Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project – How can we be just and compassionate?

These chapters in Ezekiel are absolutely full of intriguing ideas worthy of reflection, but I’ve been mulling over one idea in particular, lately, and Ezekiel offers me the perfect opportunity to work through it (or at least attempt to do so).

God is just. We read about Israel’s experiences throughout the Bible and some of those experiences (and predictions) are terrifying, painful, ugly. We can also see that people often suffered as a result of their decisions. Justice, right? But then there are passages where the authors focus on God’s compassion. He takes pity on us. He “spares” us despite our unworthiness (Ezekiel 20:16-17).

If I believe that God is just and compassionate, then I have to believe that these two traits are not at odds. Ezekiel 20: 44 caught my attention: “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” Hmmm… there’s something here that changes my understanding of justice, but I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps we should focus less on being just toward each other and more on seeking justice for God? Because, after all, to serve God is the only true way to serve each other. Sorry for the rambling. Just trying to get a handle on this train of thought.

People are told to seek justice (see Isaiah 1:17, for just one example), which sounds simple enough, but I feel befuddled when I read Proverbs 28:5, which states: “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” Ahem… I’m afraid this does not bode well for me, because I’m still confused. How can we know what is just and when to be compassionate and relieve suffering when that suffering seems… well, fair, based on someone’s actions. For example – a parent has an adult child who is broke and living on the streets because of a drug habit. They’ve made every effort to help in the past. The child is in her current predicament because she made bad decisions. Is it good and just to take that child back into the parents’ home and help her get back on her feet? She certainly qualifies as poor and oppressed. Or should she bear the weight of her choices? You can’t make that call without more info, right? I feel like there are always extenuating circumstances… heck, they may go all the way back to Adam and Eve. God has the advantage of being able to see all of those variables and factors. I do not. Do such things matter? How can we know how best to serve God and our fellow man?

I know I’m overthinking this. I know that if our actions are borne out of love and we are seeking God’s will, we’re doing what we can. But doesn’t that feel like an oversimplification sometimes? In a decision-making moment, things can seem overwhelming, confusing, weighty.

I think maybe I just muddied the waters. 🙂

Lacking a neat moral-of-the-story, I’ll leave you with a couple of verses from my reading that I found powerful. This moving plea can be found in Ezekiel 18:31-32:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

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3 thoughts on “Prophets Project – How can we be just and compassionate?

  1. I once heard it said that most people want justice for others and compassion for themselves. We want others to “get what they deserve,” but we are perfectly happy getting away with all sorts of wrongful acts ourselves. We think life should be fair for everyone else, but we want the benefit of the doubt.

    My faith challenges me to seek and to offer compassion first, and let God figure out the justice piece.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I would tend to agree, and think more active compassion in this world would be a blessing. But sometimes I wonder if our acts of compassion do more harm than good. Does that make sense? Maybe sometimes the truly compassionate thing is NOT to offer some form of deliverance. Just as sometimes God lets us suffer the consequences of our actions. It’s just difficult to know when to act and when to stand back.

    1. Discerning the compassionate response is not always easy. Sometimes we get it wrong. Fortunately we often have the chance to choose again.

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