Crushing is the weight of sin. Devastating its consequences. It is impossible to escape the destructive effects of human depravity, particularly in the technology age with information so immediately available. We reside in a fallen earth, filled with a broken creation. To prove my point you need to look only at current events taking place on every continent around the globe. ISIS in the middle east, war in the Ukraine, “ethnic purging” of the Haitian people in the Dominican, kidnapping and child slavery in Nigeria, racial and religious hatred on our own soil, we could go on and on. There is unimaginable suffering taking place around the world, and often suffering without hope.
There seems to be no shortage of evil indiscriminately ruining lives and destroying families. Though, in the face of this evil we join the rest of the world in a demand for justice: justice for those suffering and justice for the transgressors. We hope for the just execution of that justice. A problem is birthed, however, with this response, because most of us tend to end our response with the justice. We too often end with the justice without ever arriving at the judge. As Christians with a gospel lense affixed to our eyes, we must see Jesus as the goal in any kind of justice we would hope to participate in.
Let's rewind first. In order to arrive at a place where we can clearly communicate a remedy, it is vital we understand the disease. Humanity has an image problem. Romans 1:22-23 says, “claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” We (humankind as a whole) were gifted the image of God upon creation, and over the course of life, whether they are external or internal forces or both, we beat away at that image until what remains is something ‘resembling mortal man.’ Humanity was given perfection and traded it for everything else.
Throughout time we (all human beings) still have decided that we don’t need God and his image, that all we need is "x." Now that variable has been an never-ending carousel of false gods: money, sexual identity, family, career, comfort, approval, just to name a few. But the true issue here is that we replace the ‘glory of the immortal God’ with anything mortal that we can get our hands on.
Moving on in Paul’s epistle we see where this trade gets us: Romans 1:29-31 “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Every one of these evils can be seen in a single conflict that we opened with. These are all words that we would use to describe Boko Haram or ISIS. And what’s more, even the most stubborn atheist and agnostic would arrive with a similar if not identical characterization. Truly violent evil rarely goes unrecognized by even the most godless.
We have another problem though. When talking about these atrocities taking place around the world, we tend put the parties involved into two categories: 1.) The Guilty 2.) The Innocent. The subjugators and the subjected. While on the surface they are fair classifications in regards to human rights, the hard truth that the Christian must wrestle with is that no matter which category we want to put them into, ISIS and its victims, in the theological scope of eternity, fall into the former.
Continuing in Romans 3:19-20, 23“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” Not a single person can say they have not traded in their God image for another. Everyone is accountable, and not one of us is standing alone justified before the Creator God; not the soccer mom, nor the most wicked of thieves and murderers. What does separate the two is the degree of their wickedness. James 1:17 says "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights..." Popular culture and Hollywood like to talk about the inherent goodness of humanity and, as usual, Hollywood swings and misses. Any amount of goodness present in humanity is there only as a gift from the Father of lights. It is a gracious and merciful gift of God that the mom has a heart of love for her children and family, only by grace has she not descended into the depths of evil, only by mercy has she not been wholly consumed by her own darkness as the thief and murderer. But we must not confuse the common graces of love and family with the specific graces of salvation and redemption. While we will gladly befriend the one and incarcerate the other, the reality of eternity is that both are deserving of eternal wrath.
What hope then is deliverance for the subjugated when in actuality both are subjects to the wrath of God for eternity. It is a temporary hope, which will ultimately lead to an abrupt and ruinous end. It is the worst kind of hope, a fake and fleeting hope, an almost cruel hope. True hope, true gospel hope, can only be had at the foot of the cross. We conclude with Paul's words in Romans 5:1-2,6,8,11, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God...For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us….More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
You see true hope is found in justice through faith. True peace is found in the grace of Jesus. Our hope, everyone's hope, is in returning to the glory of the immortal image of God and fleeing the mortality of everything we have replaced it with. Never shall we hope in the mortal justice of this world without coupling it with the immortal justice of the immortal judge. We participate in seeking earthly justice for the sake of the immortal soul, and for the glory of the one who gave it to us.