Bearing the Burden of Injustice
“Violence and oppression are before me; strife and contention keep on rising. In the presence of this, the law is slack and justice is not at all applied; for the wicked encircle the righteous, hence justice goes forth perverted.”—Hab. 1:3, 4, “The New Berkeley Version.”
1. How does Ecclesiastes 1:15 well describe the situation in human affairs?
OPPRESSION, injustice and favoritism are very common in this world. A multitude of defective things simply cannot be straightened out, and the flaws in human affairs are without number. One of the wisest rulers of ancient times, King Solomon, said: “That which is made crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot possibly be counted.”—Eccl. 1:15.
DISTRESSING EFFECTS FROM WITNESSING INJUSTICES
2. What have lovers of righteousness sometimes asked, and why?
2 On account of their sense of justice, many people find it very distressing to witness the seeming success of those who are dishonest and have no regard for God or for fellowmen. Like the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk, other lovers of righteousness have at times asked: ‘Why does not God do something?’—Hab. 1:2-4.
3. (a) How have some reacted to the seeming prosperity of wicked men? (b) Who was Asaph? (c) What did he acknowledge about a particular period in his life?
3 So disturbing has it been for them to face injustice that some of God’s servants have found themselves giving way to serious doubts about the value of an upright life. This is what happened to Asaph,* a prominent Levite musician during the reign of King David. He wrote compositions that were used for many centuries in public worship. (2 Chron. 29:30) Along with Heman and Jeduthun, Asaph ‘prophesied with the harps, with the stringed instruments and with the cymbals.’ (1 Chron. 25:1) Evidently such prophesying involved their rendering praise and thanks to God while accompanying themselves with instrumental music. Likely Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun did this with the feeling and intensity characteristic of the prophets. Furthermore, their expressions, set to music, conveyed vital messages to the Israelites. Truly, Asaph was highly favored. Yet, during a certain period of his life, he came to be in grave spiritual danger. In one of his inspired songs, Psalm 73, Asaph admits: “My feet had almost turned aside, my steps had nearly been made to slip.”—Ps 73 Vs. 2.
4. According to Psalm 73:3-9, what did Asaph see that he found distressing?
4 What did Asaph see that had such an unbalancing effect on him? The answer is found in the words of Psalm 73:3-9. When Asaph observed the prosperity of the wicked, envy was stirred up within him. Unscrupulous men would boast about the wealth that they had accumulated by fraudulent means. Despite their lawlessness, things seemed to go very well for them. Outward appearances gave every indication that they were enjoying peace and security. In fact, despite their vile way of life, ‘they had no deathly pangs’; even their life appeared to come to a peaceful end, without horrible pangs of death. They had enough food, and no particular health problems interfered with their enjoyment of meals. Their eyes were not sunken from lack of nourishment but “bulged from fatness.” These men shamelessly continued in their wicked ways. Their arrogance or haughtiness was like an ornament to them, “a necklace.” So many were their violent deeds that they were ‘covered with them as with a garment.’ At all times they were dressed in violence. Being successful in their unrighteous scheming, they ‘surpassed the imaginations of their hearts.’ This encouraged them to speak about their fraudulent practices “in an elevated style,” in an arrogant manner. ‘They would put their mouths in the heavens and their tongue would walk about in the earth.’ No regard did they have for anyone in heaven or on earth. Their tongue was left unbridled, and their mouths spewed forth what their tongue pleased.
5. How do the words of Psalm 73:10, 11 show that Asaph was not alone in being adversely affected by seeing the wicked getting by with lawlessness?
5 Asaph apparently was not alone in being adversely affected by what he witnessed. He goes on to say: “Therefore he brings his people back hither, and the waters of what is full are drained out for them. And they have said: ‘How has God come to know? And does there exist knowledge in the Most High?’” (Ps. 73:10, 11) When thinking about the way in which the wicked appear to get by with their lawlessness, the righteous find this very disturbing. They cannot put it out of their mind. Again and again they return to it. The effect on them is comparable to their having to drink a bitter potion. This moves them to ask: ‘How can God tolerate these things? Does he not see what is going on?’*
6. What caused Asaph to think that serving Jehovah was in vain?
6 Comparing his own lot with the prosperous condition of the wicked, Asaph exclaimed: “Surely it is in vain that I have cleansed my heart and that I wash my hands in innocence itself. And I came to be plagued all day long, and my correction is every morning.” (Ps. 73:12-14) Thus the psalmist actually began to think that it was useless to lead an upright life. While the wicked were enjoying prosperity, he was plagued constantly. He felt that God was correcting or reproving him every morning. The wicked, however, appeared to be getting by with the grossest of wrongdoing.
