How Should We Respond to Injustice and Incompetence?
As the restrictions began to lift, though, the stresses and tensions began to boil, and the criticisms to flow. Finding out that while we were making distressing, burdensome, life-changing sacrifices, one of the Prime Minister’s key advisers was violating his own rules was the last straw, and the social media vitriol bubbled over.
Meanwhile in the US, yet more stories of brutality and injustice against black men hit the news cycles.
How should Christians respond when authority figures – be it someone at work, a national leader or an official body like the police – act unjustly or unwisely? In particular, how should we speak, write or tweet about them?
Here are some questions to consider:
1) Will it help?
What are you hoping your words, written or spoken, will achieve? Do you want to change the situation or merely to express your feelings about it (or to show that you think ‘correctly’ about it)?
Venting your anger on social media or to family/friends/colleagues may help you feel slightly better temporarily [Narrator: It won’t], but will it change the situation at all? Will it move a step towards bringing justice or preventing the injustice from happening again? Will it change anyone’s heart, mind or actions?
Expressing yourself in anger will not excise the anger from within you, but simply fan its flame. And if it is met with agreement, that will inflame you further, while if it is met with disagreement, that too will stoke the flames and make them blaze more strongly. But if all that is produced is an interior furnace, it will just increase your feeling of impotence and injustice. What’s more, you will have spread that fired-up frustration to those around you, robbing them of peace and denying them the opportunity to douse the flames and channel their energies into something more productive.
Consider what outcome you are looking for and whether this method is likely to be at least a stepping stone towards achieving it. Many of the tweets I’ve seen about the killing of George Floyd do pass this test. They are expressions of grief, and calls for eyes to be opened and racism – institutional, personal and casual – to be ended.
If you do need to ‘get it off your chest’ before you are able to engage more calmly, write it in a letter you will never send or, better still, in your journal, with God as your acknowledged audience. Then put it aside and walk away (from both the letter and the anger).
2) Will it point people to Jesus?
Yes, I know God gets angry and Jesus got angry. Is yours the righteous anger of a holy God against those who profess to love him? Jesus only directed his anger at religious authorities who were making it harder for his people to worship him, or people who were desecrating his temple.
To see how we should respond to secular authorities we need to look rather to Paul, who never sounded off about the injustices of Rome in his letters or speeches, but who constantly, kindly, passionately pointed his opponents to the God who loved them and sent his son to save them. It wasn’t that he wasn’t bothered by injustice or persecution, but he saw the bigger picture. He knew that the way to bring justice and peace on earth was not to write letters and drum up support and petition the leaders to be nicer. Rather, his goal was to point the unjust to Christ and given them the opportunity to be transformed.
3) Is it loving?
Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. Paul told us to respect those in authority. Yes, it is important that we act justly, and seek justice for the oppressed, but think back to point 1 – is what you’re planning to say/tweet/post going to help? Will it make any progress towards bringing justice in the situation you are seeing? If the person it is about read it, would they know you love them? Do you love them?
1 John 4 tells us, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” “But,” you may be thinking, “how could I love someone like that, someone who did something like that? They don’t deserve it.” Neither did we. But God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners – while we ignored him, rejected him, mocked him and denied him – Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Here’s an interesting Bible study to do sometime: find out what Jesus and his followers (and the biblical writers) thought of rulers like Herod, Caesar, Nero or Pilate. What adjectives did they use about them? How does that compare with how we speak about our leaders?
4) Does it show faith in God?
Romans 13 tells us: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This is one of the hardest verses for us to get our heads around. I can’t begin to grasp how it could be true that God institutes wicked leaders. I can’t fathom how he can be sovereign AND good AND allow – let alone cause – this to happen.
But I choose to believe that God is in control. I can see his hand at work in the midst of terrible situations throughout the Bible, and have experienced his sovereignty over the details of my own life. I know that this world is not the full picture, and that the primary goal of a believer is not to bring peace on earth, but to give glory to God. That is why the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, whose example Hebrews points us to, were able willingly to submit to the persecutions and tortures meted out on them – they knew that this world was not their home, that the goal was not to live a quiet, easy, prosperous life on earth, but to see God glorified, whatever it took.
If we believe that God is in control, and that he sees and cares about the tiniest of sparrows, how much more does he care about this situation? Why not ask him to show you his perspective on the injustice you are seeing? Look for where he is in the picture. What is he doing, and what is he asking you to say or do? How will his name be honoured, exalted and worshipped in this situation? Is that your greatest concern?
We need to remember that people are watching us. Friends, family, colleagues, strangers. In real life and online we are witnessing to them about who God is, what he is like, and how he has transformed our lives. If they read your twitter feed, listened to your conversations in the staff kitchen, saw what you had posted on Facebook, would they see the difference that faith in a sovereign, loving, powerful, just God brings, or would you look just like everyone else?