October 17, 2017

Difficult Scriptures: Luke 18: 1-8

1 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ 4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:1-8 NLT)

We have started a new series here at the Internet Monastery, Difficult Scriptures. It is a chance for you to get down on the mat and wrestle through some challenging passages. You did a great job last week. Now, let’s take a look at a difficult passage from the New Testament.

In this parable, we are told straight up that Jesus is telling this to his disciples to “show that they should always pray and never give up.” But then it takes a strange twist. We have a widow who is a nag. And we have a judge who doesn’t care about God or other people. Who does that leave for him to care about? Oh yeah, himself. Are we to put ourselves in the shoes of the widow? If so, does that mean God is the unjust judge? And are we to take from this that nagging God is the way to get what we want or need?

Then we have that final verse. It seems to be unrelated to the rest of the parable. “When the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith? Just what does he mean by that?

Ok, monks. Go to. This is a difficult passage. Help us out here.

Comments

  1. another beggar says:

    Did the scripture read that the judge was “unjust” . . . or that God was “unjust”? To me this verse says; be persistent, have faith, till the Son of Man returns.

  2. This brings to mind Matthew 7:7-11, where Jesus says that God will not give us bad when we ask for good because He is our perfect Father in Heaven and a good earthly father would not give his children a serpent instead of a fish.

    I think the key in Luke 18:1-8 is the “even” in verse 7. Even an unjust judge will answer a complaint. God is just, so He will listen to our requests. I think the last verse is more of an admonition to trust than a disconnected thought.

  3. This one doesn’t feel that difficult to me, but maybe I’m just not getting the depth of the problem.

    The widow is persistent with her requests. We are also told to be persistent with our requests. Her request in particular is just (so the text tells us) so she’s not asking for just anything—she’s asking for something that is right under God’s rule.

    Eventually, she gets it. Even with an unjust judge sitting there across from her, she eventually gets it.

    The moral of the story—plead your case (read: pray) to God, who is just. Because even an unjust judge will eventually respond with justice. So what can we expect from a just one?

    And the last sentence fits right in to the rest of the passage, if you believe that part of what it means to have faith is to believe that justice is coming—that the Kingdom promised by our creator will come on earth as it is in heaven.

    Jesus is simply saying, “look, she asked for justice from the wrong judge and got it . . . so keep the faith and keep asking for justice from the right Judge.”

    • I think I agree with Jeremy. The key to simplifying this verse is “justice”. The woman is not asking for personal gain or privilege, but her just due. God will provide our just due, also.

      • I sure hope God doesn’t provide our just due…LOL! Ain’t that what Christ is for, so we DON’T get our just due?

  4. I don’t see the difficulty in the main parable. If a wicked person will help you if you bug them, how much more would a loving God care for you when you ask him. You may not see it, but our prayers to God matter. I liked last week’s selection, but honestly, this one wasn’t really challenging at all. Unless I’m missing something, which has been known to happen.

  5. Don’t see why this is a difficult one. If an unjust judge will respond to pleading, then God who is just will certainly reward faith and persistance(vs. 7). Lesson – “always pray and never give up.” The persistance is evidence of faith (vs. 8).

  6. I think it’s along the lines of what He says elsewhere about “If even – “.

    If even a pagan knows to love his friends and family.

    If even you, wicked ones, give your children bread not stones.

    If even a wicked judge gives justice.

    Then how much more will the Just Judge give justice?

    But on the other hand, we have to think about what we’re asking for – it’s all very well to cry “Give me justice, O Lord!” when we think we’re the ones being defrauded and treated badly, but if we ask for justice (and not mercy, forgetting that we need mercy too) then we may get justice.

    We may fall away in faith and cannot be sure of perservering to the end. We may be the unjust ones, the oppressors, the ones that cause others to cry out for justice. Just sticking the label “Christian” on ourselves is no magic guarantee and we can’t rely on it to absolve us of our responsibilities.

  7. Doesn’t God know what we want and need before we ask?

    To me the difficult part of this is the need to bug God, to get on his radar in order to gain justice. Why would God not dispense justice without being asked? Does He not hear the cries before they become cries to Him? Do I have to go into His courtroom and file a formal pleading?

    Another difficult part is that I don’t see a lot of justice around me. Maybe I’m not one of the “chosen people.” I imagine a few innocent people have been executed who cried out to God for justice, and got a rope instead.