7. What shows that the psalmist recognized the wrongness of viewing service to God as being futile?
7 Nevertheless, Asaph realized that it was wrong for him to give in to such thinking. He said: “Had I let myself talk on in this fashion, I should have betrayed the family of God. So I set myself to think this out but I found it too hard for me.” (Ps. 73:15, 16, The New English Bible) Yes, the psalmist recognized that his viewing service to God as vain would actually mean his being disloyal to the faithful ones. Then, too, his giving way to public expression of doubt could have undermined the faith of some. Though he tried to straighten out his thinking, Asaph simply could not reconcile how the wicked could get by with their wrongdoing, while righteous persons were suffering.
HOW TO AVOID BEING THROWN OFF BALANCE
8. (a) Where did the psalmist go to readjust his thinking? (b) What should we do when we become unduly disturbed about the things that we see?
8 What did the psalmist do to readjust his thinking? Asaph went to the sanctuary. There among the assembled worshipers, he came to appreciate just what was in store for the wicked. (Ps. 73:17) Similarly, if you find yourself disturbed by what you see, seek to find the answers from those who are trying to be wholehearted in their service to God. What did Asaph come to appreciate? We read: “Surely on slippery ground is where you [Jehovah] place them. You have made them fall to ruins. O how they have become an object of astonishment as in a moment! How they have reached their end, have been brought to their finish through sudden terrors! Like a dream after awaking, O Jehovah, so when arousing yourself you will despise their very image.”—Ps. 73:18-20.
9 These words of the psalmist reveal a vital point that can help us to bear the injustices of an ungodly system. The seeming prosperity of the wicked is but temporary. Because their life centers solely around corruptible material possessions, they are standing “on slippery ground” and are in constant danger of experiencing a terrible crash, suddenly and without warning. At the latest, death will overtake them in old age, and their ill-gotten gain will be of no value in securing for them a longer life. (Ps. 49:6-12) Their prosperity will be like a dream that quickly passes. It may even be that justice will catch up with them long before they reach old age. The unchangeable law of God may go into effect against them: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7) Since they have turned their backs on the Most High, the only One who could help them, the full impact of the disaster comes crashing down on them. They are left completely helpless, without hope and comfort. When Jehovah thus arouses himself against them, he will view their “image,” their pomp and position, with contempt, as something worthless.
10. In connection with the seeming success of the wicked, what should we keep in mind regarding God’s purpose?
10 Therefore, during the time that injustice, lawlessness and oppression seem to be flourishing, we must never forget that the wicked are not really getting away with anything. Jehovah God is taking note of what is happening, and he is allowing matters to work out in harmony with his grand purpose. At times, when individuals take a wrong course and experience suffering as a result, they come to their senses and turn to the Creator in sincere repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9) On the other hand, if they harden themselves in their evil ways, it becomes clear to all observers that the execution of God’s judgment against them is justified, completely righteous.—Compare Romans 9:14-24.
11. What viewpoint of time will aid us to wait patiently on Jehovah God to rectify injustices?
11 To us, it may seem that it takes a long time for justice to be executed against those who merit punishment. But it is a very short time in the sight of the eternal God. The Bible says: “A thousand years are in your eyes but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch during the night.” (Ps. 90:4) How long does yesterday seem to you today? Perhaps you did have a trying day, and it may have seemed that the day would never end. Now that it is over, does it not appear as if that day hardly existed? To the Creator, a thousand years are like this, in fact, even as brief as a four-hour watch during the night. Hence, the human life-span of but 70 or 80 years is virtually nonexistent in God’s sight. “We have finished our years just like a whisper,” wrote the prophet Moses. (Ps. 90:9) Yes, our brief life-span may be compared to a breath that passes our lips in a whisper. When we consider that Jehovah God promises to give his loyal servants an eternity of happy living in peace and security, even a lifetime of extreme suffering is nothing at all. This viewpoint can help us to be patient when we are troubled by having to face injustice, oppression and favoritism.
12. (a) What is Satan’s contention regarding humans? (b) How can this help us to bear the burden of injustice?
