Batman & The Unjust Judge
Tom King has been one of the most spiritually themed comic book writers of the last half decade. His work from Mister Miracle, Vision, Batman, & more has all had some elements of spiritual focus and often Biblical truth. Not claiming that it’s his personal belief structure, but it has been a constant theme sprinkled into his stories. Having Vision and his family discussing prayer and eternity, Batman quoting Job, Joker asking for prayer, Batman & Wonder Woman literally fighting off the physical manifestations of the sins of mankind, and more. Faith has been a supporting character in most of his stories. Which is why there’s been a Tom King Chapter in the previous 3 Faith & Fandom books, and here we are, yet again. This one comes at the spark of yet another Tom King Biblical inclusion, and honestly not the easiest one, but one that definitely bears discussion.
Tom has a short story in the anthology series of Batman Black & White #2 from March 2021. It’s the first story in the book, and opens with a stunning image. Literally the first thing we see is scripture, and the images of an elderly priest/pastor carrying children out of a burning orphanage to the narration of a parable of Jesus. As this Father runs back into the flaming church just in time for the entire building to collapse onto him, just moments before Batman could stop him from entering.
This is the passage we see as the story begins
“There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.” - Luke 18:2-5
Batman is distraught beyond expression as he rips through the flaming wreckage of the church building crying out for the Father. He begs him to make some noise so that he can be found. Eventually the Father starts singing a hymn. Under the crushing weight of a burning building, he doesn’t yell “Over here Batman,” he starting singing a Hymn before God. The Hymn is called “The Last Farewell” and the portions he sang in the comic were;
“Fare ye well, affections vain. Full of pleasure, full of pain; Home and friends and kindred dear, All that was my comfort here; My poor eyes are closing fast, Now I look on you my last.
Dimmer, dimmer grows the light! Now 'tis thick descending night! Oh, when next again I see, What a sight awaiteth me! Speechless standing, all alone, Right before the judgment throne.”
Once Batman makes it to the Father, the Father’s concern isn’t for himself, but that the children made it out, and of course Batman was able to save the remaining children, but that didn’t seem to take the grief off of what Batman was experiencing in that moment. Batman knows he can’t rescue the Father, and the Father just wants Batman to remain by his side as he passes. Knowing there’s nothing to be done Batman sits down beside the Father, removes his cowl, exposing his identity, and he weeps. He tells the Father that he is sorry, and when the Father asks why, this is Batman’s reply;
“I saw you..running to help...I went in to... I was supposed to find you. Everything I am. I’m supposed to save people. Father, I can’t save you.”
As so much of Batman’s trauma extends, it all draws back to not being able to save everyone. The same pain I feel watching generations of people I’ve taught, pastored, or discipled turn away. Or seeing family members struggle with disease, addiction, or brokenness. Knowing I can’t save a single person in my own strength but that never making it hurt less.
Father: You’re here. It's enough.
Batman: No. It’s not enough.
Father: This is not... we are not divine... every man must live.. And die...
Batman: I have an oath. I took an oath, on my mother and father, on their deaths. I failed them. And you.
Father: Oh. You poor boy. No... I … am dying...not because you.. Could not.. Answer my call. I am dying... because.. I must... answer His...
Batman: I .. you can’t understand.
Father: No.. No. You... don’t understand...yet. You cannot save... me.. You cannot save... anyone from... but... when … when I was...afraid... you held... you held my hand … my son. That... that is not failure... that is... enough.
Our presence in each other's lives and struggles is never truly meant to prevent or end the pain we go through, but it makes such a difference in our lives when people are there to support us and encourage in them. Even if it’s simply to hold our hands when our world is falling apart.
As Paul states in Ephesians 6:2 “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” When we carry, bear, or share other’s burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ. We do what Jesus asks of us. We don’t have to solve or save the burden. We don’t have to fix every problem, or stop every trauma. The reality is that we can’t. We are broken people living in a sinful world that won’t be made right until the other side of existence. There will always be burdens bigger than us, and bigger than each other. But when we help carry and care for those burdens, that’s enough.
But as the father lay dying, he asked Bruce a question;
Father: D-do you...do you know...know of the...unjust judge?”
Batman: From Luke? Yes.
(Side note, one of my favorite things built into Tom King’s whole run of Batman, is that Batman has a near seminary level knowledge of scripture, but moving on)
Father: Bad judge gets tired of hearing a widow's complaints so he does what she wants. Supposed to be about prayer. Keep praying and eventually you’ll get it. It has...confused me. That..that one. Why does the son...compare...the..theFather to a...man who will...not listen? Who...thinks of His flock...as an...annoyance, who just wants...quietude not justice. I used to... in my weak moments...I would curse Him. For this story. ‘Is this what...we are then...all our...our prayers, is this what...He seeks?’ But finally, now...just now.. I know... It. He is.. Sick...He is tired...of our pleas, yes. Though He listens.. Though He listens... He does... not want to...hear our prayers...for He.. He knows. Every prayer... To Him is someone He ...He has failed. It is His child in... In pain. Only in our.. Silence... only in our..our contentment... will...He...be...at peace. Yes, that is...good...yes. But...I am tired... Let me rest now...Batman.”
