Thursday, November 19, 2009

When the pain of injustice strikes

Reading through the psalms the other day, it struck me how many of them deal with the pain of persecution and injustice. There are indeed very few psalms which do not in some way or another refer to certain opponents or adversaries who at a time harshly oppressed God’s people and did them enormous harm through words and deeds. It is against this background that Israel often talks about her opponents as wicked men who plot against the good and the righteous (ps 37:12). They refer to evil persons who are full of poison, like snakes (58:3-4), who aim cruel words like arrows (64:3) and are constantly planning to hurt the other.

Most of us know the emotional pain and damage caused by injustices and although the latter can have many faces it is most hurtful when caused by those who are close to us – a loyal compatriot, a dependable ally, a good colleague, trusted friend, beloved spouse, etc. In such instances the pain of injustice is often experienced as a form of betrayal.

The big question is what to do when this happens, how to act when you feel betrayed or suffer the pain of injustice? One of the most common reactions is to retreat into a state of selfpity where you can lick your wounds while seeking the sympathy of others. Another reaction would be to stand your ground and defend or explain the motive for your actions. Still another way to deal with injustice would be to expose the harmful intentions or agenda of the unjust so that others can also recognise the evil and you can be justified. A more extreme choice would be for outright revenge and retribution.

Although all the above mentioned ways of reaction are understandable and in certain cases perhaps legitimate, the danger with most of them is that the deeper roots of evil and injustice are not always fully recognised or aknowledged. The dark and dangerous undercurrents are not in control and may be allowed to keep on flooding into thoughts and actions of either the victim or the perpetrator of injustice.

In essence all injustice, whether it is committed in a crude or subtle way, boils down to a disregard of human dignity. In order to honour and guard this, whether as a victim or an offender, we should never lose sight of our divine origins and vocation as humans. This will not only help us to refrain from acting unjustly, but also to handle the pain of injustice with dignity and hope.

What this means in practical terms was never better illustrated than in ps 37. There we are encouraged not to give in to worry or anger (v 8), but to give ourselves to the Lord (v 5), to be patient and wait for God to act. Because surely those who do wrong will eventually disappear like grass that dries up (v 2) because the Lord will vanguish all evil – God will take away the strength of the wicked (v 17). What is more: the Lord will take care of those who obey him (v 18). God wil never abandon a good person (v 25). In fact, God saves righteous people and protects them in times trouble. He helps them and rescues them; he saves them from the wicked, because they go to Him for protection (v. 39).

Perhaps that is the big challenge for us as christians when the pain of injustice strikes. To remain upright, patient and keep doing good, while we allow God to handle our case. It is only when we surrender our pain to God that we are also guided in the way that we should go (v 23).

Carel Anthonissen

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