The Pursuit of Justice
by Jack Wald | November 14th, 2004

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Where do you find justice in the world?

About a year ago a French-Moroccan businesswoman, Touria Tiouli, went to Dubai on a business trip. She was attacked and went to the police, charging three men with having raped her. Dubai officials turned her charge around and arrested her for having committed adultery.

Where is justice?

As a woman, you work hard for your company and are clearly the best choice to be promoted. But when the promotion is given, it is given to a man because he is a man or perhaps to a woman who has been sleeping with the boss to win his favor.

Where is justice?

A man closed up his shop where he was a tailor. He had opened this shop twenty years ago and worked hard over the years, treating his customers fairly, doing good work, getting it done on time. He had sacrificed over the years to make his business, not a thriving business, but a good, steady business. He set off to the market to buy something special to eat with his wife and four children and then a mob came down the street and because he was a Jew, he was beaten and killed.

Where is justice?

A women had five children, three boys and two girls and in WWII all three of her sons were killed in action.

Where is justice?

You work hard in school to win a scholarship to go study in the university. You sacrifice pleasurable activities with friends so you can study and write papers. Because of your ability and hard work, you succeed and are the top student in the class but when the scholarship is given, it is given to an average student in the class whose father is a government official.

Where is justice?

Because you are a Tutsi and not a  Hutu,  gangs with machetes come into the church where you are seeking refuge and methodically, day by day, chop and club to death, men, women and children, even infants and the world sits by doing nothing.

Where is justice?

A man works all his life and saves what he earns so he can buy a house on a lake where he can live his retirement years with his wife and be visited by his children and grandchildren. He sacrificed for this day and missed out on opportunities to enjoy his children when they were growing up. But today is the day he retires and is set free to enjoy the fruit of what he earned. And the night of his retirement, after the party to celebrate his new life, he has a heart attack and dies.

Where is justice?

Qohelet, the collector of wisdom, looked around the world. He observed and reflected and he was not encouraged by what he saw.

He saw that under the sun, righteous men suffered the evil that was due to the wicked and wicked men received the rewards of what the righteous deserved.

He observed something similar to the Persian system (modern day Iran). The satrap was in charge of state officers and he took money from the province to fatten his purse. But in charge of the satraps were the inspectors who would threaten to denounce the satrap unless he gave a large portion of what he had taken from the province. And above the inspectors stood the king who had large needs to supply the extravagance of the court.

Is it any wonder the poor peasant at the bottom of the heap had no chance of finding any justice for himself?

For many countries in the world, is it any different today? Qohelet’s observation was true when he wrote:
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

In how many countries of the world do the leaders fatten their own purse by taking from the people they are supposed to serve? Dictator after dictator comes to power and begins to pour the money of his country into his personal Swiss and Cayman Island bank accounts and meanwhile the common people suffer from the injustice.

I was surprised to hear that Yasser Arafat died with hundreds of millions of dollars in his personal bank accounts. Forbes magazine listed him as the 6th richest of all world leaders. What kind of leader was he to profit from the suffering and injustice of his Palestinian people? How would the situation in Palestine have been different today if he had invested that money in developing businesses and agriculture so they would not be so dependant on Israel?

None of the injustice we see today is new and Qohelet looked around at it all and this is what he concluded:
Ecclesiastes 4
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
2 And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
3 But better than both
is he who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.

Better to have already died than to live and experience the injustice of the world and even better would be to never have been born at all.

That is Qohelet’s response to the injustice he observed in the world. That is Qohelet’s conclusion, under the sun, within the limits and confines of this world.

What is the view above the sun? What does the rest of the Bible have to say about justice and injustice? Let me go through this rather quickly.

First, God is a god of justice.
Deuteronomy 32
I will proclaim the name of the LORD.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.

God is a god of justice and that is as much a part of his character as is his love. Among the many qualities of God there are these two: God is love and God is just.

Justice defines who God is and when God began to create a nation for himself, he gave to Moses laws that reveal his desire that we live in a world of justice.

Deuteronomy 16
Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly.  19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.  20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Over and over again in the law you will see this concern for justice. His law reveals it and he calls us to pursue justice.

Perhaps the most well known call of God for us to pursue justice comes from his revelation to the prophet Amos. Amos reveals God’s anger at the blatant injustice in Israel with this stinging accusation of indifference to Israel’s superficial worship:
Amos 5
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

I love the hopeful cry at the end of this. There is not just condemnation but the last verse offers a way out:
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Day after day a river flows bringing continuous new, fresh water and it is that image Amos uses to call for justice. Amos calls put for justice that will come continuously, bringing new and fresh justice to a world of injustice.

God is a god of justice. His law indicates that he wants us to live in a world of justice and he calls us to pursue justice.

The problem is that we live in a world of injustice. Because the world is full of sinners, God’s purposes are thwarted and injustice abounds where God desires justice to flourish.

Jeremiah complained to God about the lack of injustice in the world.
Jeremiah 12:1
You are always righteous, O LORD,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Habbakuk joined in this complaint
Habbakuk 1
How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

Job complained about the injustice he suffered as did King David, although I have to point out that David had a hand in bringing injustice into the lives of people around him as well. Think for a moment about Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, who lost his wife and his life because of King David’s greed and lust.

