptures. It is my prayer that all of us see and live according to the image of God in which we are all created.
Peace be with you!