Unhappily, patience is something most of us don’t have in abundance. Ours is an “instant” world. We expect instant communication, instant “fixes,” and instant gratification. It’s the way the world works. Waiting for God to act in the face of injustice often leads to frustration, to unbelief, and to taking upon ourselves a role that only belongs to God Himself.
Several years ago, Our Daily Bread published the following story:
“What can travel the ocean currents for years before arriving at the shore and still produce life? It’s called a ‘Sea Heart,’ a bean native to the Tropical Rain Forest. Impervious to water, it has been known to travel the ocean currents from South America and end up on European shores.
This seed that carries life, rides the waves and survives the elements, illustrates a basic spiritual principle. God’s plans might include extensive periods of waiting while He works out His design for us. This happened to Noah, who put up with ridicule for 120 years while he built a boat on dry land; it happened to Abraham, who had to wait for a son till he was an old man; it happened to David, the chosen of God, who had to wait for God’s timing before he could become king.
Sea Hearts can’t choose to be patient, but we can. Nothing is more difficult, or better for us, than to follow the example of David who wrote Psalm 25. By waiting on the Lord we can have peace and our faith can grow even while we are riding the stormy waves of life.”
David cried out to God for justice on many occasions. We know from the Biblical record that often justice was slow to come, if it ever came at all! But in spite of the depth of his despair at his circumstances, his writings inevitably reflected his confidence in a trustworthy God who would take care of everything that had to do with him.
This confidence, this resting in the Lord and on His promises, is something most of us still need to learn. When we hear of terrible events taking place around the world we wonder if justice will be served. When it isn’t, we tend to anger or despair. Every day we are assaulted through the media with stories that we’d rather not hear. And sometimes the horrors are close to home. Today I heard about a pastor (one associated with the denomination I belong to and to a church I have connected with on a number of occasions) who murdered his pregnant wife because of an affair he was having with a member of his congregation. He got off with 15 years. I also read an article in my own church bulletin which was both offensive, untrue, and unjust, written by a church leader.
And I prayed for justice (after I got angry). The idea of being patient until God fixes things was not at the top of my list of things to do, believe me! Today was a good day to revisit the Scriptures to remind myself of what God says about my reaction to injustices.
1 Peter 2:19-25 says: “…it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
As is always the case, Christ’s example is our model to follow when it comes to reacting to injustice. The idea is not that we shouldn’t react by standing up for truth and righteousness, but that our reaction should never be to add another sin to the one already committed. Jesus did not react sinfully to the sin committed against Him.
But let’s go back to the beginning of the passage. How we react to injustice is based on what we know God wants us to do, as illustrated in the life of Christ—bear it without recriminations, angry retorts, accusations, bad language, retaliation, or threats. Remember that the Lord was quick to call sin what it was, but when He was treated unfairly he never compounded the problem by adding sin to the sins already committed by those who sought to abuse Him.
“Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” There is a world of promise here, first of all because we are assured that there is someone who will judge justly at some point. Secondly, students of the Scripture know enough about God to understand that He WILL act. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 when he writes in Romans 12:19, “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” This statement is made as part of a series of instructions on the practical realities of loving people (12:9-21) that ends with: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The book of 1 Peter was written to believers who had been scattered throughout the world of that day because of persecution. Some may have already lost everything in their efforts to escape being abused, imprisoned or killed. Some were in danger of losing everything as the intolerance against Christians spread. Peter understands the risks and encourages them to be like Christ, to stand up for their faith, and to “bear up” under the consequences that might come for being faithful.
1 Peter 3:13-18a: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander, It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…”
"...set apart Christ as Lord." Before I react in any way, I need to renew my commitment to follow Christ in my thoughts, words, and action, to make sure that He is the Lord of my life.
As I read these verses I was reminded that I will need to say something to someone with authority to change things, for example, about the message that the article in my church bulletin conveys. But what I say must be with “gentleness and respect.” If there are consequences to me because of what I say they should not be because I sinned in how I expressed my concern.
1 Peter 4:19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
The message here is not one of withdrawal. Peter encouraged the believers who faced unjust treatment NOT to avoid anything that would result in bringing themselves to the attention of those who were just looking for an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth, but to persevere in doing what was right. These actions were based, and continue to be based, on the truth that God, the Creator and Judge, is faithful to those who stand with Him.
But there is another reaction to injustice that needs to characterize the believer. James writes: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Joy? You must be kidding! But notice that the joy is not in the trial itself, but is the result of correctly handling the trial. When we look beyond the moment of trial to the reward of spiritual maturity that come after having successfully handled it, we can rejoice that God has trusted us with that experience.
Being treated unjustly is one of those trials that come into our lives to “toughen us up.” Notice that “toughen” is different from “harden.” If unjust treatment makes us angry with those who have hurt us, unforgiving, bitter, then we become hard. But injustice that drives us to become mature in our faith, to trust God more deeply and to practice forgiveness as we have learned it from the cross, then we become strong, tough, able to face better whatever life has yet to bring our way.
There is the story told of a tree so badly bent over that its branches touched the ground. Someone remarked that it was such a pity that it was so crooked. His companion disagreed: “Those trees that were not able to bend when the storms roared through are now shattered and broken. This tree developed the capacity to lean, and survived.” Toughening makes us stronger, hardening just makes us easier to break! And break we will if we refuse to forgive others as Christ forgave us.