On Justice, Opression, and Suffering: Our Present Hope in Future Glory
by Al Santino, NECT Director
As God’s people we are called to bring relief and hope to those who are suffering under poverty, oppression and all manner of calamity. Now at times this may seem to be a futile mission for in the ebb and flow of history there appears to be no lasting remedy and we can only cry out, “How long Oh Lord!”
So many of the old Negro spirituals speak of a yearning to go to the Promised Land “up yonder.” In their chains, the slaves could envision no earthly restoration to remedy their suffering. The Apostle Peter wrote to Christians who faced imminent torture and death at the hands of Rome, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13).” Indeed, when the Lord returns and establishes the new heaven and earth, there will be no more tears and suffering for His people.
Are such notions just “pie in the sky” theology being used to explain away suffering or deny its harsh reality? Yes and no. If we offer pious platitudes about the restoration of all things and neglect to weep with those who weep, render deeds of comfort, and cry out against oppression, then we are certainly being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. However, if we are also not certain of the hope that the Lord will complete the good work He began in us, then we will spend our days in dissipation; angry and depressed in our travails. We will not be zealous for the Lord and for good works in His name if we do not hold fast to the hope set before us when Christ appears. As we have shared in His suffering, we shall also share in His glory.
Justice will ultimately roll down when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. In the Psalms we hear David crying out to the Lord that there appears to be no justice. The wicked are prospering through their exploitation of the righteous-or so it seems. Reformed theologian D.A. Carson comments, “Assessments of fairness and proportionality based solely on what takes place here and now in this world are bound to be premature at best, entirely misguided at worst.” We do see manifestations of the Lord’s shalom in this present world as the Gospel is restoring people to dignity and fruitfulness as His image bearers. However, our ultimate hope is in our covenant God who has made us the sheep of His pasture to dwell with in Him in eternal joy. The Lord will triumph over every evil and make every path straight and so His people will glory in the triumph of His justice. In Revelation 19:1-2, we hear the multitude in heaven proclaiming, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of His servants.”
In the New Jerusalem, the City of God, children will play in the streets without the fear of erupting gunfire. Mothers will no longer be lamenting the plight of their young sons given over to drugs and gangs. Children will no longer be ravished by AIDS. Every race and ethnicity will be around God’s throne, worshipping as one, without envy and strife. The promise of this glorious future should give us hope for working out our salvation with fear and trembling her and now. The healing of the poor and oppressed begins as they receive a foretaste of this glory to come. When we pray, “They will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that is a call for us to do the works of mercy and justice today, albeit in a glass dimly, but still as a reflection of the Gospel and the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus, with its power to transform people, communities, and cultures.