When Justice Rolls Down… Like Molasses: One Pastor’s Perspective on Time, Justice, and Faith in Inner City Baltimore

Today’s guest post is written by Pastor Ronjour Locke of First Baptist Brooklyn for the past five and a half years located on the south side of Baltimore, MD. He is a graduate of Washington Bible College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is happily married to his wife, Annie with whom they have four children.

I have a neighbor who was involved in a verbal fight with a woman in front of his house. In mere minutes she had a group of fifteen at his house hurling obscenities and bricks at his house. He ran into his house and called the police. He is still waiting for their help.

Another neighborhood friend is unemployed and dependent on government assistance to get by. All that he can afford is the low rent halfway houses in the area. Unfortunately he realized that several of them are traps for the underprivileged. When asked why he hasn’t contacted the police, he retorts, “What would they ever do for me?”

We took our kids to a local dentist for a checkup. It was our first time at that particular dentist’s office. Something seemed fishy when the dentist tried to convince us that our children needed multiple fillings and caps for their cavity-ridden teeth. After a second opinion from another dentist, we realized that the former dentist was a scam. We noticed how many parents were taken advantage of by this and other local dentists, how much money they fleeced from regular people who could barely afford an appointment for their kids.

People here are regularly exploited for their addictions, their poverty, their desperation. When they call for help, no one answers. It can be discouraging to live here. It can certainly be discouraging to continue to seek justice in a community with drug-addicted prostitutes walking the streets daily, church members with vehicles stolen right in front of the church building, and the regular hustlers who exploit the Christlike compassion of Christians. Amos 5:24 famously declares, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” For many of us living in the inner city, however, it seems that this justice rolls down like molasses.

So why are we still here?

We continue to serve because the Lord has called us here, and we seek to be faithful to His calling until He calls us elsewhere.

Yet there is another reason: We continue to serve because the Lord has given us exactly what we need so we would not lose heart when justice’s roll is slow.

In Luke 18 Jesus tells a parable to those growing weary by injustice. A parable is an illustrative story meant to make a point. Luke records why Jesus told this particular parable: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought to pray and not lose heart” (v.1). Why would they stop praying? Why would they lose heart? The parable helps answer those questions.

The story is about a conversation between two people: A judge who neither fears God nor regards people and a widow who has been wronged (vv.2-3). The widow repeatedly pleads for justice, but the judge, though annoyed, repeatedly rejects her and throws her case out of his court. The widow, however, will not be denied. She must get justice, and the judge is the only one who could grant it to her. Thus, with her options exhausted, she pleads for justice until she exhausts the judge: “For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (vv.4-5).

This unjust judge provides the perfect contrast to understand the nature and ways of our God when justice seems slow (vv.6-8).

When justice seems slow, remember…

  • God is not unjust; He is just (vv.6-7). If there is anyone who cares about justice, it is the one true God. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (Ps. 89:14, 97:2). If an unjust judge can be just every once in awhile, how can one doubt that God can give justice?
  • God is not indifferent; He chose us (v.7). The unjust judge had no regard for people and had zero compassion for this widow’s need. The Lord, however, has chosen his people before the foundation of the world to be his adopted children (Eph. 1:3-6). God is not detached from our hurts and sorrows. He hears our every cry and will wipe every tear from our eyes.
  • God does not obstruct justice; He’ll act soon (vv.7-8). The unjust judge only acted when he simply could not take the widow’s pleas any longer. In comparison, God’s delay seems much longer. This does not mean that He has forgotten his children, however. It means that there are wise and good purposes that He must accomplish until then. He will surely act, and when he does, it will be the right time.

We can be assured of each of these truths because our gospel affirms each one. God is so just that the only way that He could give mercy to guilty sinners like us is by satisfying His just demands in the substitutionary sacrifice and imputed righteousness of His Son. God does so because before creation He made up His mind that we sinners would join Him in His joy as His beloved sons and daughters, secured eternally by the resurrected Christ. And when He returns, the Lord will bring final judgment on evil and raise His brothers and sisters to their glorious redemption in the New Jerusalem.

Injustice abounds in the inner city, but we need not lose heart. Through Christ, God is both just and our justifier.

While we wait for justice … 

How do we respond? What do we do in the mean time?

Keep praying.

Keep hoping in Christ.

For though His justice may seem slow, it is absolutely certain.

  • Linda Barnes
    July 31, 2017

    Well stated about intercity issues and slow justice. The scriptures are encouraging and the suggestions of Keep Praying, Keep hope in Christ and that God will work in His time. I would add to that list…… as this Pastor has done….remain there in the intercity as a presence and persons who will take action and show the love of Christ, even if taken advantage of in situations of assistance. I think of the partnership that my sister’s friends at Charlestown have with Baltimore Sandtown together working to achieve justice and support there.

    • Ronjour Locke
      August 1, 2017

      Well said, thanks! The only way there can be real, long-term change is if there are people committed to that long-term change.

  • Lori Shook
    July 31, 2017

    Great article, Pastor Locke. God’s timing is not ours. How easy it is to be impatient with day-to-day little inconveniences, not just the larger needs.

    • Ronjour Locke
      August 1, 2017

      Thanks, Lori!

  • Joy Gould
    July 31, 2017

    Pastor Locke gives a perfect description of how justice often flows like molasses. He concludes by asking two key questions that all of us need to answer based on how God is leading us: “How do we respond? What do we do in the mean time?” Pastor Locke and his family are answering God’s call for them to minister and live in the midst of the molasses. God calls others of us to do other things. For me, the call has been and is to work on dismantling/reforming the systems that make the molasses run so slowly. Justice work takes perseverance and a long time as the Biblical reference about the widow seeking justice from the judge shows. So if each us do the work for justice that God calls us to do and we keep on praying and we keep on hoping in Christ and believing that God’s justice is certain, God will use those efforts to unclog the flow of justice so it flows a little faster. If you ask God, He will help you find where and how you can help.

    • Ronjour Locke
      August 1, 2017

      Joy, I am grateful that you have committed your life to the pursuit of systemic justice. Blessings to you!

  • Gregory McDonough
    August 1, 2017