Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The Limits of Justice (Eccles. 8)

Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair.  People do, and get away with, all sorts of evil.  It seems that often crime pays.  We despair when courts pass sentences that are pitifully weak, and there are times when it is the innocent who get charged.  Those who cheat on their tax returns, lie on their welfare forms and make dishonest insurance claims seem to be rewarded for their dishonesty.   Solomon looked at the injustice that he observed ‘under the sun’ and wrote, ‘there is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve.  This too, I say, is meaningless’ (14).

In fact, Solomon thinks of the funerals of godless bullies (10).  There they are put into the ground, and it seems like they got away with everything.  No-one criticises them when they are dead.  We don’t like to speak ill of the deceased.  The English, Daily Telegraph, reported the story of a vicar whose honesty got him in trouble.  He held a service for someone he did not admire.  So he stated that he could think of nothing nice to say about the man and that no-one would miss him.  The family were up in arms and he was made apologise.  We don’t go to a funeral to tell the deceased person’s family how awful he was.  On that day at least, there is a conspiracy of silence!

So, what do we do about the fact that we live in a world of injustice?

We obey the authorities

Imagine a society where there is no government to make laws and no government to enforce them.  Imagine a society where everyone decides how much they can drink before they get behind the wheel of a car, where people choose how much tax they should pay, where there are no driving licences or speed limits, where there are no environmental regulations or planning restrictions and where theft and violence are not punished.  Do you think that such a society would tend towards order or chaos?  Do you think that such a society would be characterised by good or evil?

I think the answer is obvious.  A society in which everyone does what they want would be an awful place to live.  The book of Judges, in the Old Testament, narrates a time when ‘there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes’.  The result of such anarchy was a society awash with evil and bloodshed.  The Bible teaches us that government is actually a gift from God (Romans 13:1-7); that it is designed to restrain and punish evil.  Solomon tells us that whoever obeys the king’s (or government’s) command will not come to harm (2-3).

Of course, there are occasions where people are called to take a stand against evil laws.  Daniel and his friends disobeyed when they were told to worship King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.  Christians should smuggle Bibles into nations where they are banned.  But the Christian is to seek the best for the society where God has placed them (Jeremiah 29:7).  Our attitude to governmental authorities will actually reflect our attitude to our God who put them in place.  Paying our taxes honestly, obeying the speed limit, not breaking the lights, not being drunk and disorderly and not littering are actually acts of worship to our God as well as acts of obedience to the state.     

We strive for justice 

While governments are given to restrain evil, Solomon still sees evil all around him.  Laws can’t change the human heart.  The Christian is not someone who simply sits back passively in the face of injustice.  The Old Testament encouraged people to act justly.  In particular, there were four groups that were repeatedly highlighted as needing special attention: the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the migrant.

When the people were challenged about how they looked after the foreigner in their land, they were reminded that they were once foreigners in another land.  They were to treat others as they would have liked to be treated themselves.  This is really relevant in Ireland at this time.  There is a growing intolerance of the foreigners in our midst.  But we Irish must remember that we have been an emigrating nation.  We have heard the stories of times when signs went up, ‘no Irish need apply’.  This is not an attitude we liked, nor one that we should display. 

We mustn’t become bitter

On issues of serious injustice, it is right to ask the state to act.  We should applaud those who have the courage to blow the whistle on abuse.  We should encourage people to take their abuser to court.  We should seek for justice to be done.  Even when the abuser has sought forgiveness it is right for them to serve the sentence that the law demands.

Then there may be less serious issues that aren’t for the courts.  This year people may have done and said things that have really hurt you.  Your neighbour might dislike you for no obvious reason.  You might work with someone who gives you are hard time.  Your parents might show favouritism away from you.  Your children may be ungrateful.  We are tempted to become bitter.  However, Solomon tells us not to get swallowed up in bitterness.  

Solomon wondered why there is such injustice in the world and exclaimed, ‘This too, I say, is meaningless.   So, I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun’ (15).

Don’t let the wrong things that have been done to you stop you from enjoying the good things that have been given to you.  Don’t get consumed by your hurts.  Don’t get disillusioned about the fact that life is unfair.  What did we expect, we are flawed people living in an evil generation?  Don’t let the hurt that you experienced at the hand of your mother spoil the joy you have in your daughter.  Don’t let the harsh words you heard from your father cause you to speak impatiently with your son.  Don’t let the disappointment of being let down by one friend stop you from enjoying other friends.  Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face!

Remember the cross

Solomon is examining everything from the perspective of life ‘under the sun’.  ‘Under the sun’ refers to life lived without God being in the picture.  ‘Under the sun’ is limiting life to what we can see in the here and now.  But the Christian knows that when it comes to injustice, life is not just lived under the sun.  The God of the heavens calls us to think of the cross.

There was a day of justice almost two thousand years ago.  There Jesus, the Son of God, took the punishment for his people’s acts of injustice.  You see, I have done and said things that have wounded people.  I have said insensitive things to some of you.  We are not just victims, we are villains.  Where possible, we apologise.  But often we cannot undo the hurt and harm that we have caused.  Jesus has died for our evil words and deeds.  People may refuse to forgive us, but God declares that we are no longer condemned.  One day those we have hurt will see that our God took our sins against them seriously, so seriously that his Son died to pay for them.

Remember there will be a day of judgement

There will be another day of justice at some undisclosed time in the future.  Jesus will return to judge both those who have died and those who are still living.  The books will be opened.  Cruel dictators will find that they didn’t get away with murder.  People’s deeds will be exposed.  There will be no need for an appeal court.  There will be no complaints about sentencing.   Justice will be done.  Justice will be seen to have been done.

Why is there injustice in the world?  There is injustice in the world because people like you and me ignore God’s rule of love.  What does perfect justice demand?  Perfect justice demands that our guilt should be punished.  How serious is our evil?  Our evil is so serious that we deserve to be separated from God for ever.  So, is there any hope for us?  Yes!  Through the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our evil, so that God can forgive us without compromising his holiness.  We can accept him and hear the verdict ‘not condemned’ or we can ignore his mercy and take our condemnation on our shoulders.

As forgiven people we cannot be smug or self-righteous.  As forgiven people we do not need to defend ourselves when people point to the wrong that we have done.  As forgiven people we are to be thankful and grateful for the cross of Christ!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I must get this copied for my Dad who is house-bound and who lives in Shelbourne Park on his own.
Are most people in the church, baptised in the Holy Spirit ?
Do you believe in prayer for healing in this present time?

Damien Dolan.