CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN OF INJUSTICE

Scaling Mount Everest is a major accomplishment and it takes much preparation and the need for experienced guides to take you through to the top. It is a very dangerous and difficult enterprise and many experienced climbers have lost their lives in the attempt.

A record-holding Sherpa climber recently halted his attempt to scale Mount Everest for a 26th time because of a bad dream but plans to try again next year. Kami Rita already reached the summit of the world’s highest mountain for a record 25th time on May 7, 2021, but stopped his most recent climb more than halfway to the top.[i]

Many of the people from other countries that he was guiding were battling Covid at the time. Without the Sherpa guides, climbers from around the world do not attempt to climb Everest. This shows us that it takes guidance to get a person to the top of the mountain. Life is like scaling a mountain. In the Christian life, we need a guide to navigate our lives through all the treacherous terrain that we are going to encounter. Jesus is the only guide who is capable of taking us as believers over the mountain called life, particularly that place on the ascent where we encounter injustice. In the book of Hebrews we have this very picture of Jesus as the one who walked the path before us in order for us to be able to follow him.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.[ii]

The word translated here as pioneer is ‘archegos,’ and it speaks of a trailblazer, the one who goes before us. Jesus leads us on the same path that he earlier traveled. If we follow him on that path, we will be able to address the personal injustices that we will encounter in this life. We are living in a world filled with injustices. We could argue that the greatest injustice was the crucifixion of Jesus, who was falsely accused and then crucified. Yet, God allowed this to happen for a purpose. The purpose was to meet the demands of justice. People often think that all God has to do is to forgive sins is simply to say so, but that would be a violation of justice and God is just. God forgives our sins based on the fact that He addresses all injustice. How does God address all injustices? He pays the price by taking on all the penalty of injustice upon Himself. He did that by dying in our place on the cross. It was there that the penalty for all injustices was paid in full. Jesus’ death then is the substitution for all injustices, and on that basis alone does God forgive the guilty.

So, how do we handle personal injustices? What we need to understand about life is that we all will have moments or seasons of suffering. The question we usually ask is, why are we suffering these injustices.  A better question would be, how can we endure and grow through seasons or moments of injustice? Are we suffering because of something we have done wrong? Or are we suffering because of something we have done right? In looking at the text from 1 Peter 2:18-25, another question arises that is important to raise. How can Peter’s first century context become applicable to our current context today? Peter is going to explain to his readers in the first century how to climb the mountain of injustice.

Howard Marshall shares the motivation for us learning this critical element for our lives. He writes: “In all social relationships our conduct should spring out of our reverence for God and our desire to do his will.”[iii] In other words, it is not so much about me or you, but rather what will bring honor and glory to God from what we are experiencing in our lives at any moment, including times of injustice. Peter wants us to keep two important concepts in mind when we are dealing with injustice in our lives.

THE FIRST CONCEPT WE NEED TO GRASP IN TIMES OF INJUSTICE IS THE IDEA OF SUBMISSION

The starting point is always with God. We must surrender to His will and ways for our lives. This is always an act of faith on our part. We rarely understand how doing things God’s way works when we are experiencing that level of pain in our lives. It doesn’t seem right from our vantage point. We need to trust Him to lead us through this part of our journey. Our attitude and response to suffering injustices is the key to prevailing through those places in our lives. This concept is actually a continuation of last week’s blog; ‘Swimming with the Sharks, where we see how to live a life pleasing to God in a world that is hostile to God and to those who follow Him. 1 Peter 2 is speaking to the issue of a life in submission to those in authority, with the caveat that we obey unless what is required is either forbidden or commanded by God.

A. Here we see that this submission extended into the injustices of slavery.

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.[iv]

This kind of teaching would be very difficult to accept in our current culture and time. Today’s response is to rebel, fight back, and retaliate. Some might argue this is why the Bible is no longer relevant, but we need to understand is the nuance that Peter is giving that does have application for our time. As pointed out in 1 Peter 2:17, we are to show honor and respect for all people but are only called upon to submit to those who are in a hierarchal relationship to us. This means that we are to submit to those in leadership, in the realms of government, church and family life. Children are to submit to their parents, wives to their husbands, and citizens to their governing authorities. We need to understand is the context in which Peter was writing in. Ancient slavery was a grave injustice in the history of the human story. J. A. Harrill points out that slavery was not based on race in the ancient world, he argues that; ‘despite claims of some N.T. scholars, ancient slavery was not more humane than modern slavery,’[v] but had some different features. Howard Marshall explains the reasons people were enslaved in the ancient world.

