Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord;
for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.
Just when things seem like they can’t possibly get any worse, they usually do! Every morning, it seems, we awaken to news stories of mass shootings, political maneuverings, personal tragedies, natural disasters and international unrest. We see protests and grandstanding—both home and abroad—calling for responses, solutions or recriminations. But in the end, every response comes too late, every solution falls short, every recrimination fails to satisfy our desire for justice. Why? Because every headline is more than just a story. It’s a human tragedy. And no “solution” can ever bring back someone’s son, someone’s neighbor, someone’s best friend.
It is difficult to know how to respond to these kinds of tragedies. We feel helpless and powerless, angry and confused. We want to identify the “bad guys” and choose sides. But the good guys aren’t always that good; the bad guys aren’t always that bad; and neither side feels like home. As Christians, we know we need to trust God to bring about His justice and righteousness for the oppressed (Psalm 103:6), but we also know that we too, are called to actively pursue justice and to always do what is right (Psalm 106:3). So what can we do?
Psalm 96 begins as so many other psalms of praise, “Sing to the Lord a new song…praise his name…proclaim his salvation…declare his glory among the nations” (vs. 1-3). There is no doubt in the psalmist’s mind that God is worthy of our praise and worship; and not just our worship, but also the worship of the heavens and the earth, the seas, the fields, and the trees of the forest (vs. 11-12). “All creation,” he declares, should rejoice, because “The Lord is coming to judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his truth.” Hmmm…not the answer I was expecting!
What is so praiseworthy? What is deserving of creation’s worship? That God knows…that God cares…that God is coming again to set things right! For people who belong to God, there is something freeing in that knowledge, but there is also something frustrating. God is coming, but when? God will set things right, but how? And what should His followers do in the meantime?
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus paints a picture of that final judgment for his disciples, and he seems to answer those very questions. “When the Son of Man comes,” he tells them, there will indeed be a reckoning. Christ will separate the “sheep” from the “goats,” the righteous from the unrighteous. The righteous will be led into eternal joy, and the unrighteous cast away to eternal punishment. He will judge, as Psalm 96:13 foreshadows, according to his righteousness and truth:
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)
Jesus doesn’t suggest that his followers have to figure it all out and set everything right. It’s not up to us to separate the sheep and the goats—that’s God’s job. Instead he tells us that doing something…anything…for one of the least, means doing something praiseworthy for Him.
That’s where justice begins. It isn’t simply a grand American idea or an elusive Christian dream. It won’t be brought about by laws or proclamations or prosecutions alone. It’s not something you can Tweet into existence. No, God has designed it to happen one relationship at a time—one act of righteousness, kindness and compassion; one friendship, one sacrifice, one selfless decision.
We are not helpless in our fight against injustice, and we are not alone. We are invited to join King Jesus in practicing justice—his righteousness and truth—toward someone’s mother, someone’s neighbor, someone’s best friend. This week, as you encounter someone who looks different from you…as you find someone in need or in pain…remember that they are not a statistic, but a precious child of God. Be Jesus to them, and begin to change the world…one life at a time!
Stay thirsty, my friends.