I attended the Justice Conference last weekend. The first speaker I heard was Gary Haugen, a rep of International Justice Mission, saying something like this of his efforts to free slaves: “The perpetrators aren’t afraid, but the victims are. What we hope to do is shift that, so that the victims aren’t afraid, but the perpetrators are.”
I love that—fear balancing. Reading the Bible does that for me. For instance, the Book of Revelation, where the martyrs end up in paradise and the murderers in hell. I admit I enjoy, as most do, the classic protagonist/antagonist narrative where the good guy wins and the bad guy dies.
Speaking of narratives, some of you know I’ve been working on a narrated musical recording of songs based on Revelation. I’ve come to regard Revelation as the social justice book of the Bible. Why? Because among other things it moves the fear off the victim onto the perpetrator. Perhaps no book in the Bible contains more vivid pictures of retributive justice than Revelation. You name it, everything from painful boils to hailstones to bloody seas.
But, wait. Several people I know say they’ve been traumatized by the book; one even claims recurring nightmares. As I’ve written songs for this recording, I’ve remembered these fearful ones. I’ve tried to present a loving Jesus at the center of each song without denying the reality of punishment, wrath, and justice. It has been difficult, really difficult. But my difficulty in presenting the blend of love and justice pales in comparison to God’s difficulty in blending love and justice within Himself. That was difficult enough to kill Him: “He has poured out his soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12.
I know. Big subject. Too big for a book, much less a short blog. But here’s what I want to say: In all our need to present a loving God, in all our enthusiasm to make sure God doesn’t look too fire-and-brimstone, too vengeance-is-mine, let’s remember that He is, among other things, a Cosmic Hero. He’s the ultimate Social Activist, shifting the fear off the victim and onto the perpetrator. Many of us question why God pours out plagues and throws sinners in the lake of fire. But the sex slave, the victim of inhumanity, the dying mother holding a dead baby, the believer smelling his own burning flesh, cry out, “ “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10.
They don’t wonder why God brings retribution. They wonder why He doesn’t.
It’s good to be biased toward mercy—God is: “Mercy triumphs over justice,” James 2:13. But let’s not be biased toward mercy in a privileged, upper-class, lily-white way. Let’s not be biased toward mercy out of ignorance of, and indifference to, the horrors endured by the little people of the world. God is love enough to lay His life down for every evil man. He’s justice enough to, as part of that love, finally destroy sin and the sinners who won’t turn loose of it. And He’s honest enough to admit all of this, even if we happen to loose a little sleep over it.
Please check out this video: The Lamb Wins Promo