BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES/The quandary of injustice
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 1:00 PM
This week, we will continue to learn lessons from Ecclesiastes 8 from my dear friend, Dr. Derek Thomas, Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina and the Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary Atlanta.
Solomon is not a linear thinker. Following the train of his logic can sometimes be difficult. But there is a main point in chapter 8 that will strike a chord in all of us, and that is what I want us to focus on.
Bad Things Happen in this World
Solomon observes that bad things happen in this world. And they happen to good people. Well, that's how you see it. Look at how he puts it in verse 14. There's a vanity, a futility that takes place on earth. There are righteous people to whom things happen according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom things happen according to the deeds of the righteous. Life can be so unfair. You try to live your life, as best you can, according to the golden rule, get along with your neighbors. You work from 9 to 5, you love your family and your kids, and life can kick you in the teeth. It can be so unfair. That's what Solomon is talking about here in verse 11, that the sentence against evil work isn't executed speedily. Now, let me translate what Solomon is saying. Evil people should be punished, and immediately. Right? When people do bad things and get away with it, it just isn't fair. When somebody is guilty, and he's caught up in the legal process for years, and he gets away with it, you know that life can be so unfair. There's no justice in this world.
Solomon begins the chapter talking about life under a civil authority-a king, a dictator, a tyrant. Look at verse 9. There are situations in this world where man has power over another man to hurt. It may be your employer. Solomon talks about the certainty of death and in the end even dictators will meet their death. That's not the main point. The point is life can be unfair.
How the World Responds to Injustice
So, what do you do? Here's one response. In verse 15, Solomon quotes what would become the famous Epicurean philosophy. What do you do when life is unfair? "Well, let's eat and drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die." Let's get the best we can because you just never know when life is going to bite you in the leg. So, let's get as much happiness and contentment as we can. It's the philosophy of Robert Herrick's famous poem Hesperides. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Old time is still a flying. And the same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be a dying." Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. What's he saying? Enjoy life because you just never know when life is going to turn around and kick you. Without God, you see, that's the only philosophy you've got left. If you've got no other world view or perspective, there's no better philosophy than that, is there? It's the philosophy of millions.
Isn't it strange, though, that people who don't believe in God still believe in something called "justice," or "injustice," "unfairness?" Why should you be bothered with unfairness if there is no God, if there is no order, if there is no structure? If life is simply the random collection of atoms, if it's just the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, if that's what life is, and out of the same slime pool can come the noble and the oppressing, then how could there be any justice, or injustice?
But we believe in God. Not just any God; the God of Scripture. We believe in the Trinity; we believe in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has sent His Spirit into our hearts. We believe that God is in control; we believe that He orders all things, the end from the beginning. We believe that nothing happens without Him willing it to happen before it happens, and the way that it happens. That's the problem. It's not just that life is unfair, God seems to be unfair.
Now, don't misunderstand Solomon. There's more than what Solomon has to say. Solomon is giving one perspective; that's all. Bad things happen sometimes for very discernible reasons. Yes, they do. If you engage in an affair, my friend, and your wife says, "I want a divorce." Don't you throw your hands up in the air and say, "Why are these terrible things happening to me?" If you drink and drive, and you knock someone down and kill them and you get thrown into prison for manslaughter, don't throw your hands up in the air and say, "Why are these terrible things happening to me?" It's your own fault, because you have reaped what you have sown.
But there are sometimes when things happen to us because God wants to train us. He wants to discipline us. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 119, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your Word." The affliction, the sorrow, the hurt, the trouble steered me back into the right direction. That's not what Solomon is talking about here. That's another perspective, another part of the mosaic of life. We need to get the whole picture, but Solomon is just giving one little facet of the picture, that you can be walking in the ways of God and keeping His Word and still, trouble comes to you. Why? And you know what Solomon's answer is? "I don't know." Even if a wise man stands up at the end of the chapter and says, "I know; I understand. I comprehend it all", Solomon says, "You understand nothing. Because sometimes things happen to us that we can give no rhyme or reason to."
How the Believer in God Responds to Injustice
Only this is certain - that God knows. And the important thing is, my friend, is not that you or I or the Church or the wise men or the theologians understand it. The important thing at the end of the day is that God understands it.
Do you see what Ecclesiastes 8 is calling for? Sometimes the only way that you can live with the unfairness of it all, is trusting in the living God! Knowing that God loves you, and cares for you, and has you in the palms of His hands, and He will not let you go. That He has sent His Son to die for you, and if He has sent His Son to die for you, what is there that He will not do for you, in the end? You may know William Cowper's hymn, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." Cowper was a very troubled man. Psychologically, God had given him an enormous cross to carry all through his life. He wrote some marvelous hymns that we sing and this is one of them. "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will."
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.