We all want the world to be a better and more just place, but how do we handle the fact that we’re part of the world’s worst problem?
A passionate journalist in The Guardian wrote about the frequent dovetailing of environmental, socioeconomic and racial issues, saying, “Those ardently opposed to regulation might ask themselves how much they trust corporations to keep their air and drinking water clean.
“They might review the sheer number of Superfund sites that sat in the path of Hurricane Florence, and consider that the burden of cleanup costs often falls on taxpayers instead of the polluting companies.”
Regardless of where we fall in the monolithic discussions about environmentalism, classism or racism in our country, it’s well worth noting where the burden of blame is placed here. Big companies and people opposed to government involvement are causing these social harms, so they need to pay. Those people over there, they’re the real problem.
We all want justice. Someone is to blame, and that someone should pay.
As I read this article, I couldn’t help but wonder if the passionate author had ever used electricity that came from ‘unclean’ sources. Did she own any clothes made by half-starved workers in a filthy Vietnam sweatshop? Had she ever purchased a fancy little latte that had coffee grown with pesticides poisoning the water of nearby locals?
Maybe she’d made ardent efforts to support feel-good environmental undertakings that all too often take place near low-income communities and result in gentrification.
We all want justice, but only if it’s on our own terms.
When Judgment Doesn’t Seem Fair
Passover is a story of justice, but it’s not a comfortable tale for anyone. We didn’t get to make the rules, and they don’t really follow our logic. After all, this is the story where God kills thousands of children and animals.
“At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:29-30, ESV).
The stark phrase ‘not a house where someone was not dead’ is stunning the longer we consider the ramifications. This is an entire country filled with bodies, lives swept away with chilling precision.
Some justify this moment by saying that it’s payback for when Pharaoh decreed that all the firstborn Israelite boys should be thrown into the Nile River, but what do you do with all the people who weren’t involved in that event and still died?
Trying to work our way logically through this is tricky. The firstborn son of Pharaoh dying kind of makes sense because he would’ve likely stepped into his father’s shoes as an unholy ruler, but surely he had younger siblings who were destined to be just as bad. Adults who oppressed the Israelites make sense too, but what about all the people who weren’t firstborn and did evil things? Why didn't God take them? Why did he cause the death of babies? Why were the animals included in this purge?
Dare we say it? This doesn’t seem fair.
Once we open this can of worms, we have to question the story where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, or the time when God allowed the devil to kill all of Job’s children and servants, or that other little story where God kind of wiped out almost all of humanity with a flood.
What is he doing? What gives him the right to kill so many innocents? If God does these sorts of things, how is he still good?
These questions can quickly lead us into troubled waters, as Rusty George points out in his book Justice. Mercy. Humility., “We are not God, and our understanding of God is often limited and imperfect. So much so that even our own views of justice can actually do more harm than good.”
What do we make of this Passover story, then?
The View From Eternity
David Wilkerson considered the stark reality of God as the ultimate judge in one of his sermons. “Few Christians today comprehend the reality of standing before Christ as judge, all alone, face to face with him whose holiness is as a consuming fire. His eyes aflame, and his pureness radiating with unspeakable splendor. He will call before him everyone who has taken his name and professed him to be their Lord.”
As the universe’s one perfect and holy being, God is the only person with the right to judge anything or anyone, and no one will be exempt from his examination.
David somberly notes, “As believers, we must all stand one day before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus Christ to give account of every deed, word, and thought. What a sobering truth that ‘Every one of us shall give account of himself to God’ (Romans 14:12 KJV).”
When we consider this, then we must reach the same conclusion as Pastor and Bible scholar Robert Deffinbaugh in his thoughtful article on the Passover. “Every person in Egypt, whether an Israelite or an Egyptian, was worthy of God’s divine judgment.
“The reason why men find the judgment of God in the smiting of the firstborn so difficult to justify is that they do not grasp the seriousness of their own sin. I happened to overhear a small portion of a television program the other day, where a young woman asked, ‘Do I have to suffer the rest of my life for one little indiscretion?’ Whatever her ‘indiscretion’ was, I would imagine it would better be labeled ‘sin.’
“So the answer to her question should be, ‘For as much as one sin, God is just in condemning you, not only for time, but for all eternity.’ The reason why we have so much difficulty with the subject of judgment is that we fail to comprehend the immensity of our sin.”
God’s ideas of justice encompass far more than we can wrap our heads around because he sees every side of the issue, he refuses to overlook problems we want to minimize and he’s considering far more than just the single moment or years or lifetime that we look at because he’s outside of time.
From our warped, limited perspective, we can’t tell what’s truly just.
Trying to critique God’s actions is about as laughable as cracking open a book, reading a single sentence and then criticizing the entire text. Wiping out the animals’ firstborn during Passover may not make sense to us, but then we have to acknowledge that we can’t see the whole picture.
Not only that, but despite God’s pure righteousness being inimical to the presence of sin, he gave his people a gift, a way to be spared. God didn’t have to offer grace, but he chose to because he’s good.
He’s the greatest good the world will ever know.
The Night of Remembering
Passover is where we squarely face a couple of hard truths about our heavenly Father and justice and where we fall in the mix.
God is far more concerned with justice than even the most passionate among us, and unlike us, he has all the details. He sees every pain and wrong that is inflicted on people and the world, and nothing gets a free pass. While working to see right done by oppressed people or the world is a good thing, God’s judgment will always be better than ours, even if we don’t understand it or it seems unnecessarily harsh.
Most of all, we’re part of the problem. We’re always culpable to some degree because we carry sin around with us. We should have been, by every right, on the receiving end of God’s fury. Instead, the Son stepped in front of us and took the punishment so that worse-than-death wouldn’t sweep us away.
On this night, we sit down to eat in honor of the Lamb who now sits at the right hand of glory, bearing eternal marks of his sacrifice that has saved us in heaven’s court.
On this night, we remember that we were enemies spared from a just and consuming judgment by grace and grace alone.
On this night, we give thanks that our judge is both holy and loving.