Theme: Justice or Mercy?
In this week’s lessons we see how David dealt with the anguish of being unjustly accused, and learn the need to leave our own mistreatment with the Lord, trusting him to act justly.
Scripture: Psalm 7:1-17
Distinguished in this way, between heavenly and earthly justice, Christians naturally embrace the heavenly conception. But Lewis rightly asks us to yearn for earthly justice as well, and to work for it. For one thing, to do this puts us on the side of those who traditionally have had difficulty obtaining justice. Lewis rightly reminds us of the Lord’s parable in which the poor widow cries for justice from a judge who is unwilling to hear her. This is because she has nothing to bribe him with. According to the parable, the judge finally does hear her but only because of her persistence or importunity (Luke 18:1-8). Lewis reminds us that in most countries of the world this is a very real problem. The poor are abused because they cannot “grease the palms” of those who are able to see that their cases are heard or of those who actually give judgment. And it is not only in other countries that this general problem exists. Injustice due to poverty is far more common in the west than we may care to admit, even under our “enlightened” judicial systems.
But there is another issue, and this is earthly justice itself and our responsibilities as Christians to be concerned for it. Is it not true that preoccupation with a final, heavenly judgment at which we hope to be acquitted through the work of Christ has often made us indifferent to the need for justice now? I think it has. Even more, we have sometimes focused on the importance of a forgiving attitude in this life to the detriment of actually working for justice.
Lewis gives an illustration. He imagines two boys fighting over a pencil, and goes on to say
The question whether the disputed pencil belongs to Tommy or Charles is quite
distinct from the question which is the nicer little boy, and the parents who allowed
the one to influence their decision about the other would be very unfair. (It would be
still worse if they said Tommy ought to let Charles have the pencil whether it belonged
to him or not, because this would show that he had a nice disposition. That may be true,
but it is an untimely truth. An exhortation to charity should not come as a rider to a refusal
of justice. It is likely to give Tommy a lifelong conviction that charity is a sanctimonious
dodge for condoning theft and whitewashing favoritism.)5
If these distinctions are valid, as I believe they are, they speak to us of three great needs today: The first is to be champions for the poor or disadvantaged. Who will help them? They are unable to help themselves. The second is upright conduct. We cannot honestly pursue justice for others if we do not practice it ourselves. The last great need is vindication of the righteous. We must see that those who do good are acknowledged to be good and that the wicked are identified as such. Who can dispute any of these needs, or the responsibility to work at them? To ignore these needs is to abandon the poor, disgrace our calling and encourage wickedness.
I need to say here that in your personal religious experience you may not be at this point yet. You may still be struggling with the matter of eternal or heavenly justice. And if that is the case, I counsel you to disregard what I am saying for now and stick with the simple gospel. Do not veer from that track until you know that your sin has been atoned for by the blood of Christ and that you stand before God in his righteousness. On the other hand, if you know that you have been saved by Christ and are mature in faith, having gotten beyond mere justification, let me insist that a passionate concern for earthly justice on your part is essential. It is part of what it means to be a Christian.
And do not be deterred by the cheap shots of those who want to turn your concerns aside and make you ineffective. They may say, “You just think you’re better than everyone else” or “Why don’t you show a little more of the forgiving spirit of Jesus?” The first is untrue, or should be. The second is beside the point. Justice is important all by itself, particularly so when it involves another person.
Of Lewis’ two conceptions of justice, which one do Christians tend to favor, and why? What argument is given for why we should care about the other conception as well?
Review the three great needs concerning earthly justice.
Reflection: Do you show the kind of interest in earthly justice that the Bible commands? If not, what will you begin to do differently?
For Further Study: If you would like your own copy of James Boice’s three-volume commentary set on the Psalms, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering the set at 40% off the regular price, and shipping is free.
5C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), pp. 17-18. The chapter “‘Judgement’ in the Psalms” is on pp. 9-19.