Responding to Injustice
Some months ago, I wrote a little in my blog about a situation involving injustice related to a corporation. In that case, the main response by the people in the story was exposing the injustice to the media and others. Eventually that approach resulted in changed behavior by the company. But the motives and attitudes of all involved were often quite negative.
Part of the intent of that article was that it would lead into a short series of articles, or one long article, regarding injustice. Beyond any interest in the topic itself, I know that many people do not understand my response to a particular situation I have been in for many years. Each situation is unique. Mine goes far beyond any inconvenience or blow to my pride. This injustice has affected many people in negative ways and put lives at risk. Others want to see the injustice end too.
Most people, well truthfully, probably everybody has recommended I react with whatever (legal) means necessary to stop that injustice. But I have chosen a different path this time, which I will explain later.
All four of the options I will present may seem appropriate at different times. And there is biblical basis for at least three of them. But for these past years I have taken the less-traveled route.
Because this topic is somewhat sensitive, it has seemed there is never really a “good” time to write about it. Most of this has been in my head for several years. I jotted down a few notes nearly a year ago. I have added a few paragraphs here and there in recent weeks. Perhaps what I write will help a few people. And, selfishly, it will probably be good for me to finally write it out. So here goes…
What follows is part of my painful journey to mercy.
Injustice in Our World
Much of this world is good. But still, in a sinful, fallen world, injustice exists in many situations. Some are personal situations with friends, family and strangers. Some cases involve corporations and other organizations. And some injustice is related to countries and other political powers.
It is wise to examine a situation. Perceived injustice may not truly be wrong-doing once we have a full understanding of the situation and perspectives. For the purposes of this article, I will be discussing what most would consider true injustices.
Will it matter if we spend a few moments considering the injustice around us? Time will tell. It is true that some injustice will prevail until Jesus comes back. In the meantime, we can each make an effort to stop injustice where we are able. For the Christian, there is a responsibility to invite God’s kingdom (kingship) to come and his will be done. We should pursue God ruling on earth as it is in heaven. And in heaven, there is pure justice.
Injustice exists today. One way or another, we all respond.
Option 1: Exposing the Truth
One way to respond to injustice is to focus on exposing the truth about a situation. Light is used to expose what is happening in darkness.
Some people will use exposure in a mean-spirited way. But exposure can also be the most loving thing a person can do. The motives of the light-bearer may actually be honorable. Shedding light on a situation can truly be a good thing – for everybody involved.
A few guidelines you may wish to consider regarding exposure:
For many people, their first reaction to the thought of actions exposed is negative. Quite often, but not always, our reactions to exposure reflect our view of God – especially when he reveals truth about us. And, to some extent, our reaction is related to our view of authority figures in our life. Are we in a habit of hiding, or perhaps a perspective of shame?
Much of our reaction to exposure is assuming the motives of the person or people exposing us. Do they want to hurt us? Do they want us to feel bad about ourselves? Or perhaps they have our best interests in mind, and what is good for the people around us as well. Exposure can be the most loving thing a person can do for us. What do we believe about their character?
Part of exposure is understanding the true situation. Let’s look at injustice in general.
Like the majority of sins, most injustice is related to pride and self-centeredness. One person or group prioritizes their wishes far above the well-being of others. The focus is on taking and taking advantage for their own gain at the expense of others.
Intentionally or not, many continue the self-centered path they have created for themselves. Each action reinforces a habit. And the habit more and more becomes a core value of who they are.
Unjust actions happen. But we cannot always assume the thoughts and motives behind those actions. Some people wish to hurt others, for a variety of reasons that are often related to past experiences. Some act out of fear or defensiveness. Some work against anything good God wants to do in the world and for any way they can derail God’s destiny and purpose for people. Some are ignorant of the impact of their actions. Some are proud of their actions and make sure the public records declare forever how they demanded to be unjust with others. They apparently want injustice to be part of their legacy. And many, many are fooled.
