The Confusing Desire for Immediate Justice
“There oughta be a law!”
“We can’t just sit here; we need to do something!”
“Saying ‘I’m praying for you’ doesn’t mean much; someone should step up!”
Part of bearing the image of God involves the innate human desire for justice. We are hardwired with a sense of right and wrong, however distorted by sin it may be. Our flesh-guided definitions of those categories may vary widely, but we cannot escape the driving instinct that right should be promoted and wrong should be punished and eliminated. Nor can we escape the natural inclination that justice must be done now…that things must be set right now…that the guilty must pay now. Those who do not recall having felt this urgency have likely not been the aggrieved party.
I began writing this shortly after the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, when it seemed like everyone I heard talking about it was demanding immediate justice, usually taking the form of crying out for greater firearm restrictions or some sort of ban on weapons. Since that time, injustice has not slowed down, and an even more fatal mass shooting took place in Uvalde, TX.
“Why doesn’t someone do something?”
Unsurprisingly, the headlines have been flooded with rhetoric over the issue of guns—gun rights vs. gun control—and the cry for new laws right now.
Equally unsurprising is the corollary debate over school security, suggesting that new, stronger, more comprehensive measures must be taken to secure school campuses and buildings right now. Some are even suggesting that teachers should receive immediate firearms training and carry weapons to protect their students.
Regardless of where an individual may land on such issues (and, yes, I have my own very definite convictions about all of the above), one governing constant throughout the cultural conversation is the impulse to demand immediate justice.
The desire for immediate justice reflects the image of God in each of us. God is just and His holiness demands justice. He is also omniscient, knowing all things perfectly; therefore, the all-knowing, all-wise God is perfect in His justice.
The justice impulse in us reflects God’s image, but it is a distorted reflection because of sin. We are not perfectly just any more than we are perfectly moral, perfectly loving, or perfectly wise. We do not know completely; therefore, our desire for immediate justice often leads instead to further injustice.
The urgent quest for immediate justice is a root cause of such evils as lynching, vigilantism, and reactionary sentencing. True justice requires wisdom, and wisdom cannot be rushed. Injustice understandably stirs emotions, but justice requires the cooling chamber of time and perspective. It must never be prejudiced by passions, politics, or persons.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. (Psalm 89:14)
The Living God is perfectly righteous, just, loving, and faithful. He is steadfast. He does not waver or shift; He is not swayed by the weight of our moments. His people must likewise approach justice from a perspective bigger than any particular moment.
In Numbers 5:11-31, God gives Israel a rather peculiar test for a woman accused of adultery. The test itself was benign enough, but through that visible symbol, God would reveal the innocence or guilt of the accused.
As women did not generally hold the same cultural or legal status as men throughout the ancient world, it is not difficult to see how a woman could easily be falsely accused and horribly mistreated in a situation without witnesses merely on the whim of a jealous husband. As the Lord called for holiness and integrity in marriage, he likewise required the presumption of innocence until proven guilty to protect against rash, emotional “justice” being meted out. A woman accused without witnesses would be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a supernatural act of God.
Despite all of our supposed advancements as humans, we are no less guilty of injustice in the name of hasty justice than our ancient counterparts. We see racism and react with a different form of racism. We see evil done and react with immediate calls for new or revised laws, even at the expense of due process. We cry out for immediate justice, but we end up with shortsighted solutions that only wreak more havoc.
Our understanding is corrupted by sin, and so is our impulse toward urgency in response to the sin of others. In our haste, we miss the reality that heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. We cannot continue to operate in God’s created world while ignoring or rebelling against God’s commands and expect anything other than increasing chaos and injustice. The corrective must begin with a worldview that sees life through the lens of God’s Word. Anything else is rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.
Justice can never be accomplished through reactionary means. Those who would live as a reflection of the reality of Christ through just relationships must take a long view and understand that there is a crucial and fundamental difference between getting justice right and getting it right now.