THINGS I AM UNLEARNING ABOUT JUSTICE (an essay i've been trying to write for 2 years now) / by rebecca keating

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One of the biggest things that I wrestle with when it comes to the church is the fact that there are people who go to Bible studies or lead children’s ministry, are married to elders or go on mission trips, sing in church choirs or even lead worship, and yet they withhold forgiveness from their brothers and sisters. Or they gossip about about their pastor’s spouse. Maybe they verbally abuse their children. How are these people constantly before God in church / Christ following settings, and yet so unlike Him in these blatant ways? 

I know we all sin. I am not exempt from this whole thing. I go to church and rave about meeting God in worship and then I snark at my roommates. But it aches me that because our nature is fallen, we can be in church and listen to worship music and lead bible studies but still fall so so short. 

I struggle to trust God in the area of convicting and refining other people. It can be hard to believe that the Holy Spirit I am listening to is the same one others are listening to because their actions make me wonder if we have two different Gods. Maybe people don’t have the desire to imitate Christ. There is probably so much they have yet to understand. There is probably a lot that I don't understand about them.

Not gonna lie — these things have been prompted within me because they are so personal. There are people who I know are in the church and declare a love for the Lord, but have hurt me deeply. They have inflicted wounds toward me that they know about, but may not perceive the same way as I do. I wish I could be the Holy Spirit in them and convict them to mend things between us. I so badly want to tell them how they have hurt me and make sure they feel sorry for the years of ache my heart has suffered from it. I want them to know that it’s been a difficult journey of learning to thoroughly forgive. But that’s not my place and I am not the Holy Spirit. Jesus never said that “I’m sorry” must be served with a side of long winded apologies. 

I want to trust that because these people who have hurt me know God and are in Christian community, that they will see clearly how far our relationship is from the type of relationship that God desires for His beloved children. But it has been a really long time and I don’t know if they’ll ever say anything again. It pains me that we might die unreconciled. Even though full redemption in heaven is a true reality ahead for us, and there we won’t carry the pain of all that has been left unreconciled, it’s still hard to know that Christ followers may die with grudges remaining in our hearts. 

I’m a justice oriented person. I have learned a lot about grace as I’ve become a more mature Christ follower, and I have gotten better at being inclined to extend grace to others and myself especially. But up until two days ago, I don’t think I had a sound grasp on what God’s justice is like. My thoughts of justice have been tainted by a sinful desire to get back at people and make them feel so sorry for things. 

But I just finished reading John Mark Comer’s book God Has a Name and it changed how I think about justice. He writes, “Yahweh’s justice isn’t about retribution or payback . . .it’s about the healing and renewal of the world.” (226) [WOWOWOW] 

God desires justice not because He has a burning desire to get revenge. God is not just in that he wants people to feel the sting of their sin until they die. God’s justice is about healing. God’s justice is about restoration. 

I am asking God to change the way I consider justice. Now I don’t want justice for the people I’ve described in that I want them to feel terrible about their behavior and come repent to me. I don’t want justice for them so that I can finally relax and stop thirsting for them to see their wrongs clearly. I desire justice in that I want them to repent of their sins and feel the healing and restoration of God’s image in them—not the image that I think they should morph into. 

Yesterday in chapel, our chaplain talked about how someday, the people that sit in worship services, inattentive and distracted and preoccupied with doing things besides being caught up in “breathless wonder” of God — they will be in heaven someday — and they will be so overtaken by God’s presence that they will be unrecognizable. 

This image brought me to think about all of the people in the church that I have a bad taste toward because of how they have hurt me or others and how I don’t understand how people who love God could act so cruelly. And I got caught up in it as I realized that they are a part of this vision — even these people will be in heaven, worshipping in the same space as me. Then we won’t see each other for the hurt and the pain. Instead, we will all be swept up in the glory of God and see one another clothed in forgiveness, faces radiant with redemption. 

In my truer grasp on God’s healing-seeking justice, and in the confidence that one day we will all be together in heaven, I release my bitterness. I can surrender my need to understand what God is going to make of all of this because we’ll all be worshipping together in eternity anyway. For now I’ll press into what my friend Aimee once told me: eyes on myself and Jesus—that’s all that matters. 

With this advice in hand, I no longer have a need to wait around, itching to get an apology, itching for my version of justice to play out with these brothers and sisters. It’s not encouraging for me to stand with my arms crossed and pouting when hurtful people don’t get the punishment I think they deserve. My place is not to condemn people who do church things but then also hurt me. Eyes on myself and Jesus — seeking to forgive without hesitation as He does, seeking to love well even when I don’t feel loved well.

As I unlearn my old ways of justice and unbind myself from bitterness, I ease into the peace that comes with the overwhelming image of us all in heaven — fully restored and completely captivated by the majesty of our forgiving King.