What to do when facing injustice
Psalm 129 is not the most uplifting of psalms. One writer remarked that she could not find a single verse in the psalm that she would embroider on a pillow case.
But Psalm 129 is a vital portion of the canon of Scripture because Psalm 129 deals honestly with the painful reality of injustice and injury.
Verse 3 expresses it graphically: “The plowers plowed on my back; they made their furrows long.” About this verse, Eugene Peterson writes, “Picture Israel, the person of faith, lying stretched out, prone. The enemies hitch up their oxen and plows and begin cutting long furrows in the back of Israel. Long gashes cut into the skin and flesh, back and forth systematically, like a farmer working a field. Imagine the whole thing: the blood, the pain, the back-and-forth cruelty.”
This is a psalm from which we learn three key lessons about what to do when we are struck by injustice:
1: Do not sugar-coat injustice.
This psalm never pretends that injustice is less than what it is: the infliction of cruelty and pain upon another. Nor does this psalm ignore the emotional trauma injustice thrusts upon those who are injured.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words fit this psalm perfectly: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to act is to act.” This psalm encourages us not to remain silent in the face of evil.
2: Pour out your heart honestly to God. Express to God your hurt, your anger, your resentment, your fear.
This psalm is bold enough to offer an anti-blessing on those who mistreated them: “May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward. Let them be like the grass on the housetops that withers before it grows up, with which reapers do not fill their hands or binders of sheaves their arms, while those who pass by do not say, ‘The blessing of the Lord be upon you! We bless you in the name of the Lord!’”
In her book When God Weeps, Joni Eareckson Tada tells the story of a friend who has to travel out of town regularly on business, leaving behind his wife and three young children. One day, as the children were seeing him off at the airport, Jim’s youngest child began wailing and sobbing, knowing his father was about to leave again. It broke Jim’s heart to leave his child like that. As he told the story to Joni, his eyes again welled up with tears. As Joni watched her friend’s emotional reaction, she thought to herself, “If that boy’s cries tug at Jim’s heart, how much more must our tears move our heavenly Father. Nothing grips God’s heart like the tortured cry of one of His children.” (p. 155-156) This psalm encourages us to pour out to God whatever is on our heart.
Verse 2 declares, “Often they have attacked me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.” That’s a message of perseverance!
In his book Prayer, Philip Yancey reports, “In the 1980s, a pastor named Laszlo Tokes took over a small Reformed church to minister to his fellow Hungarians, an oppressed minority living inside the borders of Romania. His predecessor had openly supported the communist Romanian government, even to the extent of wearing a red star on his clerical robes. In contrast, Tokes spoke out against injustice and protested government actions. Soon the sanctuary began filling each Sunday, bringing together worshipers and dissidents of both Romanian and Hungarian descent. Membership grew from forty persons to five thousand.
“The courageous new pastor attracted the attention of special agents as well. They threatened Tokes many times with violence, and one evening the police were dispatched to evict him. Word spread quickly and hundreds of Christians—Baptists, Orthodox, Reformed, and Catholic alike—poured out of their homes to surround Tokes’ house as a wall of protection. They stood through day and night, singing hymns and holding candles.
“A few days later, police broke through the protestors to seize Tokes. Rather than dispersing and filing home, the protestors decided to march downtown to the police station. As the procession moved noisily through the streets, more and more people joined in. Eventually the crowd in the town square swelled to 200,000, nearly the entire population of that area. The Romanian army sent in troops, who in one bloody incident opened fire on the crowd, killing a hundred and wounding many more. Still the people held their ground, refusing to disperse.
“A local pastor stood to address the protestors in an attempt to calm the rising anger and prevent a full-scale riot. He began with three words, ‘Let us pray.’ In one spontaneous motion that giant mass of farmers, teachers, students, doctors, and ordinary working people fell to their knees and recited the Lord’s Prayer—a corporate act of civil disobedience. Within days the protest spread to the capital city of Bucharest, and a short time later the government that had ruled Romania with an iron fist toppled to the ground.” (p. 119-120)
This psalm encourages us to persevere.