This is a difficult time. Evil is called good, while good is called evil. Objective truth is disdained. Feelings are divinized. God is mocked.
If you’re feeling outraged, you’re in good company. Lot “felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds.” Jeremiah, who watched his beloved, unrepentant nation crumble under God’s judgment, is known as “the weeping prophet.” Elijah begged God to take his life when he thought all had forsaken God. Paul cried out when he was unjustly struck, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!” And who can forget the prophet Micaiah’s angry words towards those who would not listen: “Mark my words, all you people!”
It’s not wrong to be outraged by evil. Our desire for justice flows directly from our love for God and our knowledge of his magnificent, righteous, beautiful character. Because he is the standard of all justice, we likewise love justice. Because he is the Creator, all truth is valuable. And because we love the truth, lies are maddening. Because he has explained what it means to love, we know how to truly help people. And because we love people, injustices infuriate. God himself is angry at evil because evil destroys human beings, who are created in his image, so our outrage is understandable.
But how should we handle these feelings of outrage? Should we act on them, and if so, how?
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t just say, “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26); it actually 1) describes what life in an unjust world should look like for Christians, and 2) explains the reason why we can respond to a fallen world as Jesus did without betraying justice.
What Should Living in an Unjust World Look Like for Christians?
First Peter is the go-to book for figuring out how to behave in an unjust world where you are “slandered as an evildoer,” where “they malign you,” where “you do what is right and suffer for it.” Peter tells us that even when we suffer under unreasonable people, we are to 1) patiently endure it, 2) continue to do what is right, and 3) respond as Jesus responded to those who maligned him.
God called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” so that we might “proclaim the excellencies of him who has called us,” and, in part, we proclaim his excellencies by reflecting his character to the world—speaking the truth, being honest, treating human beings made in the image of God with dignity, “putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” No matter how we’re treated as we work for the good of the people around us, we are to continue to act in the ways God has called us to act.
More specifically, we are to imitate Christ:
If when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously. (1 Pet. 2:20–23)
By responding as Christ responded—by continuing to do our good work, not reviling or uttering threats when reviled and threatened—we serve as a living parable of the gospel to the people around us. Titus 3:2 reminds us “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy. (Titus 3:3–5)
In other words, when we respond as Jesus did, showing undeserved kindness and love towards those who have malice towards us, we show them Jesus and the gospel, and this is our highest purpose as Christians, even higher than righting the wrongs around us. And since God changes people’s hearts through knowledge of Jesus and the gospel, our imitation of Jesus’ response is as much a fight against the wrongs around us as anything else—more so, in fact.
Is This Kind of Response an Insult to Justice?
But now we’re back to the problem of justice. If justice is good, how can responding to malice and sin with kindness and grace be a good thing? Isn’t that an insult to justice?
Thankfully, God has explained to us why we can show undeserved grace to others without despairing of justice: He has grounded our grace in his justice. Listen to what Romans 12:17–21 says:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Notice the explicit reason why we are not to take our own revenge. It’s not because punishment is not deserved. It’s not because justice isn’t necessary. It’s not because God wants to sweep evil under the rug. It’s because he will repay. We don’t need to seek revenge in our encounters with others because we can trust God will fulfill every last bit of justice. This is why the 1 Peter passage above says Jesus did not revile in return or utter threats, “but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously.” He could trust God’s righteous judgment, and so can we.
This is incredibly freeing. It means you don’t have to deny your sense of justice in order to feed your enemy or give him a drink. We can respond to our enemies as Jesus responded to his because we know our grace doesn’t let them off the hook; it merely puts the needed justice in God’s capable hands to accomplish as he wills. If they repent because of our demonstration of God’s kindness and grace (something we pray for since “we also once were foolish ourselves”), then Jesus’ work on the cross will fulfill that justice. If they don’t repent, then they will bear that justice themselves.
If the wrong that’s been done is a legal matter, we bring it to the government, the institution established by God to bring about justice here on earth, “for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). If it’s a personal matter, justice may not come until the end of time. But it will come. One way or the other, God’s perfect justice will be upheld.
This is what enables us to show grace without betraying justice.
Work to Right the Wrongs That Anger You, but Do Not Sin
Don’t confuse grace for others with inaction. Don’t confuse treating people with dignity with avoiding loving confrontations. Be strong in your convictions, be open about the truth, and be faithful in your work, knowing that the reason you’re responding to others with grace rather than hatred is not so that people won’t hate you. Even Jesus was hated. That can’t be avoided. Rather, you’re responding like Jesus because you’re called to “proclaim his excellencies” by reflecting his character to others. And you can do this freely, without fear that you’re indulging injustice by doing so, because ultimately, whether by the government in this life or by God in the next, justice will be done, the truth will be vindicated, and God will be glorified.
[Article originally published at The Stream. Reprinted with permission.]