    Maybe I’m placing too much on the word “justice.” Christianity is more about escaping justice through faith, which is a very difficult concept in itself.

    • Fish, I think these are really good questions—ones that I had when I read the verses the first time. Here’s my two cents, above and beyond what I’ve said already in this thread:

      1. In terms of “bugging God,” this is what I think is extra awesome about the last verse in the passage. From my perspective, that relationship between faith, justice, and a persistent prayer life makes the whole thing make good sense. It isn’t bugging God for a new Mercedes. It’s bugging God for justice (and for me, “justice” in this context is awfully similar to “rightness”—a restoring of the good that existed in Eden as creation was coming together . . . a heaven-on-earth). And we know that this is appropriate, because even Jesus asked us to pray it: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” A longing for the Kingdom-come isn’t “bugging God.” It’s joining creation in groaning for restoration.

      2. I don’t see much justice either. But this passage reads to me like it’s about persistence and faithfulness even in difficulty. The widow didn’t get justice immediately; it came later. This isn’t about justice now; it’s about the justice that we hope for.

      3. I think this whole thread might be suffering a bit from the sense of what it means to be released from punishment by Jesus’ sacrifice. “Justice” isn’t escaped through faith. Justice is restored by Jesus’ sacrifice. Judgement is escaped, and God’s justice is restored.

      Dunno. That’s what I think, at least.

  8. I too don’t see much of an issue with these versus – if even an evil judge can grant justice, then how much more freely will God grant it.

    In trying to dig deeper to see if I’ve missed something, I decided to look at different versions. In the ESV, verse 7-8 read: And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

    Again, at this point I’m now trying to make the passage difficult to me, but I suppose the last statement about will he find faith on earth is perplexing for a God who is supposed to be omniscient. And there’s the issue with the word “elect”, always an issue for me who has doubts about Calvinism.

  9. I think the crux of this can be found in answering a series of questions:

    Who was Jesus addressing here? The disciples (which can also be read as you and I).

    What is he telling them to do? Persist in prayer, never give up.

    How does he tell them? He uses a parable of a nagging widow who ended up getting a godless judge to address her situation. (I’ll add a curious aside that widows have a special place in God’s heart, just as orphans do. Could Jesus’ use of a widow in this parable bring a deeper meaning?)

    What does he tell them? His answer is in rhetorical questions, basically implying that God provides more of a response to those that cry out than this godless judge, who himself eventually responded.

    What’s the message for us? To me, Jesus’ last line implies, If this widow had faith enough to cry out to a godless judge who kept ignoring her, shouldn’t we have faith enough to cry out to God, even if He seems to be ignoring us?

  10. I’m going to play Devil’s advocate here. (Maybe literally.) This is why, to me, that scripture is difficult.

    Must we nag at God? Maybe He is sleeping, and we should sing louder to wake Him! Maybe He is waiting for us to phrase it just right (say the magic words and Jesus will save your soul)? Or maybe He is seeing how long we can go under our own power and that of our hope in nagging, measuring our patience against that of Job? If ever there was someone who nagged at God, Job was it.

    Does God want us to bring our prayers to Him? Or only just prayers?

    As pointed out several times above, Christianity is generally about escaping the justice laid out earlier in scripture, the fate given to sinners under the Mosaic law. Should we then ask for that justice, which is our only due?

  11. Just as many Christians (if not more) have a problem with the word ‘grace’, as they do with the word ‘sin’.

    There will be lots of religion going on when the Lord returns…but very few who actually trust in His word alone (that is faith).

  12. I think that the passage is encouraging us to behave as the psalmists did, bringing their praise and anger and troubles continually to the Lord. I don’t think it is about how to receive at all, really. To constantly lift the good and bad situations of life to the Lord is to acknowledge that the past providence has come from him and the future providence must also come from his will. It is faith in several ways: to continue praying based on hope instead of past results, to continue believing he is capable of providing, and it is the opposite of running to other “functional saviours” and instead looking to the true God.

    If you are still praying about all things at the end of the race, after countless heartaches and afflictions, that is faith indeed. I pray that Jesus will find it in us.

