Justice For The Lion Cubs
When we are wronged, or if things do not go the way we want them to, we call out for justice. It is a natural thing to do. The balance of our lives has tilted away from us, and we need justice to set things right. Justice seems like a simple enough concept. It is the setting of things that are wrong to right, things that are unfair to fair, things that are imbalanced to equality. Who does not wish for justice when they have been grievously wronged?
Job felt grievously wronged once. He lost all his wealth, his children and his health when he had done nothing wrong or deserving of such a fate. At one point in his grief, Job dreams of taking God to court to prove he had been mistreated. "I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments… Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me." (Job 23:4,6)
Later, God demands for Job to answer some tough questions of his own. One particular challenge strikes me curious: "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?" (Job 38:39-41)
What is so interesting about this is not so much the question about whether Job can simply feed the lions or the ravens, but the deeper implications of justice implied by the question itself. Imagine the young ravens crying out to God to be fed. They are babies simply wanting sustenance to continue to live. Who in their right mind would deny such innocent creatures food? If someone was concerned about justice, surely they would feed the crying baby ravens. But to feed a baby raven, an act of justice and mercy, would most likely mean the death of another animal.
In the case of lions, the first example, to feed a lion cub would most definitely mean the death of some other animal. To the lion, a dead antelope is justice; for the antelope, it is the absolute height of injustice. On the flip side, justice for the antelope means starvation and injustice for the innocent lion cub.
What God is getting at in this question is to show Job the complexities of justice. From our own perspective we tend to see justice filtered through the lens of our own experience. When we are hurting, we want it to be corrected and made right and fair again. And we usually want it to have happened yesterday. We want justice. But too quickly that desire tips into vengeance. Our legitimate complaints in need of restitution quickly become a means by which we try to get more than what's fair and hurt those who hurt us. We are the antelope wanting to deny the lions a right to ever eat, or we are the lions wanting to gorge ourselves on antelope and get fat.
By no means is this meant to say that justice is impossible to determine, but that there are always two sides to a story, one person who will feel slighted when another seemingly gains. This comes up with Jesus, a man calls out to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13) This is a man calling out to Jesus for justice. According to traditions so old, they may as well have been law, the inheritance of a father was to be split among the sons. The man asked Jesus simply to tell his brother to follow the law, to be fair. It’s such a striking reply that Jesus gives: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14) The question that pops into my mind when I read that is, well isn’t Jesus supposed to be judge and arbiter over us? Doesn’t Jesus care about what’s fair and just?
Jesus goes on right after that to talk about not being greedy. And some commentators take this to mean that the man asking the question wanted more inheritance than was due him, but the text doesn’t say that. The man simply wanted straight forward justice. The man asked for no more than what was rightfully due him. But Jesus calls this greed. We can be greedy for the things that are rightfully ours. Our desire for justice, a good thing, can warp into sin if we’re not careful.
Taking that into consideration, that is probably why Paul chastised the Corinthians who were bringing lawsuits against each other. A lawsuit, on the part of the person bringing it, is to seek justice. Paul says concerning that: “Why not suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7) According to Paul, it’s better to be defrauded (to forego justice), rather than to bring a civil lawsuit against another brother.
Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39) This is the higher calling of God. Not to seek out our own justice, which often turns into vengeance, but to seek and walk down a different path. Let us put aside hatred and vengeance, and let God determine what is fair for the lion cubs.