Justice or Salvation

Justice feels so good, for a moment. And it’s so easy. It’s the closing of a chapter. The end of a discussion. A time to move on.

There are seemingly clear instances in our culture where there is consensus on who should be “brought to justice.” The Christian community often leads the way in calling for swift action in the capture and punishment of notorious figures like Osama bin Laden or Ted Bundy. We raise high the banner of the death penalty, and we put magnetic ribbons on our cars in support of war. But we’ve forgotten to ask a very important question: justice or salvation?

Think back over the last few years and ask yourself if you ever hoped or prayed that Osama bin Laden would come to know Jesus. Sure, maybe you’ve spoken out against the atrocities of war, but even that is more about ideology than it is about love and compassion.

Recently, I was Disney – riding the monorail. It was packed full, and I was situated between a man and his wife. The wife asked the man a question. He looked at her with impatient eyes, pressed his fingers together and demanded that she, “zip it.” I felt the roar of justice rising up in me. I wanted to take his hand in mine and crush it. So, I did all I could do. I started to pray silently that the Holy Spirit would descend in the midst of that crowded monorail.

We arrived at the station and disembarked along with of hundreds of other park guests. I was taking deep breaths and asking God for wisdom. The man tried to put his hand around his wife. She pushed it away. ”What’s that about?” he asked, oblivious to what had just happened moments earlier. “You told me to zip it,” she responded. He went on as if she hadn’t even said anything, complaining about how crowded things were.

With the family in front of me, I watched silently as we all moved down the ramp toward the exit of the station. ”Come on, let’s go,” the man said rather loudly, and then pushed his nine year old daughter into the back of the man a few feet in front of her.

I couldn’t let it go, and in the most gentle way possible I said, “Man, you can’t push your daughter like that, and you shouldn’t tell your wife to zip it.” He was enraged.
“You got something to say to me?” he responded. “Peace and love. Peace and love,” was all I knew to say back. We walked silently toward the exit surrounded by hundreds of people. When we got to the end, he took the bandana off his head, wrapped it around his fist and started yelling profanities asking me if I wanted to step to the side and fight him. I shook my head and said, “No man.”

I was feeling so many emotions simultaneously. I wanted the man arrested. I wanted to rescue the wife and daughter from this kind of life. I wanted to say something that would shut him up. I wanted justice.

It wasn’t until several minutes later that I asked the question – justice or salvation? Almost simultaneously, I got a picture of Crocodile Dundee holding out his hand, waving his pinky and thumb in front of two savage Doberman Pinschers and silencing their attack. You and I are filled with the Holy Spirit. The fruit of our lives is love, joy, peace and the rest. Yet so often, we settle to silence hatred and evil with justice.

In the midst of justice, the momentary attack might end, but the brokenness persists. The man’s anger focused itself on me instead of his family, but he was still angry, lost and hopeless.

I spoke the words of justice that night, but it wasn’t until the window was closed that I even thought about salvation. I woke up the next morning with the prayer that I would know God’s heart so much and be so full of the Holy Spirit that my first reaction is a divine wisdom and love that brings the power of salvation rather than the impotence of justice.
In thinking about these things, I’ve come to realize this: Judgment is the end of a conversation. Salvation is the beginning of one.

Judgment and justice are easy. We say our peace or hand down our verdict and walk away. Salvation is just the opposite. It’s the process of engaging in the long and difficult work of life change. What a different and kingdom-like world you and I would live in if we carried the banner of salvation higher than the banner of justice. I want to live a life that celebrates the entrance of the radical love of Jesus into the lives of the broken – just as that love has entered the life of this broken man.

Adapted from the blog post found at: colenesmith.com/2010/05/justice-or-salvation

Cole NeSmith is an artist, musician and writer. Follow his blog at colenesmith.com or follow him on Twitter at @colenesmith.

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