Thinking Through the Unthinkable
Drop your political views before you read another word.
Because I’m not talking politics. I’m talking about injustice.
We may disagree on political themes in a variety of shades from red to blue. Guess what? While Jesus walked this earth, politics came in all different shades too. I mean, Matthew was a tax collector (from his own people) and Peter was looking to start a political revolt (he did after all, attack a Roman centurion). This is why Jesus didn’t bother to mince words over political issues. He addressed the heart. He knew “out of the heart flows the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).
So, I’m simply bringing to you what’s in my heart now.
There are no words to describe what we are witnessing in real time (well, as close to “real time” as we can get). All of war is graphic, which it is to be expected, because all wars lead to bloodshed. So, whatever reaction we are having to what we are seeing in the suffering and powerlessness across our screens isn’t the shocking part. The shock factor is the injustice of it all.
We all have felt the pangs of injustice. All sides, all races, all parties, all countries, all ethnicities, all ages, colors, creeds… Not just now, not just in the last few years, but also throughout all the seasons of life – throughout all eras of civilizations – from the beginning of time. However, right now, it’s happening in Ukraine. And to be honest, it has gutted me.
My heart hurts – for so many reasons. But most of all, because of the injustice of it all.
Injustice is the absence of justice, which springs from the core of our identity, from our self-awareness. From within these depths, we access the concept: I am a human, which is a just and right realization. So then, living is our first and basic tutor in justice. The laws that govern our experience of simply being alive, teach us that there is an order to the world of which I am simply a part – and I am not its designer. Someone greater than me has rightly orchestrated this natural realm of which I am simply living within. I am a part of a great whole of humanity. This was God’s intention all along because it is the course of how He works out His righteousness and justice, as the Sovereign King over it all.
Justice says: I am a human – with all that is right (“just”) about being a human.
We are human. Not one of us isn’t human. At our core, we know the common experience of being human even though there is a variety of ways that humanity is expressed in this world. So, when we see blatant injustices, we acutely feel its sting. That is the way it should be.
All injustices then are tainted with varying degrees of anti-human ideas.
Which is why God hates injustice.
“I hate injustice” Isaiah 61:8.
Injustices make us angry and sad. It should – especially when we say we are affiliated with Christ, who founded the whole of His Kingdom in justice. When all the feelings of injustice swell, it can overwhelm our hearts because it quakes the bedrock of our very core – the sanctity and frailty of being human – as well as making a mockery of God’s sovereign design, which graciously press His image into our being (Gen. 1:26).
My heart is wrestling with the injustice that I see now…the dim images of a glorious God impressed into the humanity whose lives are fading before our eyes.
How do we handle injustice – wherever it appears in our lives?
In the face of injustice insurmountable, I’m reminded that these are the times to take up the shovel and the sword, as Nehemiah did as he faced the broken walls and burned gates of Jerusalem. Facing threats and dangers from the outside, and the pervading apathy and resistance from within, Nehemiah turns not only to God in prayer, but also puts his hands to the work at hand. We can do both as well.
When I hear the pleading of hurting people, feel the depth of injustice at their expense - when it feels insurmountable and I feel terribly powerless, I remind myself of these 4 practical and powerful steps that were pivotal in the story of Nehemiah. I am leaning into these things during these days:
Nehemiah 1:1-3 “I inquired about the remnant [inJerusalem]…”
Shovel: Do not turn a blind eye to suffering.
Sword: Pray for courage and discernment.
It’s easy to evade the reality of what is going on – the world is full of distractions to numb us into a sleepless blinding to reality. I am fighting that easy road. I am watching, praying, checking for updates – even though it burdens my heart as I see injustice. I do it even though it hurts, because I want to care about what God cares about. I know God cares about the oppressed, the fearful, the widows and orphans (which grow in number each day). And I pray as I watch. I pray for discernment and strength to correctly process what I see. I pray that God will help me to see injustices through the political and ideological fog which colors everything. And I pray that God will turn my heart towards Him again and again, so that I do not lose heart.
