The movie “Flash of Genius” tells the story of Robert Kearns and his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. In the movie, Ford Motor Company infringed Kearns’ patent on the device. The movie shows Ford Motor’s using Kearns’s invention without giving him credit or compensation. Kearns is incensed at the injustice. He launches a multi-year legal battle against Ford. He eventually won (Oops! sorry for the spoiler) but the toll for victory was high. He had a nervous breakdown. The legal wrangling cost him substantial money and time. He got divorced. His children grew up estranged from him. His attorney quit. He was a man obsessed with righting a wrong. Was it worth it?
The New Living Translation Bible says those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied. Most of us have a fairly good understanding of what justice looks like, but when we encounter injustice we are often quick to cry foul and complain about it, though we seldom take action. It’s just too time-consuming and costly to fight every injustice we encounter. After a while, we don’t fight any injustice. Kearns family did not have the same hunger for justice.
Now that I’ve been on the planet a while, I think almost every person or family eventually encounters a significant injustice. Some people encounter several major injustices in their lifetime. I’m just grateful for those among us who clearly perceive egregious injustice and take action. They cherish justice. They impact this world and make it better. People who hunger and thirst for justice have a special place in the heart of God. Yes, I understand it can be a thin line between passion and unhealthy obsession.
Still, the Bible doesn’t say we won’t have opposition in pursuit of justice. It doesn’t say it won’t cost us. It doesn’t promise safety throughout the struggle for justice. It doesn’t promise we will always win. On the other hand, it does say justice is extremely valuable and near to the heart of God. Maybe God’s heart for justice should change our perspective about things like serving on a jury (just a thought).
Here’s the thing: We are not responsible for all outcomes in the pursuit of justice. There will be times when justice gets perverted. Ultimately God’s purpose prevails. Our responsibility is to push back against injustice. Also, two of the most beneficial questions a Christian can ask God are: Am I a just person? Do I confront injustice in the way I live?
On a personal level, God’s justice is indispensible. It provides the context we need to experience God’s love. If God’s love is the medicine we need, then God’s justice is the diagnosis.
When I was a child, my uncle owned a laundry business. He and a business partner ran the laundry for several years. Eventually my uncle learned that his business partner had conspired to take complete ownership of the company. A legal battle ensued that eventually went to court. The court found in favor of the partner and my uncle lost the business. My parents told me that my uncle’s partner lied and produced counterfeit evidence in court. The court believed the deceptions.
That was my first shocking exposure to the reality that the good guys do not always win, especially in our modern system of jurisprudence. Reality justice is not like Perry Mason (or most of the Law and Order episodes) where the champions of truth and justice always prevail over evil.
Here are two verses in the Bible that help me understand justice and our imperative to pursue justice as Chrsitians:
Isaiah 1:17, “. . . learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Proverbs 29:26, “Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice.”
As our culture moves further from belief in a moral God who cares how we live (that is, he cares about our ethics), we will turn more to the courts of law for remedies. The courts will not be able keep up with the disputes if the general population turns away from God. The law, by itself, is insufficient to help a society thrive.
Proverbs 29:26, cited above, has more than one meaning. It means God has the final word on outcomes of justice. It means the people of a society must recognize that there is a moral God in order for human judges and leaders to do their jobs effectively. It means God’s perspective of justice should be, ultimately, more important to us than human manifestations of justice. It also means we should have realistic expectations about the ability of flawed human leaders and judges to dispense justice accurately and fairly in every case.
So, we know God loves justice and we are told by the Bible to pursue justice, especially for the marginalized. How? Well, I believe one of the most important things we can do to advance justice is to step out of our denial of hard-to-face injustice. For example, to this day there are Catholics who do not believe a small number of priests sexually abused children. Some human behaviors are so horrible we mentally can’t go there; so we deny it because it shakes our sense of well being to the core. It’s no different in evangelical churches. For instance, if a pastor destroys his marriage and his ministry because he had multiple affairs there will always be some in the church who do not believe it happened, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. I’m not suggesting we go through life looking for little injustices to pounce on, but perhaps it’s time to take off our rose colored glasses so we can help those hurt by serious injustice.