The Cry for Justice (#562)

Why do we only feel the pangs of unfairness when we think we're being cheated and don't carry the same passion for it when we are the ones who benefit from it? Following up last week's conversation with Brad, Wayne reads an excerpt from a new book about the crucifixion that may offer an explanation as to why that is. That takes them on a further discussion about how love and justice might work together inside of God and what implications all that might have on the end of the age. They discuss how our sense of justice might affect how we treat people around us today and how we God's redemption, restoration, and even universalism.

Podcast Notes:
The Shack Trailer
Excerpt of Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge.  Order book from Amazon here.
There's still room to join Brad and Wayne on The God Journey Israel Tour, departing January 22 to Jordan, or January 25 to Israel
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  1. The first thing that came to mind when listening to this podcast was the Sting song from years ago entitled ‘Love is Stronger Than Justice.’ The Bible seems to confirm this point of view with the passage ‘Love covers a multitude of sins.’ The injustice of minorities, I understand, but like you Wayne and Brad, being a white male, cannot empathize. I sometimes wonder what seeds were sown in a life of Bin Laden, of Hitler, that created such people. Not that it excuses them in the least, but I’m sure their childhoods were unpleasant at best. And to say you were the parents of such a child, would that affect you deeper?

    The injustice I most relate to, seems to be based on unrealistic expectations. Someone is unhappy with me because I didn’t make the right career choice, or have a family, or aspire to be something better than I am. And their revenge for me would be a life of pain, or an excruciating death. I recently lost my mom, and my dad several years ago. They divorced many years ago, under ugly circumstances. When my dad was stricken with dementia, my mom would call me from time to time asking about him, but the calls stopped when he passed away. It was almost as if it was justice for her when he died. At least that is the way I perceive it. And now, with both parents gone and an estranged sister living an alternative lifestyle, it seems the cycle will continue with us. Because I wasn’t sympathetic enough, offered enough support, etc. When there is no love, there is only justice to hope for, in my opinion.

    • Thanks Ron for your comments. So sorry for hat your family has been through. I wonder if it is our human view of justice that and love that makes them seem so different, as if they are mutually exclusive. You either love someone or you want justice. But justice in God’s view probably isn’t about vengeance or retribution at all and I doubt in him that love and justice are at odds with each other. That tells me how little I understand love or justice from his eyes. We use the same words, but I’m sure God sees them in a completely different way. I get glimpses of that from time to time, but haven’t sorted it out.

  2. Love the letter from your granddaughter! Priceless! 😀 Maybe that cardio rehab is really for your cold, cold heart (just kidding). 😉

    The author is spot on how those in marginalized groups view heaven and about empathy with those who suffer injustice. It’s what is so frustrating in much of the discourse today–the very disconnectedness that some people have with others’ worlds where injustice is the norm. That frustration is probably what adds to the inability to dialogue because it’s tiring to have to carry the (additional) burden of explaining over and over again one’s personal experience to adults who have never taken the time to learn. So, some of us choose not to have the conversation, which then means no dialogue takes place and the person in need of the knowledge continues to walk in their ignorance. It definitely takes people who are willing to come to the table and have hard conversations while respecting the feelings and experiences of each others.

    • Pat, what a sad comment. Yes, I understand why you’d grow weary of helping people have an appreciation for what your experience is like, but it’s a dialog we need so desperately. It shows how empty our spiritual journeys are when we only care about us and our needs, and don’t open up to the journeys of others and WANT to understand what they’ve been through and how it has shaped them. One of Bob Prater’s favorite requests of new people he sits down with, “Tell me your whole story and don’t leave anything out.” Without that dialog we’ll stay adrift in our own personal needs and the world grows more isolated. But I do agree that some how the seeking of the story is best to come from those who have not been oppressed than those who have, have to keep asking to be understood. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through, Pat but appreciate that you’re an overcomer. Wish we could sit down and chat some day. I would love to hear your story and not leave anything out….

  3. Wayne, that is definitely my hope that God sees love and justice differently than I do, that He sees it on a higher plane, that one day the crooked things will be made straight and the things we grieve for in this life will be provided for us in the next. I think it was the Bible where I read that we will enjoy the people with us in Heaven while we won’t even give a thought to those who are not. That is my hope anyhow. Thanks.

  4. Merry Christmas Brothers! Long time listener, first time responder here, always enjoying your efforts toward helping others meet God’s grace. Thinking about holy justice I was reminded immediately of the story about Joseph and his brothers who had sold him into slavery. Gen 50:20. Joseph speaking to his brothers “And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” The word “meant” strikes my heart. God’s ways are often, perhaps always, above our simple human understanding, yes. When I think of that I’m reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 6. verse 21. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!…followed by” no man can serve two masters… God does have it all worked out for our good, When I fail to see God at work in even the darkest situations, I am seeing with a troubled eye and my entire life is filled with darkness. Even our most meager faith is a gift from Him, and my ability to hang onto that is His as well. My idea of what justice might be may vary greatly from our Father’s. It is not by my faith or reckoning that will get me through, but His. Love you guys and my heart is filled with gratitude for you being there helping the rest of us along. Can hardly wait to see “The Shack.”

