By Drew Coons
“We had so little to begin with,” an American missionary in Africa sobbed. “They’ve taken most of that away.” The government of the country we served required foreigners to exchange all of our money for local currency at a state-run bank. That bank gave only a fraction of the value of our minimal salaries. This godly woman wasn’t serving to make money. But the injustice of the situation was difficult for her to accept.
Many Scriptures document the importance of justice to God: “He loves justice” (Psalm 11:7). “Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity” (Proverbs 22:8). And my favorite: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
To many people, acting justly means locking up criminals. Bible teachers may describe justice in retributive terms. Yes, God could justly give punishment for sin. But instead God gives mercy through Christ. Others think acting justly means helping poor people. Indeed, assisting those in need is just and can mirror God’s gift of mercy.
However, justice means more than punishment or mercy. The law God gave to Israel through Moses established rules by which people could live together and resolve differences. The Mosaic law established the right to trial, fair and impartial judges, honest witnesses, and reasonable punishment. We see these principles forming the basis of our American legal system. The final words of our Pledge of Allegiance are, “and justice for all.”
Unfairness always exists in our world and is hard to accept. Even the prophet Jeremiah struggled with accepting injustice. “You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah 12:1). Ecclesiastes 5:8 explains, “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.” Those in authority perpetuate injustice because they see others do so. Injustice is a result of sin, which permeates our fallen world.
Responding to Injustice
We recognize the existence of injustice, so how do we respond?
• Avoid becoming anxious or envious due to injustice. “Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked” (Proverbs 24:19). The danger is that bitterness can take root. My widowed mother struggled to raise three children. Some shady service providers left her with the debilitating attitude, “Everybody is out to cheat me.” In Philippians 4:8, 9, Paul instructed us to think about excellent and praiseworthy things to help us focus on God’s peace.
• Seek justice for the poor or disadvantaged. My observation is that injustice can be especially disheartening to those less affluent. Perhaps that’s why Scripture says, “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:2-4). The King James Version and New American Standard Bibles translate “uphold the cause” in verse 3 as “do justice.” Either translation speaks to active involvement that can apply to us today. We can also see a parallel to the second of Jesus’ great commandments, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Poverty isn’t conclusive evidence of injustice. Jesus said that we would always have the poor among us. But we should oppose injustice that exacerbates poverty.
• Remember that justice applies to everyone. King David wrote about justice in a number of his psalms. Yet David sinned with another man’s wife, Bathsheba, and then murdered her husband. Was this not egregiously unjust? Scripture records no qualms on David’s part until he was confronted by the prophet Nathan.
• Beware of unwarily copying injustices merely because they are legal or seem to bring worldly success. Secular laws are not always just. I grew up in the segregated South. Discrimination against minorities and the poor was legal. But as a follower of Christ, I’m called to a higher standard.
Jesus’ Responses to Injustice
Jesus demonstrated two sharply contrasting responses to injustice based on different circumstances. Jesus sought justice for others by driving the moneychangers and merchants out of the Jerusalem temple. “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers,” he said because of monopolistic overcharging of worshippers (Luke 19:46). Like Nathan, he confronted the perpetrators of injustice. Jesus’ world was full of injustice. Why did this circumstance cause such a reaction? This injustice was being conducted in the context of God’s work. Jesus prioritized opposing this injustice that dishonored God.
Several years ago I discovered that a Christian organization was not being just regarding their finances, and I felt I needed to speak up. Before the ensuing confrontation, I asked several godly men to hold me accountable to communicate politely, respectfully, and factually based on God’s Word. I rejoice in knowing that I did the right thing in a godly manner. However, the leaders did not receive my observation gratefully. I do believe my protest likely hastened the eventual change of policy.
Jesus responded differently when he was personally denied justice. When falsely accused at trial before his crucifixion, “Jesus remained silent” (Matthew 26:63). Then in verse 64 after being asked directly, Jesus simply told the truth about himself. He accepted the injustice and applied his own words: “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39).
When personally suffering injustice, we should respond by faith like Jesus did, regardless of how we feel. Twenty years ago I suffered flagrant injustice. A ministry authority was angry about an incident in which I had not been remotely involved. In his emotional state, he believed false and secret accusations against me and refused to let me answer in defense. The rebuke was severe and placed in my records. Did I feel joyful? No! I was furious. I asked God for an angel to smite them all. When no angel appeared, two choices remained: I could create a major ruckus demanding my personal rights or I could accept the injustice without resistance.
I deliberately chose to follow Jesus’ example and even gave some blessings in return. Ultimately that situation worked out well for my wife and me. Still, injustice hurts deeply and is difficult to accept. I learned not to add regret to the hurt by reacting poorly. Occasionally I meet the man who treated me unjustly. His face lights up when he sees me and we greet each other warmly. I still think he made a mistake. But I learned that God can use personal injustice as a tutor. After that experience, I became diligent about treating others justly. I knew the power of turning the other cheek. These lessons have helped me to work with people from all over the world.
All of us will observe and suffer injustice. Let’s not allow emotions to rule us. Let’s follow Scripture by faith and seek God’s guidance in how we respond. “The Lord loves righteousness and justice” (Psalm 33:5).
Drew Coons and his wife, Kit, are retired missionaries living in Paron, Arkansas.