12 There is yet another factor that comes into the picture. The great adversary of mankind, Satan the Devil, maintains that those who serve God are motivated by selfishness. This is evident from the charge that Satan leveled against Job: “Everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul. For a change, thrust out your hand, please, and touch as far as his bone and his flesh and see whether he will not curse you to your very face.” (Job 2:4, 5) Hence, by our maintaining loyalty to God in the face of injustices, we can demonstrate our proper heart motivation, as Job did.
13. How can we avoid reacting to unfavorable circumstances in the manner described at Psalm 73:21, 22?
13 If we ourselves are the victims of injustice because of prejudice or our refusal to play politics, we must be careful not to react to God’s permission of injustices merely on the basis of feelings or sensations like an unreasoning animal. This could make us bitter deep within us and unbalance our thinking, causing us to view things strictly from our own viewpoint and to blind ourselves to God’s purpose. This is what happened to Asaph. He admits: “My heart was soured and in my kidneys I was sharply pained, and I was unreasoning and I could not know; I became as mere beasts from your standpoint.”—Ps. 73:21, 22.
14. What relationship should we strive to safeguard?
14 Regardless of what we may personally face, we should strive hard to safeguard our relationship with Jehovah God, for our exaltation will come from him. This is what the psalmist came to appreciate. We read: “I am constantly with you; you have taken hold of my right hand. With your counsel you will lead me, and afterward you will take me even to glory. Whom do I have in the heavens? And besides you I do have no other delight on the earth. My organism and my heart have failed. God is the rock of my heart and my share to time indefinite. For, look! the very ones keeping away from you will perish. You will certainly silence every one immorally leaving you. But as for me, the drawing near to God is good for me. In the Sovereign Lord Jehovah I have placed my refuge, to declare all your works.”—Ps. 73:23-28.
15. How will Jehovah lead us to glory?
15 We should remember that under no circumstances will Jehovah God abandon us if we remain faithful to him. He is always with us. The Most High will take us by the hand, to conduct and to support us. The counsel or advice of Jehovah will be our guide to a secure and happy future. While we may suffer humiliation for a time, Jehovah will bring about a reversal and lead us to glory or honor. Like Asaph, we have no one but our heavenly Father on whom we can lean for comfort.
16. (a) In what sense is God the rock of one’s heart? (b) How can Jehovah be our “share”? (c) What should we strive to do in connection with Jehovah’s wonderful works?
16 Our being in an approved standing before Jehovah should be our greatest delight. Even if our organisms and our hearts fail, Jehovah will strengthen us. He will give stability to our hearts so that we will not lose hope and courage in the face of adversity. Truly, the privilege of enjoying an intimacy with our heavenly Father and being able to serve him is a most delightful portion, a possession of priceless value. May we never let go of it, as that would spell calamity for us, along with all those who abandon Jehovah. Like the psalmist, may we draw close to Jehovah, committing all our cares to him. This is good, for it will promote our happiness and well-being. Furthermore, may we relate Jehovah’s wonderful works to others, thereby strengthening any who have doubts.
17. What should become the focal point of our life, and how will this aid us to put up with injustices?
17 Truly, we today can benefit greatly from what the psalmist recorded from his own experience. While the injustices seen in this system may be disturbing, we can bear this burden successfully by centering our life around service to God. If we do, our reward is certain. (Heb. 6:10) In fact, so grand will be the reward that, by comparison, any trial or tribulation that we may have to face will be but “momentary and light.”—2 Cor. 4:17.
The name “Asaph” appears in the superscriptions of Psalm 50 and Psalms 73 to 83. Since Psalms 79 and 80 mention events that took place after the time of the Levite musician Asaph, some of these psalms must have been written by his descendants. Hence, the name “Asaph” is evidently to be understood as including the whole line of descent that started with him. There being no indication in the contents of Psalm 73 that it came from a later period, we may conclude that the writer was the Levite musician himself, a contemporary of King David.
The Hebrew text may also be understood in a different sense. Because the wicked one appears to be successful, some among God’s servants adopt a corrupt way of thinking. They are brought back to the same line of thought and the same condition as the lawless man. Those who are thus led astray, in effect, say: ‘God is unaware of what is taking place. He is not going to act against lawlessness.’
[Picture on page 16]
The enjoyment that even corrupt persons seem to get out of life raises the question: Is it worth while to live an upright life?