  5. Maybe justice is the process of love moving the offended heart away from desiring retribution to offering forgiveness and mercy for the offender. Only love’s forgiveness and mercy have the ability to change the heart of the offender thus making restoration a possibility.
    Maybe justice has more to do with the heart of the sufferer than it does with the circumstances he finds himself in.
    Maybe we need to think of justice as only “for” and not “against”.

    • I don’t know, Kent. I’m not sure that alone rights the wrongs of the universe. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think vengeance and retribution do either. But if the fix of the universe is for those who suffer to be generous to the ones who caused the suffering without any remorse on their part I’m not sure what that fixes. The problem in Syria is not that those in Aleppo wouldn’t forgive the Syrian despot. One of the major through lines in Scripture is that God will one day set things right and that evil will be consumed from the cosmos. I know many think love negates that possibility, but I don’t see a conflict between love that redeems and love that destroys the cancer that consumes the beloved.

      • hey wayne, i agree that scripture promises that things will one day be made right, but how does that help us now? mankind believes justice delayed is justice denied, therefore it would seem that for god not to stop the syrian leader he’s either not interested in justice or justice has nothing to do with our circumstances. we both believe that justice flows from god’s love, so to me it makes sense that justice must be a part of this life also…and since he’s not into fixing the reality on the ground, justice must be something else.

        • i like Eugene Peterson’s translation of the last verse in I Peter 3, “Jesus gets the last word on everyone and everything.” How cool is that? I believe God wants to work justice now inside the hearts of the oppressed, so that even though we are unfairly treated by others, God makes right in our own hearts by his mercy and grace. History records numerous examples of people who have risen above their circumstance and found freedom and life in spite of them. And, justice works where those who have the ability speak truth to oppressive power and move the needle on justice in this age. Look what’s happened for women and people of color in the 20th and 21st centuries. Still not enough, but the needle trends in the cause of justice. We can’t just wait for the future when God makes all things right. We can take hope in that, but everything we do in this age matters in bringing justice here in whatever small way we can help move that needle.

  6. Wow! Kent, that is an amazing glimpse into a whole new world! THANK YOU SO much for sharing that!!!

  7. I’m not a universalist….but am still struggling with Eternal Conscious Torment. Might justice be served after 1 billion centuries in hell? How can the beauty of restorative justice be reconconciled with ECT? Thanks and make it a great day!

    • I’m not a universalist either, Jeremiah, but neither do I believe in Eternal Conscious Torment. Those two views on the extreme attempts to interpret Scripture in this conversation and there are a host of other possibilities on the continuum between them. It’s the danger of making hard conclusions when Scripture talks about a reality we can’t really see from here with any clarity. So some Scriptures seem to lean one way, and others another, but what if they are talking about a reality none of us can even conceive of until we actually get there and see how his love applies.

      I’m anticipate with joy the next life, not because I have it figured out with any degree of certainty, but because I know the one who will be in charge of wrapping up this age and I completely trust him to do what is most loving and most just, and there will be no conflict between the two.

      • As usual a tempered and balanced response…which is why I continually learn from your books and your podcasts that learning to live free and full is so often accompanied with a reasonable, non-dogmatic, approach to God, the scriptures, and life! I wish there were more out there like the two of you! Your reasoning infused with love is so refreshing!

  8. Hi Wayne,

    I do not doubt that your characterization of universal reconciliation is held by people today, and I share your disdain for any philosophy that suggests that our actions here in this life do not matter. However, the concept of universal reconciliation that I prefer is somewhere between the way you described universalism and that of the “The Great Divorce”: God allows each person to take their time coming to a full understanding of Herself 😉 and given an infinite timeframe, all people will eventually understand God (it’s easy to get clouded and confused in this life), choose to love God, and become reconciled with God.

    Ultimately, we have the responsibility to wrestle with the different implied and interpreted meanings found among the Scriptures and choose for ourselves a view of God and ultimate reality – I sincerely hope that people will consider the temporal ramifications of different theological positions as they wrestle. As one example, I’ll quote from Thomas Talbott’s excellent book “The Inescapable Love of God”:

    “But Christians have often disagreed among themselves about the extent and the ultimate success of God’s redemptive activity, and these disagreements reflect surprisingly different conceptions of the divine nature. … We begin with an inconsistent set of three propositions: (1) All human sinners are equal objects of God’s redemptive love in the sense that God, being no respecter of persons, sincerely wills or desires to reconcile each one of them to himself and thus to prepare each one of them for the bliss of union with him. (2) Almighty God will triumph in the end and successfully reconcile to himself each person whose reconciliation he sincerely wills or desires. (3) Some human sinners will never be reconciled to God and will therefore remain separated from him forever.”

