part 8 – justice is served (Ecc 3:16)
By a show of hands this morning, is there anyone here who is fond of injustice? Does anyone like to see widows taken advantage of? Does anyone like to see the poor, the orphan, the alien taken advantage of? Does anyone like to see the guilty acquitted? Does anyone like to see the righteous condemned? No hands.
By a show of hands, is there anyone here who likes to see justice served? Who likes to see the guilty punished, the innocent acquitted, the marginalized protected, wrongs made right?
There is something inside of us that desires justice, that says, hey, that’s not right. That doesn’t belong to you, give it back. Don’t take advantage of him, he is powerless to defend himself.
Perhaps the finger print of God upon us, perhaps part and parcel of being made in God’s image?
We have a distaste for injustice. We like to see wrongs righted and justice served, when people get what they deserve. We like when cheaters never prosper. We like when righteousness is rewarded and wickedness thwarted.
I think that a case could be made that even the wickedest of people to some degree desire justice. Even the person who has taken advantage of the weakest individuals, if you were to steal his Lexus, do you really think he would be okay with that? Or would he not say, “Hey, I don’t think so, that’s mine.” At least to some degree, it seems, all are wired to desire justice.
So, in a fallen world where injustice occurs, when people aren’t always civilized enough to work out matters amongst themselves, where do they go in order to see that justice is served? They go to the judge, to the court of law, to the justice system.
You wronged me. You won’t make it right, so I take you to court in order to insure that justice is served, so that I can receive whatever payment you owe me and/or that you can receive whatever punishment you deserve. And while it isn’t a perfect system no matter which way you slice it, that is the intention. And the only way it works is if everyone involved tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If they did, it would be a magnificent thing. But they don’t so the system is broken. Why? Ultimately, because wickedness is there.
The author of Ecclesiastes made the same frustrating observation about the system in his day thousands of years ago. Turn with me to Ecc 3.
Last week in the first 15 verses of Ecc 3, we saw this tension between the fact that man is wired for eternity and yet held hostage by the tyranny of time. The author called this a burden that God has laid on mankind. Commentators will point out that this tension along with others stem from the fact that on the one hand man was made in God’s image and yet on the other hand, he lives in a fallen world. In other words, we are supposed to live like God in righteousness, but because of sin, mankind often lives like animals and thus, we have problems associated with a carnal, dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest kind of world.
This tension between the imago Dei and the stain of sin makes for some frustrations in life, such as the desire for justice in the midst of a justice system corrupted by the presence of wickedness. As the teacher puts it beginning in verse 16
Ecclesiastes 3:16 And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
The Teacher observes the judgment taking place in the courts. What kind of judgment should take place in the courts? The innocent should be acquitted. The guilty punished. Wrongs righted. Justice served. Unfortunately, the system doesn’t always work. A judge may render a wrong decision. He or she may not be completely objective, he or she may judge with partiality, he or she may accept a bribe if the price is right if he or she does not walk in integrity. He or she may be swayed by the carefully crafted words of an attorney who knows how to work the law and find the loopholes. You know how the joke goes. How do you know when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.
All of those factors and perhaps more contribute to the fact that unfortunately, the one place where you want truth and justice alone to prevail, there is still wickedness. And that is frustrating, but that is part of living in a fallen world where mankind is submerged in sin.
So…what consolation do we have? What kind of comfort can we draw in a world where not only do people wrong one another but the one place to seek refuge, the one place where we should be able to find justice served, there is still wickedness, there is still partiality, there is still a lack of integrity, there is still an imperfect system? What hope to we have?
The teacher comforts himself with the following words:
17 I said to myself, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.”
These words should serve as a comfort to us as well. When it is in our power to see that justice is served, obviously that is our task; that is our job. But when it is out of our hands, when we observe that in the one place where there should be righteousness and justice, but instead we find wickedness, when we find that judges render imperfect decisions, decisions that are sometimes driven by wicked schemes, we can be encouraged. God is Sovereign and he is the ultimate judge of all.
