Overcoming Our Overwhelming Desire for Justice

In this era of instant access, we are flooded with stories of the shortcomings of others. The mistakes and misconduct of celebrities as well as the relatively anonymous are advertised on social media as well as the main line media. The depravity of people is almost celebrated.

To consider these stories a “celebration” of the mistakes of others may seem too drastic, but is it? Haven’t we become a society similar to the era of Roman citizens gathering in the coliseum to watch the death and manipulation of others?

Through it all, we have become a society of judges. We view the news, reality shows and internet communities with a lens that filters the information so that we can form immediate opinions on who is right and who is wrong. We decide based on the fraction of information we are given access to who is “right” and who is “wrong” in a given situation. Then, with this freshly formed judgment, we engage in online debate and justification of our position with increasing conviction and pride related to our conclusion.

Underneath it all, we are allowed multiple opportunities every hour to find somebody more screwed up than us, as far as we can tell. As a result, we can rest in our own junk as justified by comparison. The judgments we pass validate our own shortcomings and, as a result, we stall out in our own growth. We settle for less than we were created to be because at least we are not as bad as “them.”

Judgment is a difficult burden and one that should not be taken lightly. The decisions we make when residing in our position as judge over the lives of others either in the media or in our personal lives have consequences. Every time we choose justice over grace, we get to apply that same standard to how we view ourselves. We live with the burden of right and wrong and good and bad and strive to perform according to our version of the law.

Once the burdens are too heavy and we realize that we really just can’t do the deal ourselves, then and only then do we find room for grace. We cry out to be relieved of the burdens of performance. When we are shown grace in a personal and transformative way, we view the problems of others with increased restraint on our judgment. If that revelation of grace occurs at all is determined by the Source of grace in the first place. His name is Jesus.

This is the Big One

I suspect every one of us has done it, but only because it seems minor compared to the “big” stuff. The harm is so hidden that it’s easy and it just makes you feel better. Yet, it’s tucked in right there among stuff that could get you thrown in prison:

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.” (Romans 1:29)

While nobody is going to endorse murder or excuse depravity, gossip is commonplace. Among the church, it’s not only accepted, it’s embraced and even deployed for what might seem like the purposes and outcomes that God would prefer. He doesn’t.

Gossip is extremely hurtful as it isolates and degrades the person who may find out that they are the one being talked about. It tears apart relationships and creates division. There are real victims when we choose to target someone as worthy of our descriptions.

No doubt that when someone is torn down or division is created, there is harm. The other harm, however, is within us as we choose to entertain the stories. The deeper division is within us as the chasm is stretched every time we foster the desire we have to relieve ourselves by reducing others.

Reducing others makes us feel better in the wake of some discomfort as it helps us to elevate ourselves to a seemingly superior position on the imagined battlefields of our minds. This elevation is pride.

When we choose to tear down others, we don’t even have to mention ourselves to actually be promoting ourselves. Our insight, intellect and understanding that inevitably comes out in the shadows of our stories makes us feel better about us temporarily.

That’s a problem. God says so. He says that He will oppose the proud; literally going toe to toe with them to ensure that their schemes don’t advance. Pride sets us at war with God as our strategies will not be promoted above His ways.

“Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” (Psalm 101:5)

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it, and I repent. My battles will not be decided in my wit or words, but by His grace and sovereignty. I pray for the satisfaction He provides from within that will satisfy the temptation that I may feel to exact justice in my stories.

We Don’t Catch Our Issues; They Come Out of Us

When representing people charged with a crime, one of the first things that was necessary was to hear their story. Asking them how they viewed the circumstances would help uncover not only facts, but attitudes. It was common for many criminal defendants to say that they “caught” the charge.

Depending on the situation, I would sometimes stop them there and help them realize the flaw in their choice of words. The choice of words, whether it started out as a mindset or not, can create a mindset which is based in a lie. That is, for them to continually say that when they are charged with a crime, it was something they “caught” can create the idea that somebody threw it at them or it was just bad luck.

Criminal charges don’t typically float around and just get on people. They are not like a cold or the flu. Charges almost always come from someone putting themselves in circumstances that lead to trouble. They typically come from bad choices. We don’t catch bad choices, we create them, and if we don’t own them then we’ll make them over and over again.

Whether it’s a criminal defendant or anyone else, breaking patterns of destructive decision-making can be difficult. It may be that we have irresponsible spending habits or sloppy time management. The first step for any of us in getting things going the right direction in a particular area of our lives is to own it. It’s our deal; we are the ones responsible.

The next thing is to strip it down to its lowest common denominator. We need to ask ourselves “why do I do the things that I do?” The answers are within us and we have to be willing to do the hard work of responsibility and honesty to dig to the core. God will show us if we are willing to ask and examine and He will redeem anything within us that is producing the consequences in our lives that are distinct from the glory He intends from us.

Every time a flaw, insecurity, stronghold or some other expression of our soul is revealed to us it is an act of grace. The revelation of our depravity affords us redemption for security in His identity. We don’t have to stay where we are if we are willing to admit that we didn’t catch it; we chose it.

 

Graceful Absolutes

From time to time, I’ll have someone tell me that they agree with aspects of Christianity. They value Jesus in some ways, but not others, and they agree with aspects of philosophies or religions that aren’t aligned with Him. They lean into a “universal” approach to God where all’s well that ends well and, in their estimation, it ultimately ends well for anyone that tries. Or something like that.

