Is Justice Dead?
Justice is a popular topic these days. A lot of people are crying out for justice. However, not everyone means the same thing when they are talking about justice. Someone may say justice will come when we all have equality of wealth. Some may say justice will come when we get rid of the police department. Some say justice will come when all the people I don’t like are in jail. There are many ideas about what justice is. But biblically speaking, our aim should be to seek justice as God defines it, not as we would on our own.
We try to bring justice about. We try to bring people to justice. We understand that justice is two fold: It involves 2 parties: The guilty and their victim. Justice to us usually means punishing the guilty and bringing a sense of justice to victims. This is generally in line with God’s view of justice according to the Bible, but we are often unsatisfied with justice brought by human courts, because we either think the judgment was too harsh or not harsh enough. Or, we think the guilty went free on a technicality. Or perhaps there was a corrupt judge, police chief, or lawyer involved that perverted the justice. So we are outraged when someone who seems clearly guilty to everyone walks away with no punishment. Or we are outraged if the court hearing takes so long, or an arrest is not made soon enough. There is a saying we may use, “justice delayed is justice denied”. But no one escapes God’s justice. And sometimes, God does not exact punishment immediately on the guilty. In fact, we ought to be very thankful for that, since every time we sin we are not immediately struck down. God’s justice may not be visible to us. We may not see it at all in some cases in a way that satisfies us.
But still, we cry out for justice. Is it ok for us to question God about his justice? Can we be righteous in questioning him about why someone seems to get away with murder?
Paul noted that there would be all kinds of evil done by people:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
Paul observed the reality of this in his time, and also is predicting it would continue in future generations. We see it today, all of these sins, and maybe even more varieties on a theme. And there was a prophet, who we are going to study the writings of for the next 4 weeks or so, who also questioned God about why he lets people get away with their sins. That is his initial question to God. And we will see that question answered this morning, and next week, Lord willing, we will see how the answer to the first question prompts a second question. I’ll sum up the questions now, and we will look into both the questions and God’s answers as we go. The first question, or complaint, is, more or less, “why are you letting people get away with so much sin?” And God’s answer is, my response to the sin of Israel is coming, and it is going to be very harsh. And next, Habakkuk says, “How can you punish so harshly? I don’t like the punishment you are promising.” God’s answer is, “wait and have faith. You will see in the end that my judgments are right, the wicked will be punished”
We don’t know much about Habakkuk. He is one of a few in scripture who we have no description of. Sometimes we get someones lineage or the town they came from, but we don’t know much about Habakkuk other than he was around probably between 640-615 BC, before the decline of assyria and the rise of Babylon (Chaldea). So let’s look at Habakkuk’s first complaint and God’s answer:
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
We can definitely relate to Habakkuk’s complaint. I could spend all day just giving examples of things that are going on in the present and recent past that make us shake our heads and say, how can they get away with that? IN this case, Habakkuk is complaining about his own country. Everywhere he looks, God is being mocked by the sin of the people. Habakkuk is not just bringing this up. He has been crying for help for some time. You may have, as I do, a couple of cross references here: Ps13.1
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Habakkuk is by no means the first, and certainly was not the last, to question God about his justice. He sees violence being done to helpless people, and no one is saving them. I feel like this all the time when I hear of all of the violence done against children, the horrible treatment of people who are the most vulnerable. When you consider how the most innocent are murdered in the womb, and you ask God, why? Why don’t you step in and save these babies? Why don’t you step in and stop abusive people who are ruining the lives of so many children? Why do you let this continue?
Why does it seem like you don’t even care, God? They are getting away with it! All I see is destruction and violence and strife and contention! the law is paralyzed, justice never goes forth. the wicked surround the righteous.
Now, some may say, “you must never question God”. And certainly in the end, we are called to trust him and his sovereign plan, that he will make all things right. But is God offended by our questioning? The answer is… sometimes. But other times in scripture, God lovingly allows his creatures to process their emotions, to ask difficult questions. He knows what we are thinking anyway.
You see, that it may have been impudent in a sense for Habakkuk to question God like this, but God does not give Habakkuk a hard time, he actually answers the question. The answer is not an answer that is going to satisfy the questioner. Because the answer is that I am going to punish the sins of my people, and I am going to punish the sins of my people by sending an even more evil people to be the instrument of my wrath and judgement.
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.
This is going to blow your mind. You aren’t going to understand it. My justice is coming, but not how you would have hoped.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.