    As Talbott points out, those three propositions are logically inconsistent – at least one of them must be false. However, it is fairly easy to find passages from the Scriptures that support each.

    Which one or two will you choose to hold as true? Can you find a way to understand why I (and others) will choose differently? Can you humbly and tactfully discuss with me why you think your reading/understanding is superior, and remain gracious and loving when I (or others) decide not to adopt your view? (And remember, this applies for every topic where either you or I see the Scriptures speaking into our lives, not only our eschatology.)

    • Hi Jeremy. I couldn’t tell if your last paragraph is rhetorical or not. If you’re sincerely asking if we can, I think 11 years of podcasts either answer that or they don’t. I have good friends who hold different views on these things than I do and as far as I know I can treat their views with graciousness, especially since none of us knows. What exhausts me is those who are convinced they know, but prove they don’t by having to convince others to validate their own view. The reason I don’t enjoy the conversation about all that is because people set up mutually exclusive hypothesis (Like Talbott’s above) and then use their best human wisdom to choose the best alternative to them. I don’t think God meant for us to figure everything out. I think he meant for us to love one another especially when we’re speculating about realities none of us see.

      A few weeks ago I shared an illustration with Brad out of the Q & A blog I read from a sports team I follow. I think the guy who writes it is brilliant, and I’ve learned more about how to see football from him rather than anyone else. Often things he predicts comes true. But once he was asked if he thought the coaches of the team read his column. He responded, if they did they would surely laugh because he doesn’t have near the insight they have on the team and its capabilities. I see God like that. It’s like when we overhear seven and eight year olds speculating on something they have little knowledge about and doing it with such certainty. It’s hilarious, and endearing, but usually has nothing to do with what’s really going on. I do think God looks endearingly at our speculations, until the divide us, and then it is not so fun for him, and not so healthy for us.

      • I was trying to be rhetorical, and you said it more clearly: “I think he meant for us to love one another especially when we’re speculating about realities none of us see.”

  9. It is true that God has not brought an end to evil, YET. How it will happen is understandably speculative at best because of how scripture points out how we “can’t even imagine” so much of the “how”. Even descriptions of heaven are so often started with “heaven is LIKE……..”. My mind often comes to it’s finite limits in considering the physical universe, let alone the unseen/spiritual.

    I have decided to believe and trust God. Do I believe beyond any doubt? No. But I believe beyond any reasonable doubt that would change my decision to trust him.

    My life challenges have been difficult for me, but I see many who have suffered more. In many cases I am left with concluding that I simply don’t understand. And with regards to how to reconcile all of this, well let’s start with the fact that I don’t know everything. I dwell in trust learning to live by the Spirit as opposed to the flesh (my own understanding controlling my actions). Learning to let the life and love of God flow through me, and out to others appears to produce things I can’t accomplish in my own efforts. I see evidences of transformative dynamics that resonate with my soul but I can’t, and increasingly don’t want to, figure out. When I try to, it misses the mark.

    And then there is the wonder of redemption. I believe I see it, but so often I don’t understand it’s workings. Or grace…. perhaps dimly as through a glass….. but I look forward to being able to see fully, especially when it comes to the one who I know increasingly inside a relationship of trust, but what all is coming, and how it will happen?….. well, we shall see…..

    Thank you for the gift that seems to keep on giving…. these podcasts are not only informative and stimulating, I appreciate the fact that you continue to put language to matters of faith and relationship that are not easily communicated. So often I express it as I know that I know, because I know Who I know. If that sounds presumptuous, or possibly deluded to others, I can only say that I don’t believe I am leaning on my own understanding. Perhaps I have made Pascal’s wager.

    • Hi Tom, I know this isn’t the main point of your post, but I would challenge your idea about descriptions of heaven (as a spirit-only realm of the physically-dead) with another interpretation. The gospels are full of Jesus saying “the _kingdom of_ heaven/God is LIKE ….” – Jesus’ teachings are about how to really LIVE now before we die (in alignment with God), not about what happens to us after we die. As an example, when Jesus talks about Gehenna he is talking about a nasty dump outside of Jerusalem with historical ties to child sacrifice, not some kind of underworld of punishments imagined by the Greeks and medieval Europeans. For me at least, spending a good deal of time learning more about both Jesus’ Jewish culture and the Hellenized Roman world has helped clear up years of sloppy and simplistic Sunday school (and fundamentalist Christian school) teachings.

