Kill joy: injustice

So, I’ve been continuing my word study of joy in the Bible, looking for insights into what joy is supposed to look like and what fosters and fuels it for some time now. But today, I stumbled across something interesting in Psalm 35. When David’s enemies seemed to be on the prowl, the king declared, “And my soul shall rejoice in the Lord; It shall exult in His salvation” (Psalm 35:9 NASB). So we see another cause for joy here: even as David was hurting, he was anticipating God’s salvation. But that’s not the truly interesting part of this psalm.

Indeed, if you look to verse 15, David laments, “At my stumbling [my enemies] rejoiced and gathered themselves together.” He then prays in verse 19, “Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me,” and he pretty much repeats the same prayer again in verse 24. And in verse 26, he calls, “Let those be ashamed and humiliated altogether who rejoice at my distress.”

This piques my interest not because of the fact that there are some people who take joy in another’s downfall. The truth is, that tidbit is obvious to anyone who has ever been in grade school. There are some people who just like to see others hurt and suffer and humiliated. Rather, it grabs me because of what it implies about good people.

In verse 27, David prays, “Let them shout for joy and rejoice, who favor my vindication; And let them say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified, Who delights in the prosperity of His servant.'” The idea here is that God wants to bless His servants, and those who love the Lord will have joy when that happens. Simply put, they will rejoice when justice is served.

And they will not rejoice when injustice reigns.

I’ve noted in the past this positive correlation between justice and joy, but the opposite is also true: there is an inverse relationship between injustice and joy. In other words, as injustice exists and increases in the world around us – and especially as I tolerate it in my own lives – my joy level will be depleted.

The ramifications of this discovery are pretty significant, and I believe it to be providential that I would stumble across this particular passage this week. You see, on Sunday, my wife and I were having a conversation which prompted a thought in my own head: am I racist? On Monday, a woman with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) stopped by the church and was impressed – even surprised – that we would welcome a number of mentally ill and/or developmentally challenged persons in our church. And I’ve run into a number of other questions and conversations which all touch, more generally, on the subject of prejudice.

By definition, prejudice is a “preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience.” In other words, it is the very epitome of injustice.

If I harbor prejudice toward anyone, I am undermining my own joy.

But here’s the thing about prejudice. Often times, I associate prejudice with racism. Indeed, that is one significant form, and if I find myself looking on persons of another race as inferior, I need to check that right now. But I can prejudge all sorts of people, even of the same race. For instance, since I mentioned it already, am I prejudiced toward people with developmental challenges (e.g., down syndrome). In our church, we have a young man (I say young because he denies that he is old, even after he calls me old and I point out that he’s older than me) who has down syndrome. I have heard the stories about how people – even people in the church – have treated him horribly just because he’s different. In our church, we also have a number of people who have a variety of mental illnesses. Some of them appear and act normal when you meet them for the first time, others not so much. All of them are dear, gifted people who can and do serve the Lord with passion and effectiveness, and yet I have seem people judge them one way or another without ever giving them a chance. Unacceptable. And the list goes on and on and on and on.

I don’t know why I’m so sensitive about prejudice and injustice of late, but maybe this is it. God designs for His people to have joy. It’s the second component of the fruit of the Spirit, right behind love. In other words, when people think of believers, they should think of people who love and have joy. I truly believe it’s an integral part of what is supposed to make faith so attractive. It’s an integral part of why the New Testament church was able to attract people so consistently. And I am compelled to acknowledge that it may be the lack of joy that explains a great deal about why the 21st century American church seems so ineffective by comparison.

And as I look around my church, my friends’ churches, and a tremendous number of other churches, I am compelled to wonder if an integral part of why we don’t have the joy we’re supposed to have is that we allow prejudice – injustice – to exist within our own minds still.

What do you think?

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