I typically will pseudo-congratulate those people for creating their own religion. They have walked through a buffet line of ideas and picked their way to a meal they prefer, but they are likely the first in the history of ever to pick that unique combination. I’ll often encourage them that they are now the prophet of the religion of “me.” I do so without any condemnation or rejection, just the logic that goes with the reasoning they have used to avoid absolutes.

We are currently in an era that wants to reject absolutes. The idea of absolute Truth where someone can be wrong has increasingly become offensive. The Gospel of grace is, in fact, offensive by its very nature and it is founded on absolutes. With no absolutes, there is no need for grace.

The challenge for those of us that embrace the absoluteness of Jesus and His invitation into an eternal Kingdom,  is to handle the absolutes with the grace they empower. If/when we wield them like weapons of judgment and condemnation, game over. That conversation will go no further. If and when we can find the sweet spot of grace in the middle of Truth, we may just be able to connect people to eternity. We may get to be included in God’s heart for them and us.

Forcing absolutes is likely going to be manipulative and maybe even abusive. Holding them gently and receiving people gracefully is inviting. The invitation holds the promise everyone is ultimately looking for; to be connected to the love of the Father. His love is absolute, and the connection is available. How we receive that perfect love for ourselves will often be reflected in how we offer it to others.

The disagreements related to behaviors are growing so don’t accept those as your premise. The love of the Father through the grace of Jesus Christ is what drew you in to start with and it’s what “they” want, too. Or not; and if they don’t, the argument becomes moot, anyway.

Where There is Faith, There is Hope

Things in court had not gone like I had hoping one morning and I was engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked into the present by a crying mother and a little girl. The mom had some problems with her driving record and had been driving without a license. If convicted of driving without a license, which was the third time the had been caught, it meant a mandatory ten days in jail.

When I met with her, she had her four or five-year old daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. The mother was done. She was completely worn out by her effort and failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion. I cried, too.

Somehow we connected through some reference to or evidence in faith. The lady had hope in her faith even through the challenge and discouragement of being a single mom. Based on that common ground, we prayed.

Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. We were going in to see the toughest judge in the city and the charge isn’t exactly difficult to prove. The officer has to testify about why he pulled you over and show that you don’t have a license. Court records would establish that it was the third time. Ten days in jail seemed certain and there were no apparent legal maneuvers nor any tangible hope.

Truthfully, the judge acted out of character. This judge was incredibly tough and I couldn’t have imagined anything but jail time. Against all reason or experience, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next ten days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to but the circumstances never quite gave way.

There are people every day who have situations you can’t fix, but you can agree with hope found in some common faith. Even if just a mustard seed where the judge is harsh and the law is clear, grace can break through.

It’s One or the Other; Not a Combo Deal

There are two options for life: law or grace. They present a choice, not a combination. There’s no “Law- Grace Combo Option” for our inadequate attempts at performance when we want to enhance our chance of acceptance. Either we choose the self-reliant performance woven into the Law of Moses, or we accept the satisfaction of the law through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus.

Human nature pulls us toward the default position of keeping rules because—believe it or not—it’s easier for our flesh than relying on the finished work of Christ. Our flesh craves the tangible. It takes conscious effort to deny its innate bent toward score keeping. The letter of the law is what we point to as evidence of our self- provided righteousness. At the end of the day, we place a star in the box, measure our performance and judge ourselves good. Or not.

Our flesh pulls us to perform though we know we can’t pull it off. It produces shame and fear of exposure and conceals us behind Moses’ veil to hide the limitations of our soul, creating or reinforcing walls between us and God, us and other people, or both. Such walls stem the ow of grace.

We can’t enjoy the freedom of the New Covenant while striving to keep the Old. Energy meant for bold living gets spent struggling to hide behind the veil, and the covenant of Moses breeds insecurity from the certain knowledge we will fail and someone will actually see us. That insecurity results in prideful self-promotion as we try to hide our limitations.

Insecurity shows up as boastful arrogance or timid fear, both outward manifestations of pride. God never offers to meet us in our pride. In fact, He actively opposes a posture of pride: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). Our only hope is choosing the covenant Jesus offers, which means dropping the veil in humility to allow for our flaws. Our performance behind Moses’ veil puts us on display. Our flaws revealed on the grace side of the veil put Jesus on display. His glory shines.

Accepting the invitation into a life of grace-only is liberating and powerful. Sold out to the truth that we are “good enough” only by the gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus, we can stop trying to preserve the charade of our perfection. We can stop pretending in order to throw religious folks off the scent of our depravity. We can be about the true transformation of our souls.

Freedom is born from grace that lets us drop the veil to live authentically with others. They get to see us; really see us. Not everyone we know needs access to the closed closets and dark crawl spaces of our souls. However, for those with whom we have time-tested relationships, we foster transparency for the ongoing transformation that results in greater liberty.

Admitting our weaknesses and imperfections, we become strong and perfect in Jesus. His grace never blinks at our depravity but meets us eternally with redemption. He embraces us and removes our limitations so we walk in His fullness. From the realization of His grace, we know love; we know the Father through the Son.

From “Abundant and Free” available on Amazon by clicking here.