People were enslaved for various reasons: being the children of slaves, being prisoners of war or falling into debt. Their conditions of service varied. The general tendency in New Testament times was toward improving the lot of slaves. Manumission [freedom] was possible if a slave could raise sufficient money from his earnings to secure redemption or could make a contract to serve his former master as a free person.[vi]

Thomas Schreiner points out:

It is crucial to note that the New Testament nowhere commends slavery as a social structure. It nowhere roots it in the created order, as if slavery is an institution ordained by God. The contrast with marriage is remarkable at this very point. God ordained the institution of marriage, but slavery was invented by human beings. The New Testament regulates the institution of slavery as it exists in society, but it does not commend it per se.[vii] 

The point that Peter is making is that one needed to do what was asked, even if the person who asked was cruel or evil, unless what was asked was wrong. Karen Jobes makes an appeal, that we need to understand the socio-political and cultural background of both the O.T. Jewish writers and the Greco-Roman worldview in order to understand what Peter is explaining to these believers who have experienced the life-altering power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Greek moral code of the day, slaves, children and woman were treated as classes of people in relationship to their fathers, husbands and masters. The Greek philosophers didn’t directly address them, which is in contrast to Peter who is addressing two groups here; slaves and wives. He speaks to their moral responsibilities and social behaviors that would exceed the expectations of that time. One example of subverting the cultural expectations of that time was:

Peter’s instructions to Christian slaves and wives is that he rejects the cultural expectation that a slave must worship his or her master’s god and a wife must worship her husband’s.[viii]

Jobes continues to explain the significance of slavery in New Testament times.

“It is estimated that almost one-quarter of the empire’s population were slaves, so their role was significant to socioeconomic stability. The slave’s loyalty to the master’s gods assured economic stability. In particular, any religion that advocated equality of any kind between slaves and masters would be met with swift and certain opposition.[ix]

Howard Marshall points out it may appear that Peter is supporting the institution of slavery, but that is not what he is doing. He is addressing a current evil with the best possible response in that current context.

Isn’t Peter’s advice an acquiescence to an evil structure in society or to the commission of crime and injustice? A clue to Peter’s ‘answer’ might be found if we consider further what is meant by bearing suffering. This phrase probably means’ bearing it without retaliation.’[x]

One can act against injustice and unjust structures in society without engaging in personal retaliation. Years ago, I read the story of a certain houseboy during the Korean conflict, that was being ridiculed and pranked by the American G.I.’s he was serving. He always was kind, gracious and smiling despite the behavior he received. One day, he was asked how he handled it so well. He simply stated that every time he served soup, he would first spit into it. This is certainly not what Peter is advocating. God’s word is urging us that empowered by God’s Spirit we should address these things without malice and the desire for revenge. Unfortunately, when we feel mistreated we generally respond by retaliating. Yet, Peter’s challenge is that we follow in the path set forth by our heavenly guide, the Lord Jesus.

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.[xi]

Two powerful ideas are introduced here. The first is that part of our calling is that we are to be prepared to suffer and endure for doing good. That sounds challenging and it is, but we of all people have hope in the time of suffering. One of the most powerful verses written to believers is that we can have assurance that in our case as followers of Jesus, everything that is happening to us, God will work His redemptive purposes in it.

And we know that in [not for] all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.[xii]

Peter is basically challenging us that we are to endure suffering for doing good, rather than suffering for doing what is wrong. The second aspect is that Jesus here is used as our guide whose footprints, we need to step in.             Paul Achtemeier explains, “The word for ‘example’ (hypogrammon) is used only here in the N.T., and means literally a pattern of letters of the alphabet by means of which children, by tracing over, learned to write.”[xiii]

Karen Jobes elaborates:

It suggests the closest of copies. English words such as ‘example,’ ‘model,’ or ‘pattern’ are too weak, for Jesus’ suffering is not simply an example or pattern or model, as if one of many; he is the paradigm by which Christians write large the letters of his gospel in their lives.[xiv]

There are so many dramatic stories of people who have forgiven the most devastating experiences in their lives. One example is Mary Johnson, who forgave the man who murdered her only son.

