Understanding the Response to Injustice

Understanding the Response to Injustice

I went to bed last night with the killing of Terence Crutcher playing over and over in my mind. Over the next few days, we will hear and read about two narratives. One narrative was instantly available – outrage and pain expressed by minorities who feel targeted. The other narrative will take a few days to develop. People will look for a way to justify the shooting or criminalize Mr. Crutcher in an attempt to portray this as an isolated event. If no justification can be found, then the majority of Americans will ignore the whole situation or give it only a moment of thought.

Many Americans, however, will feel a deep desire to respond. Most will vent those feelings either in peaceful protest or on social media. A few may resort to violence against police officers, which will only make things worse. Where does this desire to respond come from? Consider a familiar story in the Bible. This is not an allegory for current events, but it may help us understand a few things.

Exodus 2:11-15 (ESV) One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.

Notice that Moses has a people. Twice verse 11 says “his people”. He notices “their burdens”. He sees injustice. Oppression. He sees one man beating another, abusing his position of power. It angers Moses. He identifies with the pain of his people, the pain of the man being beaten. His heart cries out for justice. He sees, but he wants to act. He sees, but he wants to do something.

What he sees is systemic injustice. It’s not just the one man being beaten. The nation of Israel has been enslaved. They are being taken advantage of. His people are being used and abused. Egypt is growing more powerful as a nation on the backs of Israelite slaves.

That’s a narrative we see throughout history. It is woven into the fabric of our own nation’s history. We can say that many things have changed, and they have, but we are not so far removed from that history that we have achieved peace and justice for all. That doesn’t surprise those of us that believe in original sin either. There are still many Americans who feel worried, afraid, held down, and held back because of their skin tone.

If we don’t understand or even if we feel ourselves growing angry or confused because we don’t see the problem, it is the perfect time as a Christian to pray about our own hearts and then listen and ask questions. But what Moses did next complicated things greatly. He responded by killing the Egyptian and disposing of the body.

Was It Murder?

Some experts believe this was murder. Others believe it was a “just killing”. Moses certainly acts like he is doing something wrong. He looks around to make sure no one is watching. Then when he finds out they know about it, he runs and hides! I have heard it preached many times that Moses was a murderer and still God used him because of grace.

But what do we do with Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7?

22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. 23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.

It sounds to me like Stephen thinks the killing was justified! So what do we do with that? I honestly don’t know… but I think there was at least some sin involved.

Why do I feel this way? Because God had not instructed Moses to do it. Did the Egyptian deserve to die? That’s not for him, me, or you to decide. Do I understand the emotions and the desire to do it? Absolutely. Not as well as Moses did, because I haven’t witnessed that kind of oppression firsthand. No one in my family tells stories of that kind of oppression.

But we need to feel the tension here. We want to respond to injustice. Someone in a position of authority abusing that authority is wrong. Likewise, responding in anger with violence is wrong. Both are injustice. And we have witnessed cases of both.

Committing this killing actually did not help Moses in his cause. It forced Moses into hiding for a long time. Moses was in a position of power where he likely had a voice and he threw it away.

Christians can condemn the abuse of power and injustice in society. We can also condemn violent responses to it. I am personally pro-cop and pro-life. Most police officers are doing their jobs with integrity and honor. And it is a difficult job with low pay.

But I am also willing to post up with my minority brothers and sisters under the weight of the systemic injustice many of them feel. I serve a God who cares about their concerns and I am called to bear their burdens as if they were my own.

Waiting on the Lord

Ultimately, our hope is not in men, but in God. The main reason Moses’ action in killing the Egyptian was wrong is that he refused to wait upon the Lord for justice. He took it upon Himself. But God did not need Moses to create justice. He would use Moses in the process, but God had a different plan.

Look to the end of the chapter – Exodus 2:23-25: During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

I love that. God saw and God knew. He saw and He knew.

He heard their cry. He remembered his covenant. He promised Abraham that He would be the father of many nations and now those people were in slavery. They were not living in the land they were promised. For hundreds of years they suffered. Generations were crying out and God did not immediately fix it.

Can you imagine the heart cries of the people along the way? “God, can you go ahead and fulfill that promise? Anytime now! God, why are you waiting? God, are you there? How long O Lord?”

God saw. And God knew.

You may know the rest of the story. God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. He sends Moses back to Egypt. Moses becomes God’s mouthpiece. He begins fighting for justice, telling Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. And then come the plagues.

As I went back and read the account of the ten plagues, I saw something I have never noticed before. God doesn’t intentionally kill anyone until the last plague, the tenth plague. God annoys them, makes them uncomfortable, destroys their economy, and scares them. Some die during the hail because they didn’t heed the warning, but they had the option to seek shelter.

What that says to me is that even though God is the only one who really has the right to bring vengeance on people, he is not quick to do it. The Bible says God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. The first nine plagues were really a form of mercy, a chance for Egypt to release the Jews without loss of human life. It was mercy that they were given that choice. God could have sent the angel of death to wipe them all out in an instant.

Life is precious to God. The Egyptian that Moses hid in the sand. The countless slaves who were worked to death at the end of a whip. The men shot by police. The officers shot in retaliation. Human beings are created in the image of God. Every single person is worthy of respect and value. Those who are quick to take a life under any circumstances are not identifying closely with the God who made us and anyone quick to say someone deserves death is failing to see their own need for grace.

And that is where we need to end. Consider the tenth plague, because it shows us a glimmer of hope and teaches us the most important response to injustice we have available.

Why did the Jews need to spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to keep God’s angel from killing them along with the Egyptians? Because he wanted them to understand two things: 1) They were equally deserving of death. 2) The sacrifice of another was their only hope.

The Jews were not better than the Egyptians. God did not choose them as a nation because they were better. There was no room for ethnocentric or national pride here. If they refused to do as God instructed, their sons would have died too. None of us can stand before a holy God and claim to be good enough to escape his judgment.

If we are going to find empathy and forgiveness and love and unity and peace, we have to start there. We need to be humbled by the reality of sin and death. We don’t need to DO what is in our hearts to do, responding however we feel like it to injustice as if our motives and heart responses are pure because they are not. We need to wait upon the Lord and trust His solution. And that first means being humbled by our need for Him to intervene.

And then we need to turn and trust His solution. Only one man has ever suffered unjustly, died a violent death, and then came back to life. No one else we want to be our hero can fit the bill. Only one martyr came back to life to prove his power over injustice and death. It was the Lord Jesus and his death and resurrection that prove God’s concern for the brokenness of this world and His power to do something about it.

The hereafter is not a hustle. If you are not covered with the blood of the lamb, then you have nothing. You can lament and mourn the pain of living in this world. You can feel angry and afraid. And we will feel all of those things with you, but not without hope.

Do not place your hope in people to solve the problems of people. We will fail you. You will fail you. Cry out to God and wait for His Spirit to act. And then jump in the stream of His justice and mercy and serve wherever He takes you.


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