Over the past year, I’ve listened to my best friend tell me about her little church—how attentive, kind, and caring the elders are, how close the people are, how they preach the Gospel, speak the truth, and worship God. I even got to see it for myself just a few weeks ago.
This was the church of Garrett Swasey, the police officer and church elder who was killed in Colorado Springs last week, and it has been surreal, to say the least, to see this elder and his congregation suddenly propelled into the limelight—to hear everyone I regularly read and listen to speak about this man and even link to his sermons. I’m thankful that the ordinary Christians in this solid little church were ready and able to glorify God by responding with the Gospel in the face of evil. I’m awed by the way Garrett has preached the Gospel even in his death, to an untold number of people—both by dying for others and through his last sermon, which has been downloaded thousands and thousands of times over the last week. None of us ever knows when and how God will use us, and I stand in awe of what He has done through this church in the last week. I know Garrett would echo Paul’s rejoicing that “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Many have written excellent responses to the accusations made against pro-lifers as a result of last week’s murders (see Ross Douthat, Tim Brahm, and Scott Klusendorf—see also what I’ve written previously in condemnation of violence against abortion clinics), so I direct you to them for those discussions.
I want to say something about justice.
We have seen much evil over the past week, and it’s not wrong to long for justice. After hearing about Garrett’s funeral last night, my Bible reading happened to be in Psalm 9, and its praise of God’s judgment of the wicked and rescue of the afflicted was what I needed to hear:
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;
I will tell of all Your wonder.
I will be glad and exult in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.
When my enemies turn back,
They stumble and perish before You.
For You have maintained my just cause;
You have sat on the throne judging righteously.
You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked;
You have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemy has come to an end in perpetual ruins,
And You have uprooted the cities;
The very memory of them has perished.
But the Lord abides forever;
He has established His throne for judgment,
And He will judge the world in righteousness;
He will execute judgment for the people with equity.
The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed,
A stronghold in times of trouble;
And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,
For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.
Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion;
Declare among the peoples His deeds.
For He who requires blood remembers them;
He does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Be gracious to me, O Lord;
See my affliction from those who hate me,
You who lift me up from the gates of death,
That I may tell of all Your praises,
That in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in Your salvation.
The nations have sunk down in the pit which they have made;
In the net which they hid, their own foot has been caught.
The Lord has made Himself known;
He has executed judgment.
In the work of his own hands the wicked is snared....
The wicked will return to Sheol,
Even all the nations who forget God.
For the needy will not always be forgotten,
Nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.
Arise, O Lord, do not let man prevail;
Let the nations be judged before You.
Put them in fear, O Lord;
Let the nations know that they are but men.
We human beings are odd. We both desire just judgment and intensely hate it. This is why you’ll hear people rail against God for not bringing about justice, while in the next breath they call God unjust for judging people in Hell.
Justice is terrible and good. We all know this. We love justice because we long to uphold the good. Yet we know perfect justice perfectly upholds the good, and so we fear it. It’s terrible (that is, formidable and awesome in its greatness) in the sense that true justice absolutely and unforgivingly deals out what is deserved.
You can’t understand the Gospel if you don’t love justice.
Our love of justice is a reflection of our love for the perfections of God’s character. He is righteous. He is loving. He is good. In the deepest part of us, we know that everyone who rips away at God’s reflection on earth rightfully deserves condemnation, and we desire the fulfillment of that condemnation. It’s when we recognize that this applies even to our own sins that we become desperate for grace.
[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness...so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Because of my love of justice and need for grace, those are my favorite words in the Bible. The amazing truth we know as Christians is that God is both just and the justifier. God will not cheat His justice. We need not worry that any evil will ultimately go unpunished, but neither need we fear the fact that no evil will go unpunished. For all of us who come to Jesus, desperate for grace, He has achieved perfect justice by bearing our sins. Those who do not come to Jesus for grace will bear their own sins. The justice we long for will be complete.
We “never take our own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God” not because justice is wrong, but because we can trust justice in God’s hands. On earth, government is the authority established by God to act “as a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil,” and the cross is our guarantee of both justice and grace, now and in the future.* For this reason, says Romans 12, when our enemy is hungry, we can feed him, and if he is thirsty, we can give him a drink. We rest in God’s righteous statement, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” and in doing so, we are free to show mercy and pray for the repentance of others without denying our love for God and our desire to see goodness vindicated.
*This includes the guarantee of justice through judgment in Hell for those who are not united to Christ; for if the wrath of God endured by Jesus on the cross was necessary to fulfill justice on behalf of those united to Him, then those who are not united to Him will be required to endure that same wrath of God. Since we, unlike Jesus, are limited beings, that will require Hell.