Unanswered Prayer: Justice Delayed

We’ve been considering the problem of unanswered prayer.  Why didn’t God answer prayer X?  What gives?  Jesus says we should ask, seek, and knock – the one who asks will receive; the one who seeks finds; to the one who knocks the door will be opened.  Yet…my prayer hasn’t been answered.

Now we’ve seen there are lots of different reasons for this.  Sometimes God’s answer is “no,” perhaps because a prayer is contrary to his will (which is always better than ours).  Sometimes his answer is “yes, just not yet.”  We saw this is often the case with prayers for healing.  We also considered the parable of the impudent neighbor as an example of unanswered prayer as a means of faith-building.

We turn now to another parable to consider another “not yet” type of answer to prayer.  This relates to those petitions that seek justice.  We live in a broken world in which the power of evil seems overwhelming at times.  We see the sin of individuals all around us – murder, rape, robbery, etc.  We see systemic injustices on the part of governments, corporations, etc.  We see natural evil as people are washed away in floods or suffer want in famine.

In the face of such evil we are grieved in spirit.  The most difficult challenge that any of us will ever face is the problem of evil and suffering.  Why does God allow evil?  If God is truly good and all-powerful, why does he allow the wicked to prosper?  How can horrors like the Holocaust happen?  Why doesn’t he intervene to bring true justice?

The answer to the problem of evil is ultimately Jesus.  Jesus is God with us.  He is the God-man.  When we see him, we see God.  And the God we see loves people, heals them, is compassionate toward them. And, ultimately, he lays down his life for them.  He delivers them from the power of sin and death.  God is anything but indifferent to the problem of human suffering – he willingly takes that suffering upon himself.

But…even as redeemed people secure in the assurance of Christ’s work, we live in a world full of evil and injustice.  Our kids get sick and die.  Our neighbors are cheated and maligned.  Grinding poverty, racism, persecution…still part of our reality.  And so we pray, “Deliver us from evil!”

Why doesn’t God answer that prayer?  To those who feel discouraged on just this point, Jesus tells this parable:

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”(Lk. 18:1-8 ESV)

This parable has many similarities to the parable of the impudent neighbor, but there are differences as well.  It is alike in that it is about persevering in prayer – you pray; you ask; you request; you don’t see the desired response.  What do you do?  You keep on asking.  You persist.  Ultimately your request is granted.

But Jesus isn’t just telling a similar parable for the sake of redundancy.  This parable has some unique elements.  The problem here isn’t a lack of bread; it is instead a lack of justice.  The poor widow has been wronged.  She is one of those most often featured in the gospel of Luke: the vulnerable forgotten of society – the poor man, the leper, the Samaritan, the widow.  She has been wronged.  How exactly we don’t know, but that doesn’t much matter for the sake of the parable.

She cries out in her distress to the one who is able to bring her justice: the judge.  But this judge is a bum.  He doesn’t care about justice.  What a fit metaphor for living in a broken and evil world: the one appointed to bring justice is himself unjust – he is more interested in receiving a bribe for his own benefit than in demonstrating mercy to this woman in need.  But even a creep like this is eventually worn down by her incessant requesting.  He gives her justice “because she keeps bothering me.”

This is another of Jesus’ how-much-more arguments.  If a crummy judge will do what’s right just because he’s repeatedly badgered in prayer, how much more will your heavenly Father do what’s right?  God’s not an unjust judge – he is perfectly just, always doing what is right.  He longs to care for, protect, and bless his children.

And he will answer the petitions of his saints for justice.  Every injustice that has ever been committed from the first sin of our first parents will receive justice at the hand of our all-just God.  For the redeemed of God it was Christ who bore the penalty for our sin – the wrath of God was poured out upon him in our place.  For the rest, Judgment Day is coming.  Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead.

When he does, there will be no wrongs left to set right, no vengeance still to be sought, no more tears, pain, grief, death.  All prayers for justice will be answered once for all.