God is able to change the hearts and minds of people who are bent towards evil. Yet when I look in the world and all of the things that are in it – war, rumors of war, disease, injustice, exploitation, hunger, poverty, sex trafficking, homelessness, and crime – sometimes I am not so convinced. Sometimes after watching CNN, listening to MPR or reading BBC News Headlines, I feel like evil will one day triumph and this is not because I do not believe in God’s power but because there just is so much evil and wickedness in this world. And some seem to delight in inventing brand new ways to hurt others if for no other reason than because of the power wielded to them they can. You have to consider that such is the case when examining Gadhafi’s regime and all of the horrible things that he has done to his people over the last 4 decades. Or how about when we examine the horrors that have taken place in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia or Rwanda. In looking at these examples, it is clear that there are people in our world who take delight in not only harming, but massacring. Just how do you compete with that?
As one can probably tell, justice is something that I am most passionate about. I want to see people who are without provided for. I want to see exploitation end. I want to see those who are oppressed set free. I want to see those who have been kept back because of the color of their skin or their gender begin to flourish. I want to see people who have been divided for so long come together and begin to live, work and breathe in harmony. I want to see the kingdom of God present on this earth. I know that the Word of God speaks to all of these things, but in my estimation things seem to be getting a lot worse than they are better in this regard.
I guess what I am trying to say, or throw out there for reflection, is that I wonder when will justice be realized. I know that the totality of justice and reconciliation, hope and freedom will not be ours until the return of Christ, but I wonder how we stay in the fight until then. How do we stay in knowing that wicked people persist in doing wicked things? How do we continue to advocate, to pray, to hope when change occurs so slowly? I know that God deeply cares about these things, but I throw this question out into the cosmos as to whether or not He can do anything about it.
As I reflect on Luke 18, I do know and understand that God is able to change the hearts of even the most wicked people in the world. The text reads:
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
I must admit, I used to have a real problem with this text. I had a problem because I pictured God in the role of the unjust judge who refused to answer the cries of those who petitioned him day and night for justice. Why did not God answer their cries? Why did not God come to their rescue? Why did he allow the sins and misdeeds of others to overtake innocent bystanders?
But God is not that unjust judge. In fact he is so far from it. Why then does he not move, why then does he not answer the cries of the hurting, hungry, broken and dying? Actually he does and he does it in two ways. First, he answers those cries through us. Like the woman in the Luke 18 passage, he invites us to call on him with prayer and supplication so that things will be changed. But he not only calls us to prayer, he also calls us to action. Lets examine Luke 4:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In our prayer, God calls us to be active participants in relieving the plight of those who are suffering. Our relief might be very similar to the actions of Jesus described here, or they might involve, I don’t know, getting involved in politics and advocating for laws that benefit the poor and the hungry, instead of favoring the rich. These actions might involve giving money to missionaries overseas so that they can preach the gospel, but they might also entail us going as missionaries ourselves, or preaching in our very own context.
I said that there is another way that God answers the prayer of those who are hurting. I believe, honestly believe, that he can change the hearts of those who perpetrate evil. And the testimony of the unjust judge is evidence of that. This woman cried out to the judge night and day, and he finally heard her. Not because he sympathized with her but because he grew tired of their wining.
There are other instances of people changing in the Bible. One is in Exodus. Moses, for what seems like a ridiculously long period of time, kept going to Pharaoh, asking for him to let the people of Israel go from slavery. And no matter how many miracles and acts of God that Moses demonstrated, Pharaoh refused to let them go. But, finally Pharaoh did, he grew tired when he became personally affected (he lost his firstborn child as well as the firstborn child of everyone in his kingdom) and let the people of Israel go free.
Another instance is in Acts. Before becoming a radical preacher, the Apostle Paul was a notorious persecutor and murderer of all of those who were Christians. In Acts 7, he actually consented to the death and stoning of Stephen, and he got his kicks by actively seeking out people who were following Christ. But in the midst of his pursuit, God dramatically transformed his heart, mind and life so that he became the primary writer of the New Testament, and an amazing Apostle.
Lately I have been praying that God would change some hearts around here. I am praying for some Paul-like conversions, where people who have been bullying the poor, the hungry, the other, would become some of their best allies. I have been praying that legislators who are set on destroying communities of color, both nationally and abroad would have a deep, transformative heart change. I have been praying that dictators and terrorists who are set on destroying innocent lives would change and begin to work at saving as many lives as possible. Yes, I know that many will not change, and I also know that some who do will only do so for selfish reasons. But I also know that even if they don’t, evil will not win at the end of the day. The oppression, exploitation and persecution of the downtrodden will not go on forever, but they will see relief. How do I know? I read the end of the book! So even though things look rough from where I am sitting right now, I will encourage myself in the promises of that book, the Bible of course, and trust that God will do what he said he will do.