The Chaldeans, that is the residents of Chaldea, also known as the Babylonians, are being raised up by God to bring punishment to Israel. These Chaldeans are a bitter and hasty nation. What does that mean? What is a person like who is bitter and hasty? Bitter people are those who have allowed themselves to become absorbed by an attitude that is tainted by the past, they hold grudges, they are cynical, they assume the worst about people. Bitter people will tell you they already know how bad things will turn out because they never turn out well. And hasty, quick to jump to conclusions. Now, some people are hasty to think the best of others, to jump to good conclusions about people when maybe they should wait a little to see if there can be trust there. We may say these people are naive or gullible. Well, that may be a problem, but if I am going to error sometimes by being hasty, I would rather have it be a hastiness to trust, especially in the church, but apparently the Chaldeans are hasty in a way that corresponds to their bitterness.
So God is about to use as his instrument of judgment a people who are bitter and hasty. Perhaps, then, it is fair to consider, when we feel harassed by people who are bitter and hasty, whether God is using that person to correct us. Because God loves us, when we sin, he often corrects us, and sometimes his means of correction may be ungodly people. However, this does not mean we always need to assume that because someone is mistreating us that this must be God’s punishment. But whenever we are in difficult times, and even when we are not in difficult times, we should be asking God to search our hearts, to find if there is any iniquity there.
These Chaldeans march through the earth, they seize dwellings not their own. They are plunderers, they are imperialists. They conquer to make their own kingdom greater.
Besides being bitter and hasty, the Chaldeans are dreaded and fearsome. They have their own standard of justice and dignity.
They are also powerful. They have horses and soldiers who ride them that move quickly, and are fierce, like an eagle they come to devour. they are all about violence. They devour what is ahead of them like an eagle.
They are violent, they capture and enslave people. They are so powerful that they laugh at kings and rulers. This is pure arrogance. They pile up earth and take every fortress. You have a wall around your city? No worries, we will just bring in enough dirt to make a hill to climb right over. You aren't going to keep the Chaldeans out.
They sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, who own might is their god.
Now, some of you diligent people will read ahead, and next week we are going to see the response Habakkuk has to this. AS much as he was dismayed over the sin he was seeing, he was not prepared for this response. He doesn’t like the fact that God would punish sinful people by using even worse people! We will look at that part next week, but for now, let’s see what lessons we can draw thus far:
We can certainly sympathize with Habakkuk. We look at our world as he did, and we see all over that people mock God with their lives and we want Him to do something about it. But do we really want God’s instant justice? Well, not for ourselves, you see, but for everyone else. For ourselves, we want mercy, grace, patience, and understanding. But all those other sinners? Give them justice! Now, God never says to Habakkuk, “you are wrong to want justice”. In fact, he is assuring Habakkuk that there will in deed be justice. It is coming. So many great stories and movies have this theme. People have been oppressed, there is an oppressor, no one is bringing the evil person or people to justice. And then a hero comes in, and destroys the enemy, and the people rejoice and live happily ever after. We want this kind of ending
Yet, if we all got the justice we deserved, who could stand? Mal3.2
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.
Behold, like a lion coming up from the jungle of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly make him run away from her. And I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me?
But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?
You see, none of us could stand before God.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So who can stand? Those in sin are unable to save themselves. They need a hero to come in and right the wrongs. They need a Savior who can save them from the wrath of God. We were too weak to save ourselves, so Christ died for us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
You see, Habakkuk’s cry for justice is our cry as well, but we must remember this: If justice comes, and is perfect, then we are all in trouble. The wrath of God is to be revealed. The unrighteous need to become righteous to avoid the wrath of God. But he provided a way for the wrath of God to be turned away from us. We don’t need to fear the Chaldeans, and we don’t need to fear God’s judgment. And for those already saved, we must trust that he evil around us will be punished.
The other lesson to learn here is that God will use His own means to punish us, and to discipline us. He loves us enough that when we are living in sin, like the people were in habakkuk’s time, he often will allow ungodly people or ungodly means to bring us back to him. How or why can he do this, and not be the author of sin? This is part of the mystery.
So what can we do? We can trust God. We can trust God that justice will come. We can trust that with God, justice delayed is not justice denied, because where the justice of people comes up short, God’s justice is always perfect, and perfect in His time. Another prophet, Micah, saw that some of these things seemed to be happening in his day:
Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires. The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
So what does Micah say he will do?
All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste, for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them, and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.
And Micah realizes as well, that sometimes when we sin against the Lord we will bear his indignation:
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the Lord your God?” My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.
Does this sound a little like the answer habakkuk got?
God may sometime use our enemies as his means of dealing with our sin. And maybe we will bear the indignation of the Lord as he does this. But he will also bring those he loves out to the light, and they will see his vindication, and he will execute judgment for us.
When King David was being cursed, he did not allow his mighty men to take off Shimei’s head:
Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ ” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.”
Do you trust in the Lord’s timing? His justice? His means?