When the movie "A Perfect Storm" came on television a few years ago, the rolling waves, the pounding rain and the sheer guts and determination of the fishing crew immediately swept me into the story.
As the drama continued, as the waves grew and the wind speed increased, I watched for the sure-to-come rescue. Even after the crew was swept overboard, their yellow rain slickers mere specks on the vast and violent ocean, I scanned those towering waves, confident that their heroic rescue was imminent.
Then the film credits began to roll.
I turned to Danny in astonishment. "That's it?" I asked, incredulous. "They're all dead? They all died?!?"
Not nearly as emotionally invested as I was in their story, he shrugged and said, "Yeah. I guess."
When I found out that the story was based on true life events, I was even more dismayed. I wanted a storybook ending, not a real life tragedy come to the big screen.
As impressive as the waves were, as convincing as the actors were in assuming their roles, in spite of the compelling storytelling, I still regret watching it, because it ended so badly.
I took a little side journey last year, investigating someone else's tale to tell. The tale began badly. Well, actually it ended badly, very badly, and I knew how it ended before I knew it how it came to be. As I investigated it, I couldn't get the ending out of my mind. Every word I read, every page I turned, was colored by the known outcome and I struggled through every slip of paper presented.
Usually a brisk reader, I spent months poring over the records written by foster parents, psychiatrists, social workers and other principle players in the modern-day tragedy.
I kept waiting for the villain to appear. Knowing how the story ended meant there had to be a villain. Page after page after page was turned -- still no villain. Only victims, none of whom yet knowing that they were, or soon would be, victims. When they wrote their reports, when they entered each day's events in their journals, they had no idea how the story would end. In fact, each one was doing all that was in them to bring about a joyful, storybook ending.
I really wanted there to be a villain. The cast of characters, victimized in ways unimaginable, deserved a villain, someone to blame, someone to judge.
It is part and parcel of our created identity, this thirst for justice. It manifests itself early on in human development. Toddlers watch in rapt attention as milk is poured into their sippy cups, their keen eyesight quick to notice even a quarter of an inch difference in levels. Justice. Fair play.
It scarcely matters how large or gaily wrapped a Christmas present is, if there is more than one child in the house, it's the number of gifts that are counted and compared.
As we mature as human beings and begin to witness man's inhumanity to man, our inborn thirst for justice only intensifies, even if we are not directly impacted by the injustice. For me, it was the Civil Rights movement, played out nightly on the news while I grew up.
This thirst for justice is the primary reason for the multitude of laws in our land. "This is wrong and ought not to be!" we cry and so a law is carefully crafted and put on the books. (All right, the laws aren't always as carefully crafted as they ought to be, but that's a tale for another day.)
All of this bears witness to a fundamentally human trait, one that I have never seen duplicated in the animal kingdom.
Jesus promised in Matthew 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." The New Living Translation renders it thus: "God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied."
But what happens if justice is out of reach, if the villain is no villain at all, but rather another tragic victim? What happens then? How are the scales of justice to be brought back into balance?
The same audience that heard Jesus promise satisfaction for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, also heard his admonition "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." in Matthew 7:1 and 2
Our hunger and thirst for righteousness is a gift from God. Our desire to see justice done mirrors his character and testifies to our origins in him. But we remain mere men. We are not God. This was the thrust of Jesus' admonition. In the very next verses in Matthew, he points out where our attention needs to be. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
There are far too many times, in this present age, when true justice is beyond our reach. There are innocent men locked up for years, some never tasting freedom again. There are evil, wicked men walking amongst us, no one able to cage them.
And there are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters taken from us in violent acts of desperation, the true villain escaping even the smallest measure of justice.
"... I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds." Revelation 2:23(b) (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.