While that profound moment was only possible after years of turmoil and prayer, Johnson tried to start down the path of forgiveness after tragedy struck: At the sentencing for Ohsea Israel, the teenager who shot her 20-year-old son Laramiun Byrd to death at a party in 1993, Johnson told him she forgave him. Johnson says that some consider her journey of reconciliation with Israel to be “crazy.” But the pair now share their experience around the country as part of “From Death To Life,” a nonprofit Johnson founded to provide healing and reconciliation between families of victims and those who caused harm. Johnson calls Israel her “spiritual son” and he refers to her as a “second mom.” They have lived next door to each other for more than two years. Johnson said her forgiveness of Israel in no way condones what he did 20 years ago, but that she did it to free herself of suffering. “All that stuff had to leave me,” she said.”[xv]

THE SECOND CONCEPT WE NEED TO GRASP IN TIMES OF INJUSTICE IS THE IDEA OF SURRENDERING IT TO GOD

We need to learn to entrust our hearts, circumstances, the pain and the perpetrators all to God. We need to re-examine the example of Jesus in order have the right attitude about life’s injustices.

A. He entrusted himself to the Father to address the injustice of the cross.

‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.[xvi]                      

What is the general human response to injustice? Outrage and a desire for justice to occur. That certainly is true when we are the victims or the bystanders hearing of injustice. But what happens when we are the perpetrators of injustice? What happens when we sin against others and are brought up short? Then we want mercy. However, let’s move back to being the victim for the moment. This is so audacious and unfair. This is especially true when our good to others is being misunderstood, and abused. We are then suffering wrongly. How can we address the emotional pain? Some lash out and express outrage and anger seeking vengeance. For others they suppress that outrage and it often manifests itself in great emotional and internal turmoil. Years ago during one of my seminary courses, the teacher who happened to be both a medical doctor and had a degree in counseling shared that one aspects of ‘reactive depression,’ is often repressed anger. So, what is the right response to life’s hurts and injustices? We need to commit these injustices to God and allow Him to deal with the perpetrators. N.T. scholar, Wayne Grudem writes:

But committing the situation to God, knowing that ultimately ‘the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality (Col. 3:25; cf. 2 Thess. 1:5-6; Jas. 5:7-8), means that our sense of wrong suffered can be put at rest, and enables us then to imitate Jesus in praying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Lk. 23:34). We thus seek for the wrongdoers not forgiveness without cost (which is impossible in God’s just universe) but forgiveness paid for by the great cost of the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19).[xvii]      

We need to learn to entrust injustices ultimately to God, who will eventually address all injustices and has in one sense begun that process through the work of the cross, but will ultimately finish the work of judgment upon his return. The apostle Paul states it very emphatically in 2 Thessalonians, in which Paul is dealing with the injustices that many were experiencing at the hands of their persecutors.

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you are who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out form the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.[xviii]

This is really answering the cry of the martyred in Revelation 6:9, who are crying out: ‘How long, Sovereign Lord holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood!

The Scriptures nowhere teach that believers can refrain from retaliation because they become stoics in suffering and put on a brave face. Rather, believers triumph over evil because they trust God will vindicate them and judge their enemies, putting everything right in the end.[xix]

B. Jesus’ suffering was efficacious in nature empowering us to do what is right.

The result of Jesus’ suffering had a powerful result on the lives of others, including ourselves.  

‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’ 1 Peter 2:24).’

What is so amazing about this statement is that it is not so much emphasizing that Jesus died to provide for forgiveness, which He did, but that Christ’s sacrifice empowers us to do what is right, especially in times where we are experiencing injustice, even as Jesus did. We are to live a new life. Jesus’ sacrificial death has given us a power to live a life where the past baggage of sin is no longer our go-to as we respond to the inequalities of life. We no longer have to lash out, but we can respond in a manner that was once foreign to us: we can respond in grace, and forgiveness. Why? Because we have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness in our lives. Peter quotes from Isaiah 53:5 that Jesus died in order for our wounds to be healed. While in Matthew 8:17, Matthew quotes this same text to explain how Jesus went about healing the sick; here in Peter this is speaking about the healing that Jesus brings to our soul because of the ravages of our sin. Jesus heals our sin-sick souls in order for us to be able to live properly and in a healthy way, despite life’s injustices.

