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The Justice of God in the Here and Now

February 26th, 2009 | 4 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Last week, I posted a few reflections on how Christians should respond when they experience horrendous evils.  My interlocutor replied with this additional concern:

"I have to admit...I gave a bitter sigh when I read this, because not a week ago I quoted [ Psalm 37:13] to a friend of mine while exclaiming that I wish it helped, but I simply did not believe that I would "see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living".
I'm interested in what you think about this.  I understand that often our experience of God's goodness in the face of evil is ultimate; seen only in the end as we come to realize the enormity of God's work and the Good He has wrought out of the evil in our lives.  What really hits me though is the seemingly deep-set belief expressed throughout the Psalms by David that God *will* right the wrongs here on Earth, in our lifetimes. I "believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living".  He prays that his enemies be destroyed, that those who seek his life be stopped, that those who scheme against him be put to shame, that God rise up and defend His people and work justice in the land here and now.

And that's where, frankly, I lose heart...because I don't really believe that He will."

My response was as follows:

I think your intuition about David's prayers in the Psalms is correct:  fundamentally, he does express a desire to see the justice of God executed here and now.  I tend to think that this desire is not eliminated by the New Testament, either.  The questions, it seems, are what is to be done with such a desire, and how we should respond when it is not fulfilled.

As to the former, I sometimes suspect that the desire for justice needs, like all of our desires, to undergo a purification.  Vindication is, after all, God's--not ours.  The desire for revenge is a separate thing from the desire for justice, yet I wonder how much we confuse the two . There is good reason, then, to be suspicious of our own desires for justice and their sanctity.

But a purification of a desire does not entail that it should be eradicated.  When the gold ore is refined, it remains gold.  Fundamentally, our longing for justice here and now must become a longing for God, for only in Him and in His Kingdom will vindication occur--for this sin and for the sins of others.  This does not entail that offenders should not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  They should.  But the preservation of public justice is, I would argue, a separate consideration from the flourishing of our souls, and in this case it is the latter that concerns me.  The desire for justice finds its home in God, and in his eschatological victory--and then here and now.  "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done."

Then we come to the problem of lack of fulfillment.  The question we must ask ourselves is on what terms we would see justice done--on ours or Gods?  We pray "Thy Kingdom come," but if we set the terms for its coming than we shall certainly miss it.  The Lord's justice, in fact, may sometimes be hidden from our sight.  We are not allowed to know everyone's stories, including those who hurt us.

I would suggest, then, that you not give up seeking the Lord's justice here and now, but if anything renew your efforts.  But ensure you are seeking the Lord's justice, for a transgression has been committed against His child, within the boundaries of His kingdom, and it is much his responsibility as it is his right to avenge it.  What does this look like?  You resisted my quotation of David's cry that he would have despaired unless he saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  What of the next verse?  "Wait for the Lord.  Be strong, and let your heart take courage.  Wait for the Lord."  It is in waiting for the Lord (while following the course of the law) that our hearts find peace.

Will God act?  Yes.  Will he act on our terms, in our ways--will he necessarily act here and now? I don't know.  I suspect sometimes he does, and sometimes he does not.  But our desire and our faith in his goodness and his faithfulness to his people should not waver:  we serve a God who, after all, did act in human history in the person of Jesus Christ to take sin upon himself.  The world, says John, is already judged through him.  And we simply await that judgment's fulfillment.

Remember the opening to the Heidleberg Catechism:  "What is thy only comfort in life and death?"

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Please continue the conversation.  I will continue to pray for you both.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.