Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! Psalm 43:1 (ESV)
I doubt that there is a person alive who has not been victimized by injustice. This may be among life’s most painful experiences. Slander, false accusations, untimely deaths, undeserved attacks, untrue labels, wrongful judgments, misunderstandings, and miscommunications. Injustice is especially bitter when it comes from someone we love.
My husband, a state judge, rarely allowed himself to become emotionally involved in his cases, but Stephen’s case was different. Peter presided over numerous hearings, studied evidence and did personal research of the facts and precedents. He saw flaws in the presentations and errors in proceedings of other courts, but he was overruled by the appeals court. One of the most difficult assignments Peter fulfilled was setting the date for Stephen’s execution. And one of his most wrenching experiences—at Stephen’s request (“Will you come as my friend?”)—was being present at Stephen’s death.
Few of our dealings with injustice are that momentous, but we all know the bitterness that arises from being treated unfairly. In fact, that pain can be resurrected years after the fact if injustice isn’t resolved. Jesus showed us how to take the sting from injustice when he suffered on the cross. He had been betrayed by a friend, and all his most intimate companions had left him. False accusations were followed by brutal torture, excruciating pain, and death.
On the cross, Jesus, that Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, in final triumph over all the evil of time and eternity, prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Omniscient, all-knowing God, through his Son was asked to pardon those who brought unmerited suffering and death to his only Son. The basis of the argument: “They know not what they do.”
Can you resolve that puzzle? They knew they were killing this itinerant preacher. They knew they were responding to political pressure. They knew he had done nothing worthy of death. So what didn’t they know? They didn’t know who Jesus was. They didn’t know he was the Son of God, the Lord of Life, the Word, the Savior and Messiah. Jesus himself had said that only his Father revealed the identity of his Son (Matt. 16:17). Yes, those who called for Jesus’ death knew about him, but they didn’t know him. “Father, forgive them…”
Oswald Chambers says that there is always one thing we don’t know about other people, and that may be the very thing that gives insight to their behavior. It may not excuse it, but it informs the phrase Jesus used, “They know not what they do.”
Is it time to release the bitterness of unjust words, wounds, judgments, suppositions? Jesus, our example, has showed us how to do it. Now we can ask him to work forgiveness and healing in us as only he can.
Father, give us grace to forgive just as you’ve forgiven us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.