when justice won’t help (a lesson i keep re-learning)

i’m on a 3-day silent retreat right now, at a remote cabin in the desert. the swamp cooler is working it’s little heart out, trying to keep the interior of this sweat lodge to a mostly tolerable 85 degrees (it’s 107 outside). i don’t normally blog while on a silent retreat — in fact, until my last trip out here, there was no option, as there’s no cell reception, and there wasn’t wifi. but now, there’s wifi; so — since this post is part of what i’m “working on” today — i’m making an exception and using it.

i experienced one of those speedbumps last week that we all blindly drive over from time to time: an unintentional (i believe) action that hurt. i felt diminished; really, i re-experienced the mostly healed wound of feeling side-lined (interesting that i’m here in the desert, on a trip planned a couple weeks ago, revisiting the place i processed that initial hurt years ago).

that flicking of my old wound took me briefly into a handful of familiar, but usually unhelpful spaces of self-pity, anger, name-calling (at least in my head), and a demand for justice. i wasn’t stating this demand to anyone in particular; it was more of a whiny prayer. sort of a psalmic “don’t you see this?” cry to god.

sunday morning, i sat in church with some of these thoughts swirling in my head. they weren’t incapacitating, by any means, as they have been at times in the past. they were more like a very small number of gnats, stupidly circling each other just at the edge of my peripheral vision. but when i noticed the senior pastor walking on stage after the second worship song (no! he never does that at this point unless he has some impromptu nudge from god — nudges, knowing him as i do, that are highly accurate and not self-centered), i was instantly screaming in my brain: he’s going to say that he senses that someone is struggling with jealousy, and i do not want to be honest about that right here, right now!

i was right that he had something to say. but i was wrong about the content. god wasn’t interested in confronting me, but rather, blindsiding me with grace. once again.

the pastor said, “i have a sense that some of you are thinking right now, ‘i need god, i need peace.'”

what? wait a minute. no, i need justice! and if you’re going to tell me i’m wrong, god, you should be confronting my pettiness, my need for acknowledgement, my desire that you do my bidding.

the pastor continued, “some of you desperately need reconciliation, peace, and freedom.”


and then the kicker, “i was looking at you all singing, and thinking about what a wonderfully eclectic church this is, and i sensed god saying to me, ‘you have no idea how much i love these people.'”

instantly, my pettiness and insecurity, my demand for justice, was zapped by the shrink-ray of god’s love. once again, i was reminded that achieving the justice i think i want and deserve is not my best path to wholeness. i was reminded that the best marko i can be — the one who lives a full and deeply satisfying life — is the one who lets things go, who gives up my rights, who moves proactively in my calling rather than reactively to the missteps of others.

this morning, i read henri nouwen’s 1972 book on prayer, with open hands. he writes:

you still feel bitter because that girl wasn’t grateful for something you gave her; you still feel jealous of the fellow who is better paid than you are, you still want revenge on someone who doesn’t respect you, you are still disappointed that you’ve received no letter, still angry because she didn’t smile when you walked by. you live through it, you live along with it as though it didn’t really bother you… until the moment that you want to pray. then everything returns: the bitterness, the hate, the jealousy, the disappointment and the desire for revenge. but these feelings are not just there, you clutch them in your hands as if they were treasures you didn’t want to part with. you sit rummaging in that old sourness as if you couldn’t do without it, as if in giving it up, you would lose your very self.

… what is possible is to open your hands without fear, so the other can blow your sins away. for perhaps it isn’t clammy coins, but just a light dust which a soft breeze will whirl away, leaving on a grin or a chuckle behind. then you feel a bit of new freedom, and praying becomes a joy, a spontaneous reaction to the world and the people around you.

yes, i think i’d prefer peace and freedom to justice. maybe god’s gifts of peace and freedom are justice after all.

4 thoughts on “when justice won’t help (a lesson i keep re-learning)”

  1. Good stuff Mark. Well written.
    It is an interesting consistency of our human (sin) nature that when someone wrongs us HE deserves justice (“make him pay God”) but when we wrong someone else WE deserve grace and (immediate) forgiveness. We want mercy for ourselves and justice (i.e. judgement) on the other guy!

  2. Marko,
    I have been in youth ministry for the last 15 years and as of April, I was sidelined and chose to stepped down. I too have cried out (at sometimes that felt in vain) for justice. Even when three other staff members followed suit and stepped down (all since April), it felt to no avail. And It is so very hard when former parishioners call/come by and tell you what is going on/what this individual is doing now/how things have changed in your absence. It fuels your desire for justice. I have been wearing my wound as almost a badge of righteousness indignation trying (not always successfully) not to shine it when those parishioners have stopped by. Thank you for your good word and allowing the Lord to speak to you and speak to me through your experiences, through your convictions, and through your wounds. I still have a great amount of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation to happen, but your words could have been for me. thank you sir.
    in Him

Leave a Reply