  13. I’m seeing some stuff between the lines of this passage.
    Jesus seems to be comparing the old woman nagging the unjust judge for a just ruling between her and her enemy with God’s chosen people crying out to Him for justice and intervention in regards to their present enemy — namely, their Roman overlords and oppressors. However, the unspoken question on the table seems to be this: How just are God’s chosen people being with each other? Jesus assured them that if they kept nagging God for justice, that He would respond by dispensing justice and respond quickly — maybe even a little more quickly than they might be expecting. But when that moment comes, Jesus questions whether or not anyone of true faith would be found. It’s interesting that He switches from justice to faith there at the end — as if urging His listeners to discern between the two in their thinking. Maybe Jesus is hinting that justice might not be what they should be petitioning God for — or that it shouldn’t be the first thing on their prayer list. Maybe He was suggesting that they should first examine their faith in God (as not only a just judge, but also a merciful and forgiving one) and the level of Godly justice and mercy in their own lives — which ties in with Paul’s lengthy argument in Romans that the truly righteous live by and find salvation through faith.

  14. Brother Bartimaeus says:

    Like many on the board, I didn’t find the parable all that hard.  It starts out telling us to pray and remain faithful, and in the end asks whether people will or not.  The interim story just says that even an unjust judge will give you justice, so why wouldn’t you expect a just one to do so also. As for the nagging, it’s really about persistence, which is why Jesus questions people’s long term commitment.
     
    For me the hard part is all in the timing.  Jesus says the timing of God’s justice will be quick, as opposed to an unjust judge’s timing which takes until he caves.  It also seems to indicate that justice will occur when the Son of Man returns, so over 2000 years doesn’t seem all that quick. 
     
    But maybe that last part is a translation red herring.  Is God’s justice reliant on Jesus’ second coming?  His ultimate judgment, sure, but do we not already get a taste of His justice in this world?  We must, if we believe that God acts in this world.  We see His justice happening everyday.
     
    Keep God close and in your patience you’ll see His justice at work (sometimes quickly).  If you don’t keep him close, you’ll miss it now and miss out at the end of days.  And should God’s justice not happen quickly, we are all human, so his ultimate judgment will correct the wrong eventually.
     
    Peace

  15. I think you need to use this scripture with Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

    You can pray endlessly for something from a selfish or sinful point of view and really believe you will receive. Will God grant you that prayer if you spend weeks, months, years “pestering” God about it? Not likely. Why? God wants you to focus on giving God the glory of whatever you are asking.

    I have been out of work for a while. I had been praying about a job. Nothing wrong about that, of course; I need to pray for a job to support us. God wants that for us. God has also been directing me toward missions lately. Some time back while in prayer, I felt I was not to pray for a job; I could not get the words out for employment. (Note: I am still working hard to get a job, and God knows that). But I was led to pray for a mission for me. I was led to pray for the mission God has for me to prepare them, to prepare the people I will be teaching to, and pray for the people who will be supporting us in any way.

    God designed the Bible to make us search and study to get the answer He has for us. And we need to match Luke 18:1-8 with Mark 11:24. Then use these verses with Ephesians 1:16-17 “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, ”

    Yes, God made some Difficult Scriptures. You just use the verses you listed and you will not get your answer. Search the scriptures. Study your Bible. The answer is there for you.

  16. Aaron Sharp says:
  17. Parables cannot be read with a linear/one-to-one, metaphorical logic. The unjust judge does not equal God; he does not represent the attributes of God. The parable is about asking without losing hope – not that God is capricious or vulnerable to manipulation. That places the closing verse in better context. Otherwise, this verse could be used to justify the god of the faith-prosperity teachers, whose puppet strings are pulled by our word-of-faith. The “how much more” that Jesus states in many of His parables is still there, in so many words.

    I think it’s important to note that praying without losing hope doesn’t guarantee that a prayer is answered or is answered in our timing. Mary and Martha’s prayers were not answered the way they expected. The prayers of the martyrs in Revelation were not answered in time to prevent their martyrdom. But when it comes to mercy, God answers.

    Another way to look at the parable is to focus on the words, “learn from the unjust judge”. Jesus could be saying that we should deal justly and mercifully in the appropriate season. I think of that scene from “Oh God”, when John Denver’s character asks God why he allows suffering, to which God replies, “I don’t allow suffering; you do!”.

    • “Are you livin’ as a servant to
      Your sisters and your brothers?
      Do you make the poor man beg you for a bone?
      Do the widow and the orphan cry alone?”
      – Don Fancisco, from “Steeple Song”.

