If you turn on the news right at this moment, you’ll think the world is falling apart. I suppose that’s been true since “the news” began, but it seems like the unrest is pushing further and further into our own backyard, with riots and marches happening in cities thousands of miles away from the incidents that caused them. People are angry and hurt and outraged, and their feelings are real.
I was thinking about how it must feel to truly believe the American judicial system is against you—to distrust the very people who are employed to uncover truth. I can only imagine the feeling of rage at injustice when someone you believe to be guilty is declared innocent. I can only imagine the feeling of horror when someone you believe to be innocent is declared guilty. When there are two sides to a story and two groups to back up each one, both can’t win. That’s why we as nations rely on the discovery of real truth, apart from what we believe.
But the reality is that sometimes the punishment, or lack thereof, does not fit the crime.
This is not a comment on the verdicts of the recent Ferguson or Eric Garner cases. I, of course, do not know what truly happened in either situation and, frankly, am not interested in conjuring up speculations and opinions. This is, however, a comment on the American judicial system as a whole. And on every country’s judicial system, for that matter.
It’s clear that our world is fallen, and along with that come terrible things: disease, war, famine, brutality, disasters, and yes, imperfect court systems. Though the American government has pursued “liberty and justice for all” since its founding, it’s impossible for our nation to always get this right.
So what do we do about it?
We can protest, threaten, harm others, argue, scorn, hate, retreat, stay ignorant, stay silent. All valid options. None overly satisfying.
So I wonder what would happen if, instead of trying our own methods, we emulated the One who experienced deep-seated injustice Himself—the only One who has ever handled it perfectly.
The Bible tells countless stories of unjust sentences—it seems unfair rulings have been occurring since the dawn of time. There are examples of guilty people declared innocent—criminal Barabbas and murderer Cain (who God put a mark on so that no one who discovered his guilt would kill him), to name a couple. There are also innocent people declared guilty, including Paul (imprisoned) and Peter (martyred).
But mainly my mind turns to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. What greater injustice could there be than the Creator of the universe and Father of love drilled through blood and bone and pinned to a wooden stake in the ground?
(I must stop and say, Oh what have we done? Our sins nailed Him there. No earthly suffering we endure will ever be too large a penalty for that crime. Praise Him for the grace He extends to those of us who believe).
Yet in His unjust death at the hands of guilty humans, God was calm and quiet. Bold but yielding. He endured His crimeless punishment with love and compassion, an embodiment of His name: Prince of Peace.
And He didn’t demand that His followers stand up for “His rights.” In fact, when Peter drew his sword against Jesus’ enemies, “Jesus ordered Peter, ‘Put back your sword.’” No, Christ’s desire was for the Gospel to be spread more than justice to be found.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, His followers began scattering His message like dandelion seeds in the wind. It was their one goal, their focus as if wearing blinders. We see in the story of the road to Emmaus two men who “were deep in conversation” about Jesus just after His death. When Christ was raised from the dead and joined them on the road, unrecognized, they told Him everything they’d learned. They invited Jesus into their home because they wanted more time to tell the Savior about Himself. And note, these men were not Jesus’ right hand guys. They were strangers who believed in the Messiah and wanted others to also.
Imagine if, instead of telling people about Jesus, Christ’s followers had stormed the workplace of the Roman guards or lashed out at Pontius Pilate. What a shame it would have been if the early Christians had cared more about their rights than about the message of salvation they carried.
Please understand I’m not encouraging the oppressed to stand down for justice but simply offering this thought: what if the salvation of others were exceedingly more important to us than our own liberation? What if it was our top priority? What if we aimed to make the changes we want to see in our judicial system but spent the grand majority of our limited lifetime making followers of the only One who is always just?
I understand this is simplifying a complex issue that is well beyond my scope of life experience. But I also know that at the core of the Gospel, simplicity is key:
Jesus first. All else besides.
Let’s work towards all the justice we can reach on this small earth but always reach even further—to the world’s absolute ends—to profess our faith. For every step we take in protest, let us always take one hundred more to tell someone about Jesus. As we stand for truth, let us remember that the One who is Truth is coming back. And what we see on the news should remind us daily—He is coming back soon. Hallelujah!