      I know I’m still wrong about many (most?) ideas (I just don’t know which ones), and while I desire greater wisdom and clarity I know it is impossible to arrive at the ideal in this life.

  10. Kent, I was thinking about your comment to Wayne and the only comfort I have in this life on Earth is knowing that it will end temporally, but continue eternally. The Bible says our life here on Earth is but a vapor. God is so much different than us, to be in His presence that it will take our death to help make it happen. Not trying to sound maudlin, but sin resides in each and every one of us and God doesn’t tolerate sin. In saying that, He understands our condition, so much so He sent Jesus to reside with us. Hope that helps a little. I’m sure Wayne can say more on this. But I have learned to accept life on life’s terms, not it’s as I would have it.

    • I don’t know that I can say more on this, Ron. I don’t agree that God doesn’t tolerate sin and can’t be with us here. We still battle with sin, but it no longer defines us, it’s simply the broken places God wants to help us overcome. The cross opened the door that separated us. So yes we can be with him and know him here, not just beyond death. Of course, after the Resurrection we will be able to know him more fully and behold his entirety in a way we can’t take in now. So it is both here and now, and yet to come. Know him now in part but every growing, AND know him more fully in the age to come!

  11. I guess that is what I was trying to say, the ‘more fully’ part, not that we can’t be with Him now and only in the age to come. The Jesus as ‘God with us’ is a reality for us. Thanks for the clarification.

  12. You mentioned some things coming across as Universalism. I have just read Love Wins, by Rob Bell and I was warned by a friend that it is heretical and full of Universalism.
    After reading I thoroughly enjoyed it, but if you don’t mind, wanted your thoughts on the book if you have read it.
    I must go back again and say, your book, He Loves Me, was a life changing experience for me and have bought copies for my family and closest friends.
    Once again, thank you for what you do. The resources that you provide are so helpful. So glad to hear that your recovery is going so well. Does anyone else think that Brad sounds like Patton Oswalt. Every time I hear him, I think of Spence on King Of Queens!

    • I looked through Love Wins, but haven’t read it in detail. I thought he was being too cheeky, not willing to say what he really thought, but couching his conclusions in questions so he had some deniability. Not that it worked. I was more responding to a podcast I heard between him and Carlton Pearson about his current thought recorded well after Love Wins. I’m blessed by your comments about He Loves ME. Thanks. So glad it touched your life. And, no, Brad has been compared to James Dobson and even Larry the Cable Guy. This is the first I’ve heard the Patton Oswald possibility. He’s just got one of those voices…

      • I read “Love Wins” like a poem – it is definitely not a theological discourse, and Bell does raise some questions that I think it would be very good for Christians to consider, even though many will choose different answers. I heard an interview where Rob Bell indicated that he didn’t realize the book would be so divisive* and if he was able to write it over again he would be sure to be more clear so that those “excommunicating” him could claim there was no room for doubt.

        “Love Wins” is a fairly quick read, and I recommend it to at least understand why some of us are drawn to these possibilities (which do not necessarily resonate with the version of universalism described in this podcast episode).

        Speaking of heresy, I really appreciated Frank Viola’s look into the origins of the word:

        * I don’t recall ever hearing about C. S. Lewis being censured for the unmistakable universalism in “The Great Divorce” – I guess fictional genres grant some deniability as well.

  13. This may be really off topic, but having left an abusive “christian” cult 13 years ago. I have a question. What is Universalism? I ask because I wonder if that’s not where I am now. Experiencing the love and wisdom of people out in the real world has blown my mind! These regular, non-affiliated folks are genuine, have no agenda, seem to have learned to love, value and trust their own hearts. They are not in a club, not against anyone and do not subscribe to any doctrine other than to be kind, honest and cause no harm. Watching the explosive Scientology and the Aftermath on A&E has blown my mind with the MANY similarities I’ve experienced in religion. Any thoughts would be most helpful.

    • Hi Nancy. Yes, not off-topic at all. Universalism carries a number of different meanings. At the root of it is that all people will eventually be “saved” by God and be in heaven, thus salvation is universal. There’s a whole spectrum of belief there, from we’re all immediately saved when we die to people going to hell to have sin and evil burned out of them so they can repent and come to God. Others take it to mean that all religions basically lead to the same God, so it doesn’t matter if you follow Hinduism, Islam, Jewish, or Christian faiths they all pint to the same God. Brad and I are not universalists in any sense, tough we do believe that God loves all and has done everything he can do to open the door for them to come to him through Jesus. While there are a lot of great similarities in various religious faiths, it is God we’ll want to come to and find Life, not in the practice of any religious faith. That’s a brief overview and I know will be given to misinterpretation because it is, but that’s how we refer to it here.

  14. Sorry, I clearly didn’t read the responses prior to mine. Not off topic at all.

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