According to Psalm 37:12-13 The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming (NIV). God gets the final say, the last laugh. While we may not see it in time, but ultimately God’s divine justice will prevail.
God has it under control, so there is no need to consume yourself with the frustration of injustice. God, THE JUDGE, will handle it. You and I can check it off of our to-do list and consider it done.
Besides, as fallen and flawed creatures, you and I are susceptible to error in our judgments as well. Let’s entrust eternal justice to the one whose vantage point isn’t limited by space and time, one whose viewpoint is better than bird’s eye view, one whose knowledge is not limited, but who is omniscient, who knows all. He knows better than we do and we can trust his judgments.
While the author of Ecclesiastes gives a bit of comfort, you and I have a more expansive revelation, and in the NT, we find a similar recommendation, an exhortation that we would do well to heed.
Romans 12:17ff 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This text is highly eschatological, but there is a precept that is still applicable, a spirit by which God’s children should conduct themselves in the face of wickedness.
While it may be tempting to say, ah, this court system is corrupt – in the place of judgment wickedness is there; in the place of justice, wickedness is there – I will just make this person pay, I will take matters in my own hands, I will make this person pay for what he has done, while it may be tempting to do that, don’t. Don’t take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath. Let God sort it out, let Him repay them for their wrongs. Instead, what you should do is this: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Instead of letting the wickedness of others and the wickedness that even creeps into the justice system, instead of letting that overcome you, overcome evil with good.
Let God be God, let him do his job as the Judge of all the earth, don’t consume yourself with worry over the injustice you see. In due time, whether on this side of the grave or beyond, divine justice will prevail.
God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.
His judgment is far better than ours. Think about this. Let’s carry this desire for justice through to its logical conclusion. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone got what they deserved and if justice was served swiftly? Like the guy who didn’t like me going 60 in a work zone with a speed limit of 60. So he’s flashing me but the only way I can move out of his way to let him pass is for me to either speed up and try to cut a guy off or slow down and get behind the guy next to me either way it’s lose lose. So of course he hangs out the window of his bronco yelling at me while flipping me the bird. Wouldn’t it be great if a piece of metal flew off of a truck and sliced off his middle finger right then? That’s what you get; that way you learn. Wouldn’t that be great? Justice served immediately. Or if the guy who stole something worth $1000 would immediately lose $1000 in some form or fashion. Immediately, justice is served. Or if the vile individual who raped the girl in the alley, well, his punishment, though unspeakable, it would fit the crime. Immediately, justice is served. That’s what we want, right? We want justice to be served and we want it now, like fast food. Isn’t that what we want? If we take that through to conclusion and apply it not only to others, but also to ourselves, then we might not really like what we get.
The next time we say something inappropriate our tongue would fall out. Every time we think an inappropriate thought we lose 1% of our brain capacity. Next time we buy something we don’t need, the refrigerator stops working. While the idea of absolute and immediate justice across the board sounds ideal, it’s really only ideal when we apply it to others. We would be in a world of hurt if it was the reality for us.
So before we complain about a lack of justice or a delay in justice, we should be careful what we wish for. God is the judge and His patience is a huge blessing.
So now the Teacher makes another frustrating observation:
18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [spirit]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
Now, once again, we can’t take sections of Ecc in isolation to derive doctrine. If we do, we end up with a misunderstanding such as “humans have no advantage over the animals…period” or we should live like animals because we basically are animals, so we might as well live out survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog, may the best man win, I’ll fight your for it. He isn’t saying that humans have no advantage over the animals whatsoever. He is saying that with respect to death, man has no advantage over the animals. Man lives out his years and dies. Animals live out their years and die.
We know the following:
Logic and experience tell us that humans have plenty of advantages over the animals
Does the dog get to go with you to dinner at Chili’s or does the dog have to stay home?
Does the dog get to use the restroom whenever he wants or does he have to wait until you decide to let the dog out to use the restroom?
