It is part of our human nature to be more impatient with the inactivity of others than with our own. We see a desire for God’s immediate justice in the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10: “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The desire to see an immediate resolution of injustice is not limited to those slain for their testimony of God; it is commonly a topic of comment by believers who wish to see the righteousness of God vindicated in a very visible way. This was also a common theme of David’s psalms long before the advent of Christ.
We might note that it is not only God’s people who cry “How long?” but God Himself repeatedly redirects that same question to those who reject His righteousness. How long will man love vanity (Ps. 4:2)? How long will he dwell on vain thoughts (Jer. 4:14)? Even Christ asked the first-century generation, “How long shall I suffer you?” (Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:19). We are conveniently anxious for God’s justice on the wicked but desirous of His longsuffering to the redeemed. We should also note our desire for God’s justice is often more about our self-satisfaction than the honor of God.
Faith and Reason
Our expectation of and desire for both the defeat of evil and the manifestation of God’s glory is a valid outworking of our faith, but our understanding of that faith itself is often flawed. We presume the legitimacy of man’s rebellion when we tolerate the common but false contrast of faith versus reason. Such thinking assumes faith to be in the non-rational realm, and is a convenient method to box-off the Christian faith from what is presumed (as an unacknowledged act of faith) to be reasonable. Faith in these terms then means something outside logic and structured thought. Faith becomes a “leap” into the dark; it is “blind,” and something to which we resort when all else fails.
Faith is not an irrational alternative to reason. For it to be so defined, reason must have already been posited as contrary to faith. If, however, God is very real, then faith in Him is not only reasonable, but necessary to the validity of all thought.
The fall of man into sin was the transference of man’s allegiance from the Word of God to himself. Satan’s temptation was that man could “be as gods, knowing [determining for themselves] good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Believing Satan’s lie was man’s first application of rationalism—man’s thought took precedence over God’s revelation. Sin gave man a new default focus of faith—himself (whether individually or in some collective). Though some men anarchistically try to chart their own course, most borrow their faith from some philosophy acceptable to the spirit of their age.
Adam and Eve’s move in terms of Satan’s promise was not first an intellectual one, but a moral rejection of their Creator. The intellectual desire to “be as gods” followed the initial moral rebellion against the one true God.
Our faith depends on our basic understanding of the nature and meaning of all things. It is based on a worldview. This is why faith comes by hearing of the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). This does not refer to any mystical properties of the Word, but to the fact that the Spirit calls men to a belief in certain truths in terms of which our faith then can allow us to reorient our lives. Believing faith is not in something abstract. We believe that we are fallen creatures of God in need of forgiveness and atonement and called to redirect our energies to faithful obedience to the God of our salvation. Where do we learn of who God is, who we are, and why we need salvation, but from the Word? Our faith is our confession that what God has revealed to us is true. Our life of faith is how we see our new life in Christ and control our words, thoughts, and actions in terms of this new view of the world and our purpose and responsibilities therein, all of which we learn from the Word.
The idea of “blind” faith suggests we believe in Jesus without any real understanding, but there’s no such thing as an accidental Christian. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). Specifically our faith is in the atonement of Jesus Christ in our place and in our justification by grace received by faith, yet none of this can be taken out of the larger context. Saving faith is based on our faith that God is who He says He is and that we are who God says we are. Saving faith then becomes an active faith because it places us in an entirely new understanding of life. Our reason is then always based upon our faith.
The Importunate Widow
Because of our faith and the new understanding it affords, we are often anxious for the outcome Scripture tells us is inevitable. Such impatience is not itself to be faulted. Our Lord gives us a parable about a helpless widow who persistently asked for justice from a very unjust judge who at first ignored her requests (Luke 18:1–8). The widow, however, refused to act helpless and forlorn; she persisted in seeking justice from the judge, even though her previous requests had not been granted. The widow stood firm, believing justice was on her side. Weary of her pleading, the judge saw that justice was done.
The purpose of the parable is stated by Jesus. It is not to teach us to expect eventual justice from human courts, but rather that men “ought always to pray, and not to faint” (v. 1). His point is, “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily” (vv. 7–8).
We ought to note several things about Jesus’ statement. First, He refers to “his own elect.” God has told His people to expect a positive resolution. “[A]ll things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28), Paul tells us. Faith in God necessarily involves a belief in His faithfulness to His covenant people.
Second, Jesus says God will “avenge” His people. This speaks of God’s delivering judgment. The parable speaks of a corrupt judge who could nevertheless be moved to execute judgment on injustice. The point is that we ought then to assume that the Just One certainly hears and will avenge.
Third, the widow represents the elect “which cry day and night” unto God. Neither the widow nor the elect are condemned for such pleas. It is the widow’s persistence that is here the central point. Her faith was not passive, nor was it lacking in reason. She knew what justice was and she asked for what was rightfully due her. Our cries to God are likewise reasoned pleas based on our faith in who God is. Our pleadings assume that we can ask for justice because God is Just. We call upon God because we presume that true justice flows from His nature (note the terms just/righteous and justice/righteousness are used synonymously throughout Scripture).
Fourth, our Lord tells us that God bears long with us. God’s schedule is never ours. What is long for man is not long for God. The judgment of God must never be put on our small timescale because our sin sometimes makes our motive for justice personal satisfaction. This God will not regard.
Like the martyred saints, we ask, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” We must then also be content with the response given them, that they should “rest yet for a little season” because the number of martyrs was not yet complete!
Yes, they were given white robes; they were clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but not even the saints victorious dictate God’s providential timetable.
Our faithfulness is the outworking of our faith in every area of our lives. Like the importunate widow, however, our faith must be an active one. It behooves us to keep our minds and hearts focused on the glory of God and to plead for His justice to reign. We must, however, do more than ask for God to impose His justice. We must also live as just men because we are justified, and we must work for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven because we are His servants and our highest calling is to be workers in His Kingdom. He is not our maintenance man whom we call on to fix things. Quite the contrary, we are His servants. It is fitting to desire justice and to pray for it, but our calling is to be the just (justified), the righteous people of God, and to be an example of justice before men.