Neh. 1:4 “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
Shovel: Grieve the losses – they are real.
Sword: Pray for direction.
I cry. I cry a lot. Not just for the injustice in the warzone, but also because of the apathy and in-fighting that is also growing far from the battle fields. It is right to grieve death – whether it is physical, ideological, or even just the death of a dream. It is just and right to feel sadness over the lack of truth and the back-biting and infighting. Grieve it all, because pain is the reality of human experience. We know God’s heart grieves when humanity experiences pain – especially when injustice falls upon the innocent. Even upon the wicked city of Nineveh -possessing 160,000 inhabitants who “did not know their left hand from their right” (referring to children) - God asks, “Should I not have great concern for them?” (Jonah 4:11). (Sometimes, I wonder if God is asking us the same question when we exhibit a cold indifference to the suffering of another.)
As I pray through grief, I ask that God will remind me that He is still in control. Nothing is too hard for Him. There is no power too great, and no injustice unseen.
Nehemiah 1:11 “Lord, be attentive to my prayer…give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of the [king].
Shovel: Do what you can do.
Sword: Pray that our Sovereign God would move upon the hearts of mighty men.
Nehemiah knew he had access to King Artaxerxes since he was his personal cupbearer. This was Nehemiah’s realm of influence. This was where he would have to look for what he could do to address the issues abroad (in Jerusalem). So, he prayed that God would move upon the king’s heart in order to make it happen. Then, he did what God wanted him to do.
I was so inspired by the young woman, speaking from her bunker in Ukraine. She said, “I cannot hold a gun, because I am holding a baby. But, I can fight with my words, so I am here talking to you and those who are listening. So, this baby gives me the reason to fight.” What we hold every day – our jobs, our children, our families, our friends, our homes, and our freedoms that afford us the opportunity to enjoy these things – should inspire us to do whatever it is that we can do within our realm of influence to stand up against injustice. In my powerlessness, I can ask that God will show me what it is that I should do, especially when I feel so burdened. Can I give? Can I go? Can I pray?
I, like the brave Ukrainian women and children hiding in bunkers now, cannot forge the battlefield. But I can pray, and I can write a blog about how I am dealing with these injustices. And I can pray that God will move upon your heart as well, so that is what I am doing. It’s small. It’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it affects the scheme in indescribable ways, because that is what prayer can do. That is what I have in front of me. So, I will do it.
If you can give, find an organization and give. If you are connected to humanitarian organizations and can serve, then serve. If you can pray – and everyone can pray – then pray like your hair is on fire for “justice to roll down like a river” (Amos 5:24) for the sake of the innocent.
God can move upon the authorities that He has instituted and ordained in His unfathomable wisdom. And we should pray to that end, while we do the work before us.
Nehemiah 4: But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat…and I said to the people “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember, the Lord, who is great and awesome…”
“Remember me for all I have done for these people…” “Remember me with favor, my God.”
Shovel: Seek God’s ultimate truth which defends your mind against falsehoods and despair.
Sword: Pray with faith that God will remember all these things.
Witnessing injustice hurts because it’s supposed to. Be brave, discerning, and wise as you watch it unfold. Guard against these things with God’s Word which reveals to us the reality of who God is. Nehemiah had the priests read the word of God several times during the project, at various times of need. Search the Scriptures, remind yourself of who He is, much like Nehemiah did in his own prayers for God’s help. Ask God to remember the prayers of all of His children today. Ask God to remember those who are tangibly bringing aid and relief to the scattered victims of these atrocities. God does not forget the plight of the helpless. He is keenly attentive to their cries. Whether in this life or on heaven’s shore, God will remember, and He will restore or repay. That is the God we serve, so we should pray to those ends.
Ultimately, above all things I can see with my eyes – even in injustice – “I know that my Redeemer lives. I know that He will one day stand again upon the earth” (Prov 19:25). And when He comes to stand upon the earth, there will be nothing but justice. Till that day, I will carry the shovel and the sword.