  18. There are some difficult things about this passage, in my mind. The main one being the seeming irony of God “quickly” answering persistent prayer. In context, I think the passage has more to do with praying tp persist than with persistent prayer. Here’s how I’ve tried to make sense of it:

    http://paul.dubuc.org/2008/02/14/50-2/

  19. I think it is an unwise conclusion to compare God to the unjust judge. I seems more like this to me: It ought to be taken similarly to the passage about father’s giving their children bread and fish instead of stones and snakes where he says: “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father…” etc… The assumption here is that if EVEN an unjust judge will go that far, how could we ever expect less from a righteous God? On the contrary, we should expect him to go so much more further than that. I believe what Jesus is really getting at here is for the disciples to be persistent in prayer upon the grounds that their just and loving heavenly father will see to it that they receive what they need.

    Now obviously, none of us wants justice from God. That would mean hell for all. We are glad that Christ took God’s justice upon Himself in our place, giving us instead his righteousness and the promise of eternal life. As the widow in the story hounded the judge for Justice, which was her right, so we as Children of God ought to persist in praying according to God’s will, hounding him even with insistence that He fulfill his promises to us and in us. This is OUR right as His children and heirs with Christ.

  20. Like others, I don’t see the difficulty. The stated intent of the parable is faithfulness in petitioning God for justice and a righting of wrongs, a relief from oppression. Widows had no one to look out for them. They had to trust to those charged with enforcing justice to make their case. Even the worst of judges will do the right thing when badgered about a just cause if for no other reason than to get some peace and quiet.

    As for the end, faith carries with it the idea of faithfulness and persistence. I know what my kids really want for Christmas because of the persistent hints I get. The things that pop up one time or on spur of the moment don’t get near the attention. Also, I’m reminded of this passage from Revelation 6:

    When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

  21. The problem seems to me to be that Jesus promises quick justice for his chosen people. This seems contrary to lived experience in the real world, where justice seems at most times to be utterly lacking. Having prayed for justice and not received it, how am I to understand this passage? The last verse almost seems to imply that we don’t experience justice because of a lack of faith. Is a failure to experience justice somehow our fault then, because we haven’t pestered God enough, or haven’t exercised enough faith? Unless, of course, Jesus isn’t refering to “social justice” terms of our relationship with others in this life, but in terms of justice in our relationship to God. Otherwise this passage is very unsettling.

  22. OK, monks. I still see this as a challenge. Especially that last verse? Why is Jesus concerned he may not find anyone with faith when he returns?

    Regarding the nagging widow, we are never told her request is just. She is seeking justice–maybe what seems just in her eyes.

    Anyone want to dig a bit more on this?

    • Jeff, I think it’s not much of a stretch to assume that the widow’s request was at least rooted in justice, because in getting her a result, the unjust judge renders what Jesus himself calls a “just decision”:

      6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end.

      I understand that that passage can be read a lot of ways, but I think the plainest is to understand that what the widow was asking for was just.

      And I’m also not sure that we can assume that Jesus is “concerned” he may not find anyone with faith when he returns. The text doesn’t give us much about his motivation for saying “how many will i find?” except that we know that this is a passage about persistence in prayer—and by implication, persistence in faith and hope. I think (and I’m probably wrong) that he’s simply driving the point home. In essence, he’s saying, “I’m telling you to be faithful . . . will I even be able to count you among those who keep the faith?”

    • As I commented earlier, to me Jesus’ last line implies, If this widow had faith enough to cry out to a godless judge who kept ignoring her, shouldn’t we have faith enough to cry out to God, even if He seems to be ignoring us? And maybe Jesus is worried that there won’t be many who have that kind of faith.

    • Brother Bartimaeus says:

      I agree with my brothers above.

      For the nagging widow, I wondered about that too, especially since she says she wants justice in a dispute with her “enemy.”  However the text seems to indicate that the judge concedes to her demands and that it is a “just” decision.  That makes me conclude that her demands of justice were also just.
       
      As for Jesus not finding people who have faith, I find that to be attributed to human nature’s lack of persistence, which is what the text seems to be about.  The whole Old Testament is one big PSA about keeping faith; think about how quickly after the exodus and again after the entry into the promised land that people started losing faith, and they had God with them as well (albeit a cloud/pillar of fire/Ark). 
       
      Jesus seems to be asking, what would people do when they know the physical God has left them?  Would the intangible part of God be enough for them to keep the faith until He returned?
       
      The unjust judge was still listening to the widow’s cries for justice, although she thought they fell on deaf ears.  Even more so does God, but do we have the stamina to keep asking when we don’t perceive the answer? To keep asking when we don’t see Jesus performing miracles and acts of justice in front of our eyes?
       
