It is a cardinal truth of the Christian faith that God cares about justice. Christians long for justice, even as we acknowledge that whatever justice we see in this life is but a foreshadowing of ultimate justice to come. Because we don’t always see the justice we would like in this life, we can easily grow to doubt God’s commitment to justice.
Christians suffer for their faith while the godless seem to prosper and we wonder when justice will be done. A six-year-old is killed in a collision while the drunk driver of the other vehicle escapes uninjured and we cry out for justice. With Jeremiah, we call out, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jeremiah 12:1–3). We are tempted to throw up our hands in despair. Frankly, we sometimes wonder if we have, indeed, reached that moment of despair.
This is not a new problem. Throughout the ages, God’s people have pleaded for justice. When Jesus walked the earth, the Jews wondered when they would see justice against Rome. The early Christians wondered when they would see justice from their Jewish persecutors. When would justice come? Would it? In the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus flipped this question on its head.
One day, a group of Pharisees asked Jesus about the arrival of God’s kingdom. They wanted to know when the shackles of Roman oppression would be cast off. Jesus somewhat cryptically answered that they were looking for the kingdom in the wrong place (Luke 17:20–21) and then warned his disciples against making the same mistake (vv. 22–37).
He warned his disciples that they would long to see the kingdom come, and justice with it, but would not (initially) see it (vv. 22–23). They should not lose hope, however, for the kingdom would indeed come—and it would be obvious to all when it did (vv. 24–37). Lest they be tempted to give into despair as they awaited the coming kingdom, and the justice it invited, he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1–8).
In the parable, a poor widow, longing for justice, pleaded daily with an unrighteous judge. Though the judge had no interest in true justice, he eventually relented “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” The story is meant to highlight the contrast between the righteous God and the unrighteous judge. God is everything the unrighteous judge is not. If the widow therefore persisted in her pleas to the unrighteous judge, surely God’s children should persist in their pleas to him for the justice for which they so desperately long.
But the end of the parable carries the real punchline. Having related the story, Jesus asked, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The early Christians might be tempted to wonder whether God would indeed deliver justice against their oppressors. In a sense, Jesus did not even dignify that question with an answer. Of course God would deliver justice! The real question was, would his people be praying in faith when justice came, or would the delay in justice derail their faith?
Though he was speaking in an immediate first-century context, the question remains valid for us today. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6–8).
When Christ returns, he will return to affect perfect justice. There is no question about that. The question is, will we be found faithfully and fervently praying for justice even as we wait for it? God is intimately concerned to ultimately bring about justice. If we believe that, surely must persistently pray for what he ultimately promises.
Augustine was right: “When faith fails, prayer dies. In order to pray, then, we must have faith.” As you reflect on this parable this morning, will you believe God? Will you believe that the justice that often seems so elusive is sure to come? Believing that, will you fervently and faithfully pray to the righteous Judge, believing him for what he promises?