Satan is often described as a deceiver, the Father of Lies, being slick, crafty, and similar terms. Even smart people get fooled. One example is that Satan will fool us into thinking unjust selfish actions will bring us happiness, peace, and satisfaction. But they don’t. A lust for power or control is never satisfied. It always wants more. Greed seeks to take and accumulate. But most American suburban homes testify that the more we get, the more we want. Greed just feeds more greed. And these self-centered attitudes will never bring about any sense of peace or long-term satisfaction. Going that path is buying into a lie. It brings honor to no one.
Additionally, most of these unjust actions have immediate and long-term consequences. God has said that no greedy person will ever see the kingdom of God. Jesus said we cannot serve both God and mammon (material things and money). The self-centered approaches of injustice are incompatible with God’s ways of love and investing in things that will effect eternity. A prideful self-centered approach to life and relationships puts a person at high risk of losing a chance at some of the greatest things in life – for now and for eternity. Because of the negative consequences of acting unjustly, a person may even choose to do right for selfish reasons. It is truly in their best interest to start doing what is fair and just and right.
Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. Those are the actions of many injustices as well. The stealing is not always monetary or possessions. The killing is not always a person’s physical life. But injustice can attempt to steal dignity, kill relationships, destroy hope, and have other damaging results. Satan is pleased when his values have been demonstrated through an injustice.
I have seen highly-respected people dishonor themselves by choosing unjust actions. And in the process, they have tossed aside their good reputation. They have indirectly "corrected" people who once associated them with positive moral values like fairness, faithfulness and kindness.
If a person is opposed to having the actions exposed, it often means they feel they have something to hide, something for which they are not entirely proud. But, if it is wrong, why do they keep doing it? There is a reason forgiveness is so intertwined with repentance in the Christian faith. If we are unwilling to take steps to stop a behavior, we must feel it is okay. And if it is okay, there is no need for forgiveness. God offers forgiveness when we honestly say an action is wrong and take even baby steps away from that action towards new behavior. If a person continues injustice, they most-likely feel the action is “okay”. And, in that case they should have no qualms about having their action exposed.
Sometimes just sharing the reality of a situation will prompt a person or group to reconsider their hurtful actions. If they have bought into some of the lies, they may be open to some loving encouragement to find a route out of those old patterns of behavior.
But, one of the downsides of this approach of exposure is that it can imply the person or group cannot or will not consider a change in behavior on their own. Someone has to inform them and perhaps persuade them to do what is right. Even if motives are 100% pure, on the receiving end of this exposure it could be perceived as a dishonoring insult. On the other hand, if they are truly willing to change behavior without prompting, let them prove it in their actions.
Despite the risks, in many cases exposure and shedding light on an unjust situation can result in changed behavior and an end to the injustice.
Option 2: Confrontation and Force
Another option is to attempt to change behavior by force. Use all means available to correct the action. Actions are used to limit the offending behavior and encourage beneficial behavior.
As much as people may hate war and personal confrontations, the simple truth is that some people, organizations and countries will not change behavior unless they are forced to do so, or at least they are strongly persuaded to change. Not everybody will change behavior through a conversation. Even strong words may be ineffective.
Most parents understand this. They have had to use force to stop a toddler from damaging behavior like running into traffic or hurting someone else. The most loving action by the parent is to use (nearly) any means necessary to rein in the hurtful behavior. Words can be ineffective at times. Action is best for the child and other people as well.
If we are honest, most of us are also grateful the government uses force to “bind up” and restrict negative behavior through jails, prisons and military action. Through that limiting behavior, they provide freedom to the majority of people for positive behavior. Binding, the negative, encourages and “loosens” positive activities. The concept of binding and loosing is in the Bible as well regarding binding the power of Satan and his demons and the power of sin. And that helps free us to live the life God intends for us. There are numerous examples in Old Testament times of God restricting the behavior of a ruler or nation for the overall long-term best interests of the world. Sometimes binding, restricting and stopping of certain actions are necessary for the greater good.
How does a person use force to change behavior? Individually, in America we are largely limited to using the enforcement of law to bring justice. Like many others, I feel there are way too many frivolous and outrageous lawsuits. But there are times when the courts are our best option for bringing about justice.
