Why do we long for justice?

June 29, 2022

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Our longing for justice fuels our passion and drives us to action. And yet despite all the energy we expend in pursuit of justice, true justice often proves elusive.

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    We all have a sense deep within our bones that there is such a thing as justice. We may not always agree on the particulars, but we can’t escape the conviction that there is a way things are supposed to be. When we see vulnerable people mistreated or powerful people abusing their position, it provokes a reaction. We know instinctively that some things are flat-out wrong, unfair and unjust—and they need to be made right. We dream of justice. That’s what fuels our passion and drives us to action. And yet, despite all the energy we expend in pursuit of justice we often fail to attain our goal. Why is that? Why does justice prove to be so elusive?

    You recoil at the sight of injustice and long to see a world made right. The stubborn reality of injustice may even be part of the reason why you find it hard to believe in God. But if you scratch underneath the surface, you may find a few surprises.

    First of all, where did you get this sense of right and wrong—just and unjust? Many people believe we live in a world completely determined by natural selection. If the only story the universe has to tell is the survival of DNA, then we should expect the strong to devour the weak. Why should you care if the vulnerable are trampled by the powerful? Talk about injustice doesn’t make any sense. So the very fact that you care quite a bit about justice may suggest that there is more to the universe than survival of the fittest.

    Second, if you assume that justice is real and not merely a social construct, you run into another dilemma. It would be so much easier if we could simply separate the “good” people from the “bad” people. That would be one sure-fire way to improve society. But as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it years ago—and as we know from personal experience—the dividing line between good and evil doesn’t fall out there somewhere between “us” and “them” – but passes straight through every human heart. We often know the right thing to do, yet we fail to do it. So if you want justice to fall on the perpetrators of the world’s injustice, you have to let it fall on you too, when you deserve it.

    This is precisely the issue Jesus came to solve. Our longing for justice is not a pious fiction because Jesus embodies the passion for justice that lies at the very center of God’s heart.

    Jesus entered our world to announce and to establish a different kind of justice, and the powers that be pushed back. Jesus knows what it means to be an innocent victim of injustice. He was falsely accused and wrongly condemned even though the authorities knew that he had not done anything deserving death.

    But at a deeper level, Jesus willingly accepted the way of the cross because in some mysterious way, he substituted himself for us on the cross. He took our place and let the world do its worst. Through it all, Jesus brought God’s justice to bear against all human injustice and wrongdoing by absorbing it himself. That was the only way to condemn evil and injustice without condemning us.

    This is only the beginning. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the first step towards a world made new. In other words, Jesus did not merely bear the consequences of our wrongdoing in the past, but he will put right everything that once went wrong in the future. He will usher into existence a new creation, of which his resurrection is the most powerful sign. His goal is not merely to forgive us but to restore us and to bring about a new world where justice and love reign, and where human beings can finally flourish as God intended. This means that our longing for justice is not a fanciful dream, but a true state of affairs that will one day be fulfilled.

    Written by Jason Harris
    Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
    Filmed and Directed by Andrew Walker