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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Honest Advent: When the World's "Justice System" Sucks

Courtroom. Image source.
For Honest Advent, let's take a look at Psalm 43:
Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
The first verse was what stood out to me. "Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation." Sounds like the writer is looking for justice, because society isn't giving him any. Maybe someone has done something very immoral and/or illegal to him, and they got away with it, and the people in power don't care.

(Please note that I'm not saying this is "my interpretation" of the passage, or "the right interpretaton", or "what this passage means." I have no idea what the situation was that the writer was writing about. But reading this prompted these opinions about justice, which I will now share.)

Okay first we need to clarify what "justice" means. The evangelical church taught me that "justice" means "everyone goes to hell." I'm not kidding. I'm not exaggerating. I'm not extrapolating or following their teachings to their unexpected logical conclusion. No, this was explicitly taught. Christian leaders said, "People always say they want justice. Nope, you don't want justice. Because you're a sinner too- you think 'justice' means God's going to punish someone you don't like, and you'll be just fine? No, what we want is mercy. Thank God for mercy. We're not getting the punishment we deserve (which is hell)."

That's what I believed. Fortunately, I don't believe that anymore; I now believe in the biblical definition of justice, which is "God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble, God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." "Justice" means lifting up and helping those who suffer, and bringing down and punishing the powerful people who cause that suffering.

Okay so we're all clear on what definition of "justice" I'm using. Now let's actually talk about the concept of calling to God for help when the world's "justice system" screws you over. Feminism talks about this a lot. Oppression is built into every part of our society, so there are many examples where the biases of those in power allow people to do very evil things and get away with it. The Black Lives Matter movement exists because the US has a real problem with murderers whose victims are black never being brought to justice. And then there's the horrible reality of rape culture: Only a small percentage of rapes are reported to police, and of those, only a small percentage of the rapists are actually punished by the law. Instead, rape victims are re-victimized by the "justice system", and there are judges who decide not to punish a rapist very harshly because that would just be too sad for the rapist.

And there are all kinds of other shady things that people get away with. Companies that mistreat their low-wage employees, and even though it's illegal, there's not really much the employees can do about it. Churches that cover up child abuse. And so on. People do these bad things, and there's just no way for the victims to get justice. The powers-that-be just aren't going to do it.

It just sucks.

So maybe, in that kind of situation, people ask God to bring justice. Unfortunately, I don't believe that's the kind of thing God does. Because think about it- if God was the kind of God who intervened to help people and bring justice, wouldn't God have stopped the bad thing from happening in the first place? If you're a God who's not going to stop a murder but you'll make sure the murderer goes to jail, well you're kind of useless. Like, you're the God of bad time management or something.

But I get how it can be helpful, psychologically, to pray for God to bring justice. To believe there's a God there who cares and can help you. And I believe that in the future there will be resurrection and justice, so, yeah, eventually God will do it.

The "justice system" can suck sometimes. That's not the way it should be. That's not the way it will be in the kingdom of God.

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