An athletic neighbor once bragged to me that he jogged to a nearby village and back each day. I (a linguist) joked that I only ran when the police were chasing me. He looked at me completely seriously and responded, “Yes, I have seen that you Americans run from the police on TV. Here we just give the police 1,000 francs (about $2) and there is no problem.” It was funny for sure, but also really sad…because it was true.
Throughout our entire time here we have heard various stories of injustice. For instance, one of our neighbors was beaten by his employer. After looking at his injuries, I asked if they had talked to the police. He said they had, but that the employer paid the police and therefore they would not serve him unless he offered to beat his employer’s price. I wish that I could doubt the veracity of that claim, but I have had more than one personal experience to indicate that it is true.
The most recent justice frustration started a few months ago. One night, we heard some sort of argument at an elderly blind neighbor’s house, which is not uncommon. We later found out that the noise was a physical altercation. After being taken to a hospital, our neighbor died and his stepson was arrested. That was in September, and this young man is still there now, still awaiting a trial. We decided to start visiting him after hearing about what happened and about how hard jail can be in Cameroon.
Here, prisoners often depend on family members to visit them and support them. This young man tells me he only eats once a day, and it is not much. I believe him because he has lost an extreme amount of weight. I have visited him maybe 6 times, but I am apparently the only one. Not even his wife (or mother) has come to see him. He has told me that he has no bed, and people often steal the food that I give him. He was supposed to appear before a judge last week and so I went down to the courthouse, and even brought an eyewitness. However, they refused to talk to the witness and delayed his trial until next month. So, that will be 10 months in jail with no trial.
I have to admit I was mad and I was sad for this young man. Guilty or not, he deserves better. And I am just so sad to live in a country so characterized by a lack of justice. Just so you know this is not just my subjective opinion, Transparency.org rates Cameroon as 152/180 for countries with the most corruption. And actually, these are only very small examples of injustice that happens here.
I have come to realize that Christians need to know how to respond to injustice. Here are four biblical ways that I believe we should respond when we see injustice.
1. Be Angry
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord. Proverbs 17:15
We do not worship a passive God. Jesus did not walk around placid, eyeing injustice with indifference. We worship the Jesus who turned over tables and called men brood of vipers. The Bible actually says that God HATES injustice. It is an abomination to God for someone to justify the wicked or condemn the righteous. I have heard some say that the God of the New Testament is much less wrathful than the God of the Old Testament. Such people, I guess, have never read Matthew 25 where Jesus casts people into the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Our God, the God of the Old and New Testaments, is the type of God who has deep emotions and deep hatred of evil.
And for those of us who worship the God of the Bible, it is only right for us to be angry with injustice. There is nothing loving about being unmoved to corruption. To be passive about injustice is in fact to hate those victims that are being treated unjustly. As missionaries living in corrupt cultures, we cannot just throw up our hands and say, “Well, that is just how it is here.” We, above everyone, ought to be on the front lines calling out injustice. This is what William Carey did, this is what Amy Carmichael did, and God used these missionaries in mighty ways. If we see injustice around you and are apathetic, we are nothing like God.
2. Be Desperate
“Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!” Psalm 43:1
David was a man who knew injustice. He was at one point chased by his own king solely because of jealousy. He had to hide in caves and depend on the kindness of others, sometimes only to see those generous friends killed for helping him. He was attacked by his own son and had to flee. He knew many enemies and knew that there was only one place to turn for justice. Did you get that? The king was turning to someone else for help! That is because not even kings can ensure justice. And if kings can’t do it, neither can we.
I went into the court offices after seeing them reject the eyewitness testimony. I let them know I was unhappy and that this was not a just way to deal with the situation. One of the state employees berated me, told me the eyewitness was really not that important, and said that I was being outrageous. We walked away from that courthouse and I knew that there was nothing I could do. I knew that no matter how loud I yelled, they would not hear my words. And I resigned myself to believing that it is very unlikely that anything just will become of this situation. If anything, more injustice might come because of my objections. Though I did not turn to prayer immediately, I see now that this is where God wants me. He wants me to realize that I am not going to find justice here. He wanted me to know that it is only in him that I will ever see justice.
God wants us to feel desperate for justice. When we feel injustice, he wants us to know that we have only one hope: to turn to him. But it is not turning to him with resigned fatalism. He wants us to plead for justice.
3. Be Vocal
“Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9
However, it is not enough to be angry and to pray. God calls for us to speak up against injustice (even when we are not being heard). There is a very strong temptation as a missionary to be silent, particularly considering that governments kick missionaries out all the time. Sometimes we ought to be filing complaints with international law organizations and then there are times to avoid overt public visibility. However, we should not be silent. When Adoniram Judson was unjustly imprisoned, his wife came to him and cared for him. Every day that she came was a testimony to the injustice of the system. And I have no doubt that on the day of judgment, she will be called as a witness.
As Americans I think we can believe that we have to be loud to defend rights, or that it requires a major social media movement. Sometimes defending the rights of the poor and needy has nothing to do with blogs or Facebook. Sometimes it is quiet prayer in front of an abortion clinic, or giving food to a prisoner, or submitting applications for trials over and over. The point is not that we are loud, but that we are active.
4. Be Hopeful, and Never Give Up
“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:7-8.
This quote from Luke 18 comes at the end of a parable about a woman facing an “unrighteous judge.” We don’t know for sure if he demanded bribes, or favored the rich, but we do know that he did not fear God or man. This widow comes before him demanding justice so many times that he finally gives in. Jesus’ comparison is from the lesser to the greater. If an unjust judge will sometimes, with much pleading, bring justice, will not God (who is always just) bring justice for his people? The answer is clear: OF COURSE he will.
God will hold corrupt government officials, employers who do not pay wages, and cops that demand bribes accountable. He will provide for widows and orphans. He will judge for all eternity those who have persecuted his children. Sometimes this will happen in the here and now, like how David was avenged by God against Saul. Sometimes we will call out to God and say, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” and his reply will be, “rest a little longer” (Revelation 6:9-11). But God will NEVER allow the unjust to go free (Proverbs 11:21). He will never let the corrupt go unpunished. He will give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night.
But I really love the parable of the persistent widow because of the ending. The question is not “Will God really bring justice?” That one is easy. The question is “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” God has an amazing track record. He has literally kept every promise he has ever made. He is worthy of our trust. And sometimes (often times?) he deserves our trust when everything around us seems to be pointing in a different direction. Everyone around us is telling us that life is not fair, justice is a fairytale, and we ought to just give up. But that is what faith is: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Christian, missionary, abused sister, disenfranchised widow…when Jesus returns will you have faith? Will you believe that he will bring justice? Will you keep praying? I know that it is hard to believe now, especially when you are the one in prison. But will you have faith in Romans 8:18?
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Will you have faith to believe that your sufferings are not even worthy of being compared to the glory that is to come? Even when your abuser is set free? Even when you are in prison unjustly? Will you believe that it is only temporary? Because it is only when you believe that you can have righteous anger, and hopeful desperation, and effective speech. That is the only hope available for you. Treasure it, believe it, live it.