“By Myself I can do nothing, I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please Myself but Him who sent Me.” John 5:30
I’ve been in the gospel of John recently. I realized that I often avoid this book because it challenges me on so many levels. This reading has been no different. Specifically, this time around I’ve struggled a great deal with what seems to be a pretty significant difference between my and the Lord’s definition of justice.
John is full of references to the system of justice. Just a few examples (italics added for emphasis):
3:18-19 – but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
5:22 – Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the son.
5:33-34 – You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony, but I mention it that you may be saved.
5:36 – For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.
I’m actually beginning to see that my struggle with the Lord’s version of justice didn’t start with my reading of John. Since the birth of our son in January, I’ve found myself becoming more and more entrenched with feelings of anger and bitterness, even hopelessness, about the ministry in which we’re involved here in St. Petersburg.
I’ve particularly noticed an increase in these battles after my visits to the intake hospital we work with near our home. The intake hospital is the first place a child sees after they’ve been removed from their home. The children stay at the intake hospitals for 2 – 4 weeks depending on their health and how quickly they can be placed in an orphanage. For some reason I can’t entirely explain, seeing a little girl with polished nails, and thinking that it might have been her mother who painted those nails before she was taken to the intake hospital, is harder for me to work out than when I’ve met little girls who’ve been away from their families for months or even years.
One of the things those in ministry always tell each other is that we are to lay down the burdens and pain we see in those we serve, every day. We are to give these things to God every night. I always tell myself, “This is not my burden to carry. I need to give it to God or I won’t be able to walk.”
But lately, when I come home and sit down with God, instead of asking Him to take these burdens I’ve seen this day, I’ve found myself beginning to ask him, “Why?”
Why can I be allowed to be with my two amazing children every single day, and to hear them singing or cooing, and to hold them and rock them and put them down to sleep every night, and all of these other mothers can not? It’s clearly not based on any merit system I can imagine. I screw up all of the time. I lose my temper and raise my voice and over react and everything else mothers around the world do on bad days.
Even more difficult than that – it recently occurred to me that the Lord is actually using these kids in these orphanages to draw me closer to Him. Of course we all know that growth comes through suffering. But it’s a bit more difficult – and humbling – to accept that I am more free in Christ because of THEIR suffering. This is justice that I simply can not explain.
It’s been interesting how delicately the Lord has begun to work through this topic with me. It has only been recently that I’ve been able to actually admit fully to Him how I feel, and to say, “I’m so sorry to question You, Father. But I just can’t understand what is happening here.”
Of course, it would be easy enough for me just to say, ‘Well, it was not the Father’s will for these families to have such trials, or for these children to be raised in these orphanages.’ But I know the truth, and the truth is that God is God. Whether it was initially His will or not, nothing happens in creation without His permission.
So in His gentleness, He’s begun to reveal to me some of the sources of my confusion, and some of the flaws in my definition of justice.
First, He’s reminded me (once again) of the vastness, brilliance and goodness of His plan. How many times in scripture does the Lord do His greatest works by showing mercy to the least “deserving”?:
Luke 19 – Jesus goes to the home of the “sinner” tax collector, Zacchaeus, who then decides to give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times any amount he ever cheated from anyone.
John 4 – After just having told the Jewish teacher, Nicodemus, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:12), Jesus shares with the Samaritan woman he met at the well, who was living with a man who was not her husband, the beautiful truth, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (vs. 23-24) Because of this meeting, the woman went and told those in her town all he’d said to her and that he was the Savior of the world, and many were saved. (vs. 39-42).
And on and on the list goes: Moses murdered an Egyptian (Ex. 2 11-15), Rahab was a prostitute (Jos 6: 22-25), King David committed adultery and murdered Uriah (2 Sa. 11-12). And of course, He’s reminded me of the brutal suffering His perfect – completely innocent – Son endured in order that we all may be saved.
But second, God’s begun to show me some of the effects of what is really one of the driving forces behind my version of justice – pity. He’s beginning to show me that a great deal of my inability both to help the children we know here and to see God’s hand in their lives is due to the fact that I feel sorry for them.
It’s very interesting how devastating it can be once an individual realizes that others are feeling sorry for him or her. The effects of such a realization include embarrassment and shame, bitterness and resentment.
Further, when a person becomes convinced by those around them that they have reason to feel sorry for themselves, the danger is that they will began to believe they are not able to function in the world as well as others who’ve not had the same, painful experience. It seems that when we pity or feel sorry for these we’ve been called to serve, the result can be that these individuals not only become defined by the suffering they’ve experienced, but that they become crippled with the belief that they are unable to live a full, free life in Christ because of that suffering.
Of course, there is also the effort that is often required to convince these kids that they have reason to feel sorry themselves. I wondered recently how much time I’ve spent in ministry convincing others that they are wounded, or damaged, somehow.
Then I began to consider the types of solutions I suggest to these “wounded” individuals, in order for them to have my version of justice in their lives. These solutions include, for example, learning English, or getting married and having children, or joining a protestant (aka western) church, or even going to the states to study or work.
Basically, my idea of justice seems to require that the lives of others should look pretty much like mine. Oh, and of course I talk to them about Jesus as well.
Lord, You alone are Lord. I thank You for Your perfect justice that flows so freely like water over the jagged mess of our efforts at loving You and serving one another in Your name. You are a good God and Your love for us is pure, and mighty. Through Your Spirit, continue to break down and clean out my version of the justice that comes from You, so that it may flow freely even through me. I love you, Jesus. Amen.