Pr. Ben Adams
October 6, 2018
A Measure of Justice
A measure of justice. That’s sometimes all we can achieve. Because there are times when something has been broken so badly that it cannot be put back together the same way again, there are times when something so irreplaceable has been lost that there is no substitute or compensation that will ever equal its original value, there are times when injustice is so great that all we can hope for and strive for is just a measure of justice.
Last March, a family friend and former neighbor of mine when I lived in Michigan was shot and killed by two people who were robbing him. Mike was 57 years old when his life tragically ended, and as hard as it is knowing Mike is gone, we still hope for a measure of justice. The injustice of Mike’s murder will always remain, but there is an ongoing investigation and a $10,000 reward still out there for anyone who has information on the identities of Mike’s killers. Accountability for Mike’s murderers isn't going to bring Mike back, but it would be a measure of justice that we desire.
And as I talk about Mike I’m brought back to our own context here in Chicago and I think about the countless lives lost to gun violence in our own city that go unsolved, with no measure of justice served.
But no death was as poignant this past week than the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke. The hearings and deliberations this past week had many of us waiting on pins and needles for a verdict... and yesterday at 2pm it came. I was nervous to open my computer and check the updates once the clock struck two. But when I did, I felt it. I felt a measure of justice had been restored. Officer Van Dyke was found guilty.
That guilty verdict is not going to bring Laquan back, his life was irreplaceable, that injustice will never be corrected, but this verdict felt like something. It was the first time in a long time that I thought to myself, “this could really change things.” Maybe with this new precedent there will be a day where cops will exercise more restraint and we won’t lose any more of our siblings of color due to police brutality and excessive force. I felt a semblance of hope return with this measure of justice that was served.
But despite this guilty verdict fitting well into my understanding of justice and correct judgement being made, there are tons of unexplainable injustices that don’t fit into our sense of order, karma, or just desserts. Why do bullies and bad people seem to win so much? Or on the flip side why do bad things happen to good people?
Isn’t there some divine equation that tallies up our good and bad deeds and dispenses material blessings accordingly?
Well to help us answer, or, actually, complicate that question, is our first reading today from the book of Job. Now first thing we have to know about Job is that he is, to the best of our knowledge, not actually a historical, real person. The location of the land of Uz is not entirely known and the name Job is not a typical name for an Israelite, so already from just the beginning line there is some literary distance put between the reader and the main character. All that is to say that it’s helpful to understand Job more as an archetype than a person.
So Job is the archetype of the faithful person or people, and he receives abundant blessings, but Satan thinks that Job is only faithful because he receives blessings, so God turns Job over to Satan to have all of Job’s blessings taken away and for Satan to inflict all kinds of suffering on Job to see if Job is truly faithful or just playing the system that would reward his faithfulness with blessings.
It’s like God and Satan devise some awful divine episode of candid camera where we get to see who Job really is when everything around him seems to be going wrong.
The whole story of Job is just one injustice after another, and when Job finally demands an answer from God for all this suffering, God does appear to Job as a storm cloud but only tells Job that there is no way Job could even begin to comprehend the answer to that question because Job wasn’t there when God was creating and ordering the cosmos.
So we don’t really get an answer to the question of why injustice happens to undeserving people. God just says, it’s way more complicated than a mechanistic equation that tallies up our good and bad deeds and dispenses blessings accordingly.
And that actually feels like truth to me. Looking around at how unfair the world is I ditched the idea of karma long ago, and if there were karma, it’s much more complicated than what comes around goes around.
So if we don’t really get an answer we can comprehend from God as to why bad things happen to good people, then what are we to do? I think the answer is to love anyway, not because loving makes you more righteous, or because it results in some kind of spiritual or material blessing for you later, but because it is the only adequate response to the love and grace of God that we know and receive through Jesus Christ.
Now when I say to love anyway, we might think of some idyllic form of love, but the only kind of love that we can express is through every measure of justice that we achieve, through God, for and with our siblings of God. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Justice is an approximation of love under conditions of sin.”
Love is a lofty goal to have and it often seems so absent from the world because we can’t even begin to comprehend how to love like Christ loved us. But justice, that is a concept we can understand, and in reality, under the conditions of sin, justice is the closest thing we will ever know to God’s love.
So our answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people is us sitting here in this room right now. We are the ones who will be the instruments of God’s justice and we are only capable of manifesting even a measure of God’s justice because of the grace of God that we have in the crucified and risen Christ.
It sounds overwhelming as I even say it, and there will be uncorrectable and unmitigated injustices that occur, but with every measure of justice that we strive for and achieve, all creation will know more fully the love of God.
I don’t know about you, but almost immediately after I felt a semblance of hope after the guilty verdict of officer Van Dyke, I was thrown right back into hopelessness and despair as we received more news that Senator Susan Collins would be the deciding affirmative vote that Brett Kavanaugh needs to be confirmed as the next justice of the US Supreme Court. And it was in that moment that a friend of mine shared some famous wisdom from the Jewish Talmud that I also shared on our Holy Trinity Facebook page and it goes like this,
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
In whatever way God’s grace empowers us to manifest even a measure of justice, let’s do it. Whether it’s through protest, advocacy, or service, let’s do it. It’ll get confounding at times and like Job, we will not even begin to fathom the complexity of the mysterious divine order of things, but through that humility we are all the more reliant on God’s grace to achieve any and every measure of justice this world will ever know. Amen