The problem is that we live in a world where we will never see justice worked out as it should be. There will always be injustice. We can work for justice from day to night, from childhood to the day we die of old age and we will never see an end to injustice.

Jesus himself admitted this:
Mark 14:7
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

So how do we work this out? We are to work for justice and yet we will never see it fully realized. It is like the task of Sisyphus who in Greek mythology was sentenced in Hades to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll back down the hill when he reached the summit. Day after day and year after year we work for justice and although we may win a little battle once in a while, the landscape is full of hills of injustice with boulders to push. We never have the opportunity to look around at a world of justice. Isn’t that a recipe for frustration and despair?

It is if we live under the sun as did Qohelet. Qohelet observed the injustice in his world and he despaired because he saw no hope. He concluded that it was better for the dead than the living and better off than both the living and the dead were those who had never been born and had to suffer in this world of injustice.

If I could dare to add to the wisdom of Qohelet, I would say that there is another way in which people react to injustice under the sun. In addition to those who give up and sink into despair, there are those who devote themselves to the pursuit of justice and over a lifetime of seeking justice in the face of injustice, there is a hardening of spirit that takes place.

These people are earnest, hard working and sincere. They work day and night, often for little or no pay. They are idealists. But they lose the ability to live and celebrate life because their life is consumed by a search for justice.

Consider Javert in Les Miserables. Javert was the detective who spent his life pursuing Jean Valjean for a petty, regrettable crime. Javert devoted his increasingly miserly life to the pursuit of justice and in the end when Jean Valjean saved his life and he was caught between his pursuit of justice and gratitude for what Jean Valjean had done, he killed himself because he had nothing to live for. Javert’s pursuit of justice drained him of life.

When the pursuit of justice becomes a search for meaning in life, then the pursuit becomes a dead end.

There is one more way that comes to mind in which people react to injustice under the sun. A man commits several murders and finally is caught, put on trial, convicted and then sentenced to death.

One of the more discouraging sights in life is the celebration that takes place outside a prison in the US when such a criminal is executed. There are some who are opposed to the death penalty and they hold a candlelight vigil to mourn the death of the one executed. But there are usually also some who gather to cheer the death of the criminal who was executed. At midnight, when the execution takes place, there is a celebration that breaks out and I have even seen pictures of people pouring out champagne to celebrate the execution.

The relatives and friends of the victims who were murdered by the criminal celebrate and somehow feel that with this death, they will now be set free from the pain of losing their friend or family member. They rejoice that now justice has prevailed. But they fool themselves and justice still escapes them.

People who try to find meaning in life through a pursuit of justice are bound to fail. They fail first of all because justice is imperfect and not all the guilty are punished and sometimes the innocent are the ones who suffer. But they fail as well because even when the guilty are punished, it is not a complete justice that is served.

If someone kills my daughter and then is put on trial, sentenced to death and executed, has justice been done? In what way does the execution of the murderer of my daughter take away the sting of injustice that my daughter was deprived of the life God gave her to live on this earth? In what way does the death of the murderer of my daughter help to ease the loss I feel?

The pursuit of justice will always be inadequate and frustrating and if someone decides to find meaning through a pursuit of justice, they will hit a brick wall and find that it does not satisfy, that it can never satisfy.

How do we pursue justice without letting it become a dead end for us? We pursue justice knowing that justice will ultimately and perfectly be accomplished when Jesus exercises his judgement at the end of time.

When Jesus returns for his church, he will not return as the suffering servant. He will return as the triumphant king who will judge the living and the dead.
Revelation 19
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.  12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. It is this knowledge that helps us keep our pursuit of justice in perspective. We seek justice knowing that however imperfectly justice is worked out under the sun, it will be worked out completely above the sun.

Paul wrote in Romans 12
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

We seek justice, work for justice, pursue justice but we do so knowing that Jesus will judge the world and the perfect justice we hunger for will be worked out.

We do not hold on to a desire for revenge because we know it is God who will avenge in the end. We do not celebrate at the death of any person because we know that all of us will appear before God to be judged.

We forgive those who do evil against us because we know that the one who did evil as well as ourselves will appear before Jesus who will exercise his judgement.

I am not a fan of Yasser Arafat. I think he was a terrible person and worked against the peace process. He condoned the murder of innocents to advance his political prospects. He has a lot for which God will hold him accountable and I am content for God to take that responsibility.

I do not celebrate his death although I am not grief stricken either. He is in God’s hands now and I am content to allow God to judge because I am confident that God will judge fairly and justly. When I die and am judged and, I believe by faith, am brought into heaven, Arafat may be there to greet me. There were Christian influences in his life. I don’t know how God will judge, only that he will judge fairly.

If you have suffered from injustice or are suffering now from injustice, let go of feelings of revenge. Forgive. You see your situation only from your own perspective. You see so clearly how unjust the person was who offended you but you do not see so clearly your own fault in the situation.

Forgive, because when you come before Jesus, your judge, he will ask you why you were unwilling and unable to forgive someone who offended you when he was willing to forgive you for your offenses against him.

If you see injustice, let anger (which is the Biblical response to injustice) motivate you to work for justice. Do not be passive or indifferent to injustice.

But as you work for justice, know that because all things under the sun will be judged, justice will roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream!