I noticed the two questions Jesus asked his audience in Luke 18: “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus linked two seemingly unrelated questions by his “nevertheless.” Why?
The first question was rhetorical—God’s righteousness is set over against the corruption of an unjust judge. The judge rendered justice to a persistent widow who annoyed him with her requests until he acted. An unspoken element is that any justice the judge offered certainly came at a price and the widow didn’t have the necessary cash. God, by sharp contrast, is not like this corrupt judge.
The form of argument Jesus used—starting with a negative illustration before offering a contrasting positive—is not common today but it’s still easy to understand. The point is that God is absolutely righteous. He doesn’t need to be bribed. He’s fully responsive when his people cry out for help in an unjust world.
So why the second question about finding faith on earth?
Jesus framed this question with his second coming: would his earthly ministry bring about lasting reform? Would Christian faith spread after his resurrection and ascension? Or would his ministry merely repeat the cycle of Old Testament initiatives that were eventually washed away by the tidal flow of human sin?
In reading the Bible a possible answer emerges. Adam was brought into a pristine world but he still fell. God’s intervention in the time of Moses eventually crumbled as mostly lackluster judges tried to guide a faithless nation. And then a string of mostly unfaithful kings replaced the judges with the result of a civil war, a divided nation, the collapse of Israel, and the captivity of Judah.
Again, why the second question? God is meant to be our focus of faith in all of life. And in the story of the unjust judge we have a snapshot of how broken life can be in an unjust world. But Jesus tells us he and his Father are absolute opposites to a fallen world: he is a God who invites our complete confidence and devotion. He wants us to trust him in every moment of life.
Yet the context of Luke 18 text points to an underlying problem: human faith is instinctively directed by self-interest. When people face difficulties in life the immediate impulse is to solve the challenges with self-guided efforts. We prefer a happy future and strive to achieve it.
This is not just a pagan impulse. In searching for stability, security, and success in life even Christians can treat God as a useful resource and not as our ultimate end. God, after all, is more than a judge. He’s our creator who loves us and made us to share in his Son’s eternal community.
So with Christ’s second question we have another implicit question: where is our vision for life aimed? At personal happiness and security? At achieving a standing before others: to be a good person who deserves respect and appreciation from others, including God?
With that question in mind listen to what Jesus said in his next parable: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” Jesus then compared a repentant sinner—a corrupt tax collector—and a religious man whose success in life was obvious to himself and to others. Yet his man’s “success” didn’t have God as its focus. Read the story and notice how many times this Pharisee says “I” as he honors himself as a success story.
The set of stories and events offered by Luke continue with similar contrasts. Next is a reminder of God’s pleasure in those who come to him with the sort of dependence small children have on their parents. And then the story of a wealthy ruler who while morally impressive still maintained his own pathway in life . . . even when Jesus invited him to give up everything to “follow me.”
So Christ’s two questions still confront us. Do we view God as completely trustworthy? Do we cry out to him for life, and then embrace him in life? Or, even with his invitation to trust him in mind, do we ultimately trust our own wits and ways in life?
Thank God for these two questions—especially if they unsettle us.