Getting What We Deserve

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, Job 6:1-4, 8-15, 21, Acts 9:32-43, John 6:60-71


Our culture finds a certain satisfaction in seeing people get what they deserve. When we say “justice has been served” we are usually referring to the sentencing of a guilty person, or the acquittal of an innocent one. We romanticize the myth that anyone with a strong enough work ethic can “pull himself up by his bootstraps” and become a success. What we can’t quite wrap our heads around is when good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people.

Job’s insistence that his suffering is unjust by such standards makes his friend Eliphaz uncomfortable. Like many of us, Eliphaz wants to believe people get what they deserve. He so desperately clings to a worldview threatened by Job’s situation that he can’t admit the reality that would comfort his friend: suffering is not always deserved. Job archly observes: “you see my calamity, and are afraid.”

Maybe questions that ask why people don’t get what they deserve are the wrong kinds of questions. Paul hunted Christians up to the moment of his conversion. What did he deserve? Jesus asks us to love and forgive our enemies. What do they deserve? What do we deserve? While most of the world works on a merit system, Jesus works with grace. “Good” people don’t need success, but spiritual growth. “Bad” people don’t need punishment, but healing. Deep down, we know this. We describe our criminal justice system as rehabilitative, though the reality is very different. Our worldly form of justice too often trumps the justice of Christ and the prophets.

What if Christian justice isn’t a focus on what we personally deserve, but on the act of providing bread and love and wholeness where none of these things are found? What if we are to temper accountability with mercy? Fairness with charity? Law with love? Suffering can’t be explained away in one or a thousand daily devotionals, but if our highest value is a life based on faith in Christ, that value is neither increased by prosperity nor decreased by suffering. In both joy and hardship we can find God.

Comfort: Grace is not earned, but given freely.

Challenge: When you read, listen to or watch this week’s news, note when worldly and Christian justice are they same and when they differ.

Prayer: God of justice, teach me its meaning. Amen.

Discussion: When are you tempted to promote worldly justice over Christ-like justice?

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