The exercise of justice often starts with our immediate surroundings.
This post is the fourth in a 4-part series on Justice to coincide with our current sermon series “Seek Justice”, which you can find HERE.
When I became a criminal prosecutor, my sister Sheela framed for me a beautiful tapestry she made of Micah 6:8, with these words especially emphasized: “Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with your God.” I have always loved that verse, but as I entered a career that gave me a powerful forum to fight for justice, the inspired phrasing of that verse struck me. Justice is something that we are called to do, not something for which we simply advocate, or an end that we merely seek. Do justice, put in the work that it requires, practice it, act out its principles, make it happen. As Nike would say, “Just Do It.”
But justice is easier said than done. Often the fight for justice will pit you against adversaries who believe they are fighting for justice, too. So, doing justice means seeking truth and adhering to it. And sometimes the majority is against you, and doing the right thing will cost you social clout. So, doing justice means having the courage of your convictions. Suddenly, the exhortation to “do justice” doesn’t sound so easy.
And so, we often take the easier route. We don’t always treat each other justly, or fairly, because we haven’t sought the truth, or we are afraid of the majority. And sometimes we’re just jerks, I suppose. And it doesn’t end with individuals. The history of mankind is replete with examples of grotesque injustices committed by individuals, families, groups, corporations, and nations, one against the other. What’s worse is that the greatest injustices are often wrought in the name of a good cause.
Oftentimes we are so overwhelmed with societal injustices around the world that we look right past grave injustices committed right in front of us. Consider what is happening here in Los Angeles. The sobering headline from the LA Times on December 30, 2016 declared: “Violent crime in L.A. jumps for third straight year as police deal with gang, homeless issues.” Exactly how high has violent crime jumped here in the City of Angels? Thirty-eight percent in two years, according to statistics from the LAPD. That means that thousands of Angelenos have felt the sting of injustice, in the form of physical violence or threat of violence, being perpetrated against them in the last two years, despite our most valiant efforts of criminal justice reform.
This is a dark picture, but it is the reality for so many of our neighbors right here in L.A. For those of us who believe in the biblical concept of a fallen world, and humanity born with a sin nature, it is not hard to understand how this happens. We are not bent towards doing the right thing. So, I’ve wrestled with this phrase, often quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He was quoting a prominent 19th Century abolitionist named Theodore Parker. President Obama was so moved by this hopeful phrase that he had it inscribed on a rug in the Oval Office. The phrase seems to suggest that we are on the right path, the “right side of history,” and true justice is destined to win out. But, as many people have pointed out, winning the battle against injustice takes a lot of hard work. And, defeating evil in this world is not foreordained, it takes will and action.
Looking at MLK’s life, one can see that he believed this. He fought for justice, and he advocated doing justice, not merely speaking about it. So, what did he mean when he said the universe “bends towards justice?” The clue lies in reading the larger context from which the phrase is taken. King said:
Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace
and Christ a cross, but that same Christ will rise up and split
history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must
be dated by his name. Yes, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.’
Yes, we must fight for justice, but King reminds us that perfect justice may not come in this world. The Christian believes that Christ won the ultimate victory, and true justice will someday be realized. In the meantime, what is required of us? Micah 6:8 reminds us, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice…”
Do the right thing, as God has shown you. This is what is required of you. I don’t mean to make this sound like a sappy John Mayer song, because “Justice as a Verb” is actually a very biblical concept. “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice,” says Proverbs 21:3. The writer goes on to say, “The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous.” (Proverbs 21:15)
The exercise of justice. I like that. It reminds me, when I read those headlines about injustices in L.A., that there is much work to do right here at home. The great thing about our criminal justice system is that the everyday citizen can be involved in fighting injustice in our neighborhoods. Whether it is volunteering on neighborhood watch groups, supporting local police, being an advocate for reform, or even serving on jury duty, we all have the opportunity to exercise justice in a way that will impact our neighborhoods.
No matter where God calls you to serve, the exercise of justice motivates us to think about justice as a daily practice, which, like physical exercise, takes discipline but will ultimately make us happier. Micah teaches us that we must exercise justice with mercy and humility. This is what my sister was reminding me. And as MLK reminds all of us, in the fight for justice, no matter how many battles are lost along the way, Christ is on the throne. Thanks to him, true justice will always be on the horizon.