C. The answer to our wounded life is Jesus.

“For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:25).”           Here we have two metaphors to describe the relationship we have with Jesus as a result of the gospel’s power in our life. First, Jesus is described as the Shepherd of the sheep, which have strayed. This speaks to the nature of the human heart that rebels rather than submits. Peter is once again taking his text from Isaiah 53, in which we see that ‘we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. Here is the great argument regarding the sinful nature that rejects God and rebels against His authority. There is no one who is exempt from this reality. To suggest that we are intrinsically good flies in the face of the teaching of Scripture and a real and honest evaluation of the human soul.

Edward Selwyn in writing on this text states:

In what sense, we may ask did Christ ‘bear’ our sins? In the sense that He took the blame for them; suffered the ‘curse’ of them (cf. Deut. 21:23 quoted in Gal. 3:13), which is separation from God; and endured their penal consequences.[xx]

There is a sense that we as believers are also called upon to suffer loss for the sake of others. One of the most profound examples is the story of Polish Catholic priest, Maximilian Kolbe, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz. After a successful prison escape by one of the inmates, the deputy camp commander, picked ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.” Here was a man willing to give his life for the sake of another. This is truly the spirit of Christ. 

Not only like loss sheep that eventually find themselves with the good Shepherd of their souls, but Jesus also is called our ‘overseer.’ The Greek word is ‘episkopos,’ meaning someone who is over and seeing. 

In the ancient Greek world, the episkopos was one who came unannounced to the troops to see if they were prepared for battle. If they were not, he would chasten them; if they were, he would congratulate and reward them.[xxi]

What strikes me about this image is that Peter who earlier has warned about abstaining against fleshly desires which war against our souls seems to be challenging us with the battle that life presents to us. This imagery certainly moves us away from any sense of living an ‘entitled’ life, as we see here a life filled with danger, challenge, and obstacles that must be overcome. I think the picture of climbing a mountain seems a fitting sense of what this life is all about. We need to follow very carefully the trail mapped out for us, by our heavenly guide, the Lord Jesus who ascended to the summit, experiencing the injustices of humanity.

It could be that you are living trapped in the prison of unforgiveness because of some great injustice that has happened to you. All you can think about is that it is so unfair. Your good actions have been violated and you have reaped evil as a result. You are filled with pain and sorrow. Anger and bitterness now occupies your soul, incapacitating you from moving forward. But Jesus has walked that path before. Jesus wants to guide you to freedom. He is reaching down to help you up and ascend that mountain summit past the injustice. Grasp His hand today, open up your heart; allow God’s Holy Spirit to fill you with forgiveness to the perpetrators and allow God’s justice to address all that evil.

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[i]     https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/bad-dream-stopped-everest-guide-climbing-peak-26th-77888354

[ii]     Hebrews 12:2-3, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011

[iii]    I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: I. V. P Academic, 1991), 89.

[iv]    1 Peter 2:18-19.

[v]     J. Albert Harrill, Slavery, Dictionary of New Testament Background,1125 as quoted by Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 135.

[vi]    I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 87.

[vii]   Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 136.

[viii]   Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 185.

[ix]    Ibid, 186.

[x]     I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 90.

[xi]    1 Peter 2:20-21.

[xii]   Romans 8:28-29.

[xiii]   Paul J. Achtemeier, A Commentary on 1 Peter, Hermeneia-A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 199.

[xiv]   Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 195.

[xv]   https://www.today.com/news/how-do-you-forgive-killer-mother-moves-past-tragedy-4B11203330

[xvi]   1 Peter 2:22-23.

[xvii] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 131.

[xviii]           2 Thessalonians 1:5-9.

[xix]   Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, 144.

[xx]   Edward Gordon Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), 180.

[xxi]   R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, Fl: Reformation Trust, 2019), 71.

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