No Justice, No Peace

Extrajudicial police killings of black men are common enough in our country that we have even developed a set of conventions for them, a “playbook” of how different people respond and how things play out. The protest slogan, “No justice, no peace,” is part of that playbook. As we’ve seen it happen in Minneapolis, Lousville, and countless other places, the slogan is a threat: “If society denies us justice, then we will deny them peace.”

The thing is that the Lord God makes exactly the same threat.

I want us to focus our attention on an uncomfortable truth that God revealed to the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet crying out to God against injustice in Judah: "O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Hab 1.2-4). Habakkuk’s cry should be familiar to us in our circumstances. “The law is paralyzed.” “Justice goes forth perverted.” America in the twenty-first century after Christ is not so different from Judah in the seventh century before Christ.

God answers Habakkuk’s cry with the most shocking solution imaginable: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!” (Hab 1.5-11).

God has chosen the least likely instrument of His righteous judgment: the Chaldeans. They are violent. Their justice goes forth from themselves (i.e., not from God). They are “guilty men, whose own might is their god.” They deserve the wrath of God just as much as the men of Judah do! So why is God using them to judge Judah?

We’re going to draw a conclusion on the matter in a moment, but let’s get one thing completely straight before we go any further: the city of Minneapolis has perverted justice in the case of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin is guilty of murder. Yet, Chauvin remained a free man for days after the fact (in fact, he was arrested only after I had already written this paragraph on Friday, May 29th; I have since had to revise it). Had you or I done what he did, we would at least be behind bars while the authorities considered charges. Chauvin instead sat comfortably at home under the protection of dozens of officers in riot gear. For days, the only consequence that Chauvin faced for his crime was that he had been fired from the police force, which is a far cry from what justice demands for a man’s blood. As the ancients would have said, “An outrageous thing has been done in Israel.”

Let us take all of this to its discomfiting conclusion. I do not presume to know the mind of God, but my hunch is that He is using the riots in Minneapolis to judge the perversion of justice there. If that strikes you as inappropriate or even irreverent, well, it struck Habakkuk that way, too, even when it came from the mouth of God Himself. He objected against the Holy God using such unholy instruments against His own people. God made clear that the Chaldeans would have their day, too; His using them did not excuse their sin. So likewise with the riots; it does nothing to justify them to suggest that God is perhaps using them as instruments of His wrath. Again, how exactly God is moving and shaping current events is not for men to know; this is merely my hunch based on the example of the prophet.

I know this for certain, though: we must fear the wrath of God against those who pervert justice. He is still ruler of the nations. If we will not give our countrymen justice, then He will not give us peace. Let us pray for justice in our own city. Let us pray against corruption. Insofar as it is in our power, let us promote justice ourselves. For if God did not spare even the sons of Abraham when they perverted justice, what chance do we think we have?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of justice and peace. If you are interested in learning more about the work of Our Lord to abolish the alienation that separates us from God and from our fellow men, contact the 14th Avenue Church of Christ in St. Petersburg, FL.