Summary: For Martin Luther King Day 1988: It is irresponsible to continue to whine about God's absence in the face of injustice. He is refining His church to address justice, and will bless us when we give ourselves without reserve to His purposes.

Some twenty-four centuries ago, when the prophet Malachi's ears were assaulted by an impertinent question, he heard it as a confession of irresponsibility. When the men and women of Judah shouted at this prophet, who had accused them of wearying God, who had charged that their blabbering talk was just about to tire the Almighty – when they heard Malachi accuse them of terminal boredom, they confessed their irresponsibility by shouting at him, "Where is the God of justice?" They unmasked their cynical excuses for being disengaged and disconnected with the jeering cry, "Where is the God of justice?"

The truth that jumps out at me from the pages of this prophet is this: that when men and women want to know when God is going to do something about the issues, it means that they themselves are escaping their own responsibility. When we ask the question, "Where is the God of justice?", it means that we are really asking, “How can I wriggle out of doing what I ought to do?” "How can I avoid the tough business of confronting oppression and injustice, how can I retreat to a cocoon of comfort, how can I get off the hook of being my brother's keeper?" "Where is the God of justice?" may actually mean, "Can I get a God in the box to jump out and fix it all so I won't have to?"

Now you and I know, just from everyday living, that there are plenty of times and plenty of circumstances in which it has seemed perfectly natural to ask, with Judah of twenty-four centuries past, "Where is the God of justice?" You and I know that sense of helplessness and feebleness that takes us over some times, so that about all we can think of to do in seasons of distress and grief is to shout it out, "Where is the God of justice?"

In a world which in my childhood could be strangled by a Hitler, with his Auschwitz and his Buchenwald, six million Jews no doubt cried out with unspeakable anguish, "Where is the God of justice?"

In a nation which during that same period allowed and even encouraged night riders in robes and hoods and burning crosses raised against the humid clouds of Mississippi or the supposedly more congenial fields of Indiana, I can scarcely fault wives and mothers, oppressed so hard they could not stand, who would retreat to their churches and scream, "Where is the God of justice?"

In a world which during my youth reigned Stalin with his gulags and Mao with his forced collectivization, who could blame millions of Russians and Chinese and others from muttering from behind clenched teeth, "Where is the God of justice?"

In a nation which during the days of my youth and young adulthood we could elect governors with their lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, and we could choose police commissioners whose dogs' teeth hungered for human flesh, I too began to learn to cry, "Where is the God of justice?"

Growing up in a religious system, a church, a Christian church, which saw nothing odd or contradictory about black churches and white churches, separate and distinct; growing up in a church which could argue about who should be admitted, when, in truth, it is God who admits to His Kingdom and to His church, not we; growing up and loving a church which thought itself to be a creative outpost of the Gospel, but which never, never challenged the way things are in the name of the way things ought to be, I had to learn to wonder, "Where is the God of justice?"

Then coming to a city in which until only a few years before I arrived there were parallel systems, parallel schools, parallel restrooms, parallel, separate ways of life, and through which a park runs like a great Chinese Wall dividing the two, a city in which the memories of 1968 were so strong that in the Sunday School class my wife and I joined in another church the women said, "My husband won't let me go into the city." Funny how we find somebody else to blame when we are afraid, and if you won't blame your husband or your family or yourself for your fear, maybe you will even blame God and will say, well, "I'm waiting for the God of justice, and where is He?"

Ah, well, you say, that's all history. That's over and done with, and we've come a long, long way. No doubt we have. But I submit to you that we are still waiting for the God of justice, and that if we hear Malachi correctly, he will tell us that to ask, "Where is the God of justice?" is to confess our own irresponsibility. To wonder when God is going to do something about the troubles of this world is to admit that we do not want to engage these troubles ourselves.

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