      Peace

  23. As has been previously stated, Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater. If even a wicked judge will answer, then how much more so with the Righteous judge provide justice to those who call on Him without giving up.

    Luke 18:8 is not talking about the Second Coming, it is talking about when Jesus judged Jerusalem in 70AD. In the context, Jesus had just finished talking about the coming judgment against Jerusalem in Luke 17:22-37. Jesus’ disciples, who were Jewish, would be persecuted by their fellow Jews. Jesus is telling them to keep the faith, for He will vindicate them within that generation when He destroys Jerusalem (through His providence, wielding Rome as the instrument of His divine wrath).

  24. I think Jeff Dunn hit the problem of Luke 18:8 right on the head – is Jesus really saying that there will not be much faith found when he returns. The faith that Jesus is hoping for is exemplified by the prayer life of the persistent widow. So the implication is that something is going to take place before Jesus’ return that will cause a massive loss of faith in the Church.

    Steve Robertson, while your view that in Luke 18:8 applies to the destruction of Jerusalem makes sense, my question is this: How do you reconcile your view with the plain statement of verse “when the Son of Man returns.” Are you saying that Jesus returned at the initial destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD? And are you reading historical events into God’s Word?

  25. Tom, I believe the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD was a day of the Lord. Jesus came in judgment upon Jerusalem in 70AD. In fact, according to Matthew 18:20, whenever church discipline is correctly practiced, Jesus comes in judgment against that person. So no, Jesus didn’t physically come in 70AD, but He did come in judgment.

    However, this is distinct from the Second Coming, when Jesus will return in the flesh (hence the term “Second” Coming), to judge all nations and generations at some point in the future. How do you distinguish between the 70AD passages from the Second Coming passages? The context.

    Am I reading historical events into God’s Word? In the context, Jesus had just said “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered” (Luke 17:37). That is another way of saying, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near” (Luke 21:20). So the context shows Jesus was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, which was to happen within that generation (Luke 21:32).

    Jerusalem was destroyed 40 years after Luke 18, that is, one generation exactly. So if Jesus predicted an event in the then near future, am I really reading historical events “into” the Word of God, or am I just taking Jesus at His Word?

    “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” In the context, that is probably better translated as “upon the Land?” Will the Jewish Christians heed the warnings He had given them to flee Jerusalem, or would they fall prey to the false prophets who tricked the Jews into coming into Jerusalem? (Matthew 24:15-28). Apparently, Jesus did find faith in the Land, because Eusebius says the Jewish Christians heeded the warning of Christ, and fled Jerusalem before the final siege.

  26. scatalyst says:

    Perhaps the unjust judge represents the one who has “neither feared God nor cared about people” – Satan.

    And the woman…why is she a widow? Perhaps to show that she has no advocate. She is alone in the world. She must watch out for herself. She strives and works and nags to try to get what she wants.

    And she is appealing to the only one that she thinks can help her get justice…the unjust judge who is “in a certain city,” in the world.

    The judge doesn’t care about her. But she pesters and nags and repeatedly makes her wishes known, until the judge finally relents. But he never did it for her good. He did it for himself, to meet his own need, so that she would stop bothering him.

    Sometimes people who do not know God, will strive and work hard and even appeal to Satan to try to get what they want in this world. They put forth great effort. And sometimes they get what they want. But it’s not for their good. It’s always for his (Satan’s) good. In the parable, the only reason he granted her request was so that she would stop “driving [him] crazy” and “wearing [him] out with her constant requests!”

    So how are God’s chosen people different? Are they not pestering him and nagging him by “cry[ing] out to him day and night”? Perhaps not. Since “people” is plural, could it not refer to the fact that whether God’s people call to him in the daytime or in the nighttime, he hears them and responds quickly?

    He doesn’t put them off. He doesn’t get irritated with them because of their constant requests. Rather, he is pleased to “grant justice to them quickly” because they are asking in Jesus’ name, that is, according to his will, for Jesus is their advocate, who has promised never to leave them nor forsake them, who is seated at the right hand of God.

    “Always pray and never give up.”

    Prayer is not just one-way communication. Do we have faith enough to allow Jesus to continually edit or change our prayers so that they truly will be in His name? Or are we going to give up and just try to achieve our desires by our own efforts in the world?