But proceed with caution…
Consider before a lawsuit the chances of success. Judges and jurisdictions vary. Consider the costs and potential costs to carry this out. Monetary costs are just the beginning. Also consider the risks. Will a lawsuit bring honor or dishonor to you and others. Will it communicate life or communicate death? Will it bring light or darkness to the world? Who will be most pleased by bringing a lawsuit, God or Satan?
One of drawbacks of this forceful approach is that there can be implied dishonoring. Using force implies the person or group will not respond to talk. It implies they are so unwilling or unable to change behavior that they must be forced to do what is right. They are unwilling to do what is right on their own. That is not always entirely truthful.
In the end, getting our way through force or confrontation may stop the injustice. But it may be at the expense of the honor of those who have been committing the unjust acts.
Option 3: Giving Up with Silence and Apathy
I hesitate to even write about this option for responding to injustice. But many choose this route. Because of past experiences, fears, insecurities, and other reasons, it is easy to give up hope that any action will have an effect on stopping injustice. So a person can resign to surrender, passivity, hopelessness, and eventually apathy. They will learn to stop caring and stop hoping anything can change in the situation. I cannot recommend this approach. And I am not aware of any positive biblical example to support this. But, still, it is understandable that people will choose silence as their response to injustice.
Similar to the other options, there is some dishonor with this approach also. Our resignation usually comes because we have given up hope they will ever change their behavior. We have given up hope that any action on our part could nudge them in the right direction. Whether due to stubbornness, ignorance, weakness, or some other reason, we conclude they will not change any time soon.
In addition, there is some dishonor of ourselves as we give up hope. We may lose any sense our prayers or words or actions can influence the situation – and sadly, perhaps any situation we consider. Giving up hope isn’t a “good” choice. But it is still understandable that people choose that approach at times.
Option 4: Intentional Mercy
From the outside, showing mercy can look an awful lot like giving up. It may appear there is a lack of action. And I can understand if people are perplexed by this path some of us have taken.
The reality is that showing mercy can be the most challenging response of any option. It is difficult, contrary to the ways of the world, and can be emotionally stressful. Rather than inaction, a more appropriate description may be aggressive mercy.
A biblical example is Jesus. Laying aside all of his options for a power play against those trying to crucify him, he willingly chose mercy for a greater long-term benefit for others.
There are times to fight. But there are also times to turn the other cheek. There are times to give to those who steal and take from you. It doesn’t make sense in the natural that we should do this. But responding with mercy can disrupt Satan’s control of a situation and our lives.
God enables Christians to forgive as they have been forgiven. He enables us to show mercy and grace because we have received mercy and grace. When we are weak and hesitate, God gives strength in our weaknesses to show love. We can attempt to honor people without condoning their actions.
Sometimes what we give people has little relation to what they deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting good things we do not deserve. In both cases, they often say more about the giver than the recipient. God does it perfectly. Most of us are still learning. I have a long ways to go.
Some people need a strong rebuke to consider changing their ways. For others, loving kindness and mercy may draw them towards repentance and a new way of living.
When confronted with the unnatural mercy, people may finally see real-life examples. So this is what God’s unconditional love looks like. So this is what God’s mercy looks like. This is what a person can choose when God enables them to do things they probably could not do on their own.
We can give opportunities for them to keep or regain their honor (preferably where it will appear it was on their own). That has the potential for them to redeem their reputation.
If the unjust repent by changing their ways, along with restitution, then everybody wins and everybody receives a measure of honor. Contrary to the combative route where there are always winners and losers, with mercy resulting in changed behavior, we can truly have a win-win situation. And God and his values will be honored as well.
But what are the odds of success? The end results of this approach vary. Some will change their behavior immediately. Some may make changes years later. And some will not change in our lifetime. That is their choice. And they will face any short and long-term consequences for that choice. Those of us on the receiving end of injustice may have to wait a long time until justice prevails. And that may be costly.
But for those of us choosing to show mercy, there is a peace in choosing to love. There is a clear conscience when we try to bring light and love into a situation. There will be no regrets.
There are many options in responding to injustice in our world. I hope you will consider the sometimes painful path of mercy.