When Justice Rolls Down… Like Molasses

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When I was a pastor in Baltimore, I had a neighbor who was involved in a verbal fight with a woman in front of his house. In mere minutes she had a group of fifteen at his house hurling obscenities and bricks at his house. He ran into his house and called the police. He may still be waiting for their help.

Another neighborhood friend was unemployed and dependent on government assistance to get by. All that he could afford was the low-rent halfway houses in the area. Unfortunately, he realized that several of them were traps for the underprivileged. When asked why he didn’t contact the police, he retorted, “What would they ever do for me?”

We took our kids to a local dentist for a checkup. It was our first time at that particular dentist’s office. Something seemed fishy when the dentist tried to convince us that our toddlers needed multiple fillings and caps for their cavity-ridden teeth. After a second opinion from another dentist, we realized that the former dentist was a scam. We noticed how many parents were taken advantage of by dental frauds, who fleeced so much money from those who could barely afford an appointment for their kids.

Seeking Justice

People there were regularly exploited for their addictions, their poverty and their desperation. When they called for help, no one answered. It can be discouraging to live there. It can certainly be discouraging to continue to seek justice in a community with drug-addicted prostitutes walking the streets daily, church members with vehicles stolen right in front of the church building and the regular hustlers who exploit the Christlike compassion of Christians. Amos 5:24 famously declares, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” For many people’s experiences in the inner city, however, it seems that justice rolls down like molasses. So why would anyone serve there?

Why Did We Stay?

We served there because the Lord called us there, and we sought to be faithful to His calling until He called us elsewhere. There was another reason: we served because the Lord gave us exactly what we needed so we would not lose heart when justice’s roll is slow.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable to those growing weary by injustice. A parable is an illustrative story meant to make a point. Luke records why Jesus told this particular parable: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought to pray and not lose heart” (v.1). Why would they stop praying? Why would they lose heart? The parable helps answer those questions.

The story is about a conversation between two people: a judge who neither fears God nor regards people and a widow who has been wronged (vv.2-3). The widow repeatedly pleads for justice, but the judge, though annoyed, repeatedly rejects her and throws her case out of his court. The widow, however, will not be denied. She must get justice, and the judge is the only one who could grant it to her. Thus with her options exhausted, she pleaded for justice until she exhausted the judge: “For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (vv.4-5).

When Justice Seems Slow

This unjust judge provides the perfect contrast to understand the nature and ways of our God when justice seems slow (vv.6-8). Consider:

God is not unjust; He is just (vv.6-7). If there is anyone who cares about justice, it is the one true God. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Ps. 89:14, 97:2). If an unjust judge can be just every once in awhile, how can one doubt that God can give justice?

God is not indifferent; He chose us (v.7). The unjust judge had no regard for people and had zero compassion for this widow’s need. The Lord, however, has chosen His people before the foundation of the world to be His adopted children (Eph. 1:3-6). God is not detached from our hurts and sorrows. He hears our every cry and will wipe every tear from our eyes.

God does not obstruct justice; He’ll act soon (vv.7-8). The unjust judge only acted when he simply could not take the widow’s pleas any longer. In comparison, God’s delay seems much longer. This does not mean that He has forgotten His children, however. It means that there are wise and good purposes that He must accomplish until then. He will surely act, and when He does, it will be the right time.

Final Judgement

We can be assured of each of these truths because our gospel affirms each one. God is so just that the only way that He could give mercy to guilty sinners like us is by satisfying His just demands in the substitutionary sacrifice and imputed righteousness of His Son. God does so because before creation He made up His mind that we sinners would join Him in His joy as His beloved sons and daughters, secured eternally by the resurrected Christ. And when He returns, the Lord will bring final judgment on evil and raise His brothers and sisters to their glorious redemption in the New Jerusalem.

Injustice abounds in the inner city, but we need not lose heart. Through Christ, God is both just and our justifier. Keep praying. Keep hoping in Christ. For though His justice may seem slow, it is absolutely certain.

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published here on July 31, 2017.

  • Justice
  • Luke 18
  • Prayer
  • Ronjour Locke
Ronjour Locke

Director of the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership

Ronjour Locke serves as the Director of the Center for Preaching & Pastoral Leadership and also an Instructor of Preaching and Urban Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to his wife, Annie, and they have four children.

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