Does the dog have the ability to open the fridge and eat whatever it wants whenever it wants or is confined to eating whatever you set before it
And what you set before it…would you eat it?
So logic and experience alone tells us that humans have numerous advantages over the animals (I’ve only listed a few)
Scripture also speaks of the difference between humans and animals and our advantage over them.
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Daniel 4:15-16 King Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by God as he was made to dwell with the animals and was given the mind of an animal; this is a downgrade, not a lateral move
So we clearly see both by reason, experience and by comparing scripture with scripture that the Teacher is not stating that man and animal have no difference whatsoever and that man has no advantage over animal whatsoever, but rather, I believe that he is pointing out that another way that God humbles man is the plain observation that like the animal, man dies and his body returns to the dust.
Once again, we have Solomon building a case for frustration through several observations to point out that if one hopes to find ultimate meaning and significance in the things under the sun, he will find that it is but a vapor, it is hebel.
The judicial system is flawed because humans that run it are flawed.
All humans die and return to dust, just like animals.
These two great observations should challenge the pride of humans who live as though they were immortal and that they are not accountable for their actions. This passage is a humbling reminder that we are mortal and that we are accountable to God for the life we live, for he is the Great Judge of all. This, again, should be a reminder to us of who God is and who we are with respect to him. He is creator, we are creatures. And as such, when we see injustice, when we see wickedness, let it be a call to humbly worship the God in whom there is perfect righteousness and perfect justice. When we are reminded of our mortality, let it be a call to humbly worship the immortal God.
His observations don’t stop here, but they continue into chapter 4. We will look at some of those next week. But before he moves on to those other observations, he gives a conclusion, if you will, in light of these first two observations. In v22, he says:
22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?
It’s easy to get frustrated to the point that you just give up and say why bother or perhaps allow such observations to cause you to have a negative and cynical attitude. Instead, the teacher leads his audience to move in a positive direction. Let God be God; let him be the judge and don’t consume yourself with the injustice in the world. You have your own job to do and it isn’t to play God. You do your job and enjoy it. That is the task to which you have been entrusted by God; that is your lot. Find satisfaction in that.
One day, you and I will die. We don’t know when that will be, but what if the doctor told you that you had thirty days to live. Would you not truly live for the next thirty days? Would you not soak up the sun, truly taste every succulent morsel, enjoy every crisp cold gulp of water, enjoy time with your loved ones, call the people you have been meaning to and tell them the things you have been meaning to tell them, do the things you have been meaning to do? There is something about living with death in view that reminds us about what is important in life, which is why I believe that the author continually reminds his readers of the reality of death.
Instead of ignoring the reality that death is the destiny of all humanity, living with death in mind helps us to truly live.
So once again, the chorus resounds: the best thing to do in this life under the sun is to enjoy your work because that is your lot. And when you are reminded of and frustrated by the reality of injustice and death, rest in the fact that God is judge and that God will judge, remember that you and I are not immortal beings who aren’t accountable to God. Rather, we are but mortal creatures accountable to the Almighty Creator.
Let these reminders be a call to worship the immortal God who judges justly and in righteousness.
So for those of us who raised our hand this morning in favor of justice, stating that we like when the guilty are punished and the innocent go free, we have a bit of a problem here, because as a perfect judge who judges justly, it is God’s duty to punish those guilty of sin. The bad news is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and thus, all deserve God’s wrath.
The good news is that Jesus, the innocent one, takes the sin of the world upon himself, and for those who place their faith in Christ, the punishment that sinners deserve is poured out on Jesus in their stead. So Jesus, an innocent man is judged as guilty, and condemned. An idea nobody here seemed too fond of.
God is still considered a just Judge because divine justice is served – sin is punished. The blessings due to the sinless beloved son come to us, who are declared righteous in Christ and we are rewarded with the heavenly inheritance.
Boy am I glad that we don’t get what we deserve from God in spite of our supposed desire for justice. I am glad that we receive from God not only mercy, but grace. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!