Throughout the course of the Father’s speech we see Batman carry his dead body from the fiery remains of the church building, before he ultimately lays the Father’s body down on the ground, and kisses his forehead. That’s the entirety of the short story.
Like me, you probably had a strong flinch/cringe as the statement of “God failing,” and especially “God failing His child” I’m not a fan of the phrasing, but I do think there is some truth to the concept of God being burdened over the cries of His children, which is further displayed by the rest of the passage not quoted in the comic, as it continues;
“And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” - Luke 18:6-8.
This is a passage, that like the Father in the comic, I also have struggled with at different seasons in life. I remember being early in my pastoral career, and when I was an associate pastor (also youth pastor, college pastor, bus driver, and facility manager at the same time). It was a Sunday I preached on this passage in “Big Church” and I preached it pretty straight forward, encouraging people to not give up on praying, that God is better than an unjust judge, but He wants us to keep praying. My senior pastor at the time didn’t like my delivery of the message, so literally the next Sunday, he preached a sermon on the same scripture basically rebutting me. I literally stood at the back of the sanctuary thinking “This heifer wants to do a long-distance battle rap across Sunday’s.” It worked out in the end, and He ended up using it as a thing about different perspectives and understandings, but the reality is we don’t like to think for a moment that God is unkind or that He doesn’t care. We are right to think that. That isn’t who God is, but it’s easy to see how on a base level you could just assume that from the way Jesus told that story.
I think a big factor in it comes in the way Jesus wraps up the story, Jesus stated that God would avenge His people. Other translations say that God will bring Justice. Not that God will keep every bad thing from happening, but that He will make it right. You can’t avenge things in advance. You can’t bring justice to places and circumstances where it already exists. Those are agents of peace and reconciliation that are brought into places of turmoil and chaos. We live in a broken sinful world. There will always be things to be avenged and places where justice needs to be shown. That doesn’t mean God is ok with the bad things running rampant. His sacrifice of Christ is literally the biggest declaration possible to that notion. But there are somethings that won’t be made right in this world until we are in the place where it can be made new.
We see this in full effect in Revelation 21: 3-5;
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
When Jesus is telling this story, He isn’t saying that God finds us annoying, or that God doesn’t want to hear us, but that we should absolutely not give up on praying. That yes, things may not come as quickly or as effectively as we want, but that God does hear us and He will make things right. I also think the Father in the story had a solid point though, I think it breaks God’s heart to hear His children in need. To hear his children hurting. To know that not every broken thing can be fixed in a time that seems quick enough to us.
There’s this phrase in Psalm 34:18 That states “The lord is near to the brokenhearted,” and as a pastor, I quote this often. But in the bigger context of scripture, look at just a broader pulse of what David is saying
“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” - Psalm 34:17-20.
David paints this picture of God’s compassion, provision, and empathy. But that has to be viewed in the scope of God’s perspective and timing, not ours. Think about it. Think about what David had gone through when He wrote this. David had been persecuted by Saul. David had been on the run. David had lost a child. David had seen his best friend die. David had seen broken bones, hearts, and spirits. Yet he could still claim that God delivered from them. Because the pain and struggles we face now are real, but God’s justice, the way He avenges, is real beyond our temporary circumstances and understanding.
The Father was right when He told Batman that God was pained by our cries and pleas, but not in desperation. In compassion, love, and empathy. Things may not be made right in the time we see fit, but God will make them right in His time, and we will see the fruit of that as Jesus stated quickly. If not in the eyes of our current circumstances, but in the eyes of eternity. We need to keep crying out to God for the things that are wrong, for the things that hurt, for the things that matter, because He cares, not because He doesn’t. Sometimes things don’t remain on our prayers constantly because they work themselves out, or because it turns out it wasn’t as big of a problem as we thought it was. The things that seemed overwhelming and major in a specific moment, may turn out to be much less overwhelming than we imagined. As a father of 3, I spent many a night hearing my daughter's cry. They wailed, they screamed, in their tiny world things were unbridled chaos. And often, I would hear them cry, and just listen. Not act. Not fret. Not rush. Because I knew they were safe. They were fed. They were dry, and they were warm. Their need felt urgent, but I knew they were fine. Some of our prayers are like that. God literally can hear our pain, love us compassionately, but not act because He knows He has already resolved what we are crying for. He knows that we can’t see the picture the way He can. Then there were also those nights where my daughters' cries were so persistent, that it alerted me that there was something wrong beyond my understanding. That analogy works with me as a parent and the unjust judge, but not with God. He wants to hear our prayers, but we aren’t alerting Him to something He doesn’t know. But He still wants to hear us call to Him. The Father in the story was right. God does want to hear us in a place of contentment. He does want us to be able to be at rest and at peace, and He knows better than anyone what is required for that. Even if we don’t know what the right thing to cry out for is, we should keep calling out.
Like Batman holding the Father’s hand, sometimes the crying out is enough. Personally, this is a really hard season of my life right now. In December my wife was diagnosed with Cancer. She had stage 2 breast cancer, and also probably uterine cancer, but the doctors had serious trouble with the biopsy to find out. We started down the long road of treatment 6 months ago. She’s had both breasts removed, where they found multiple cancers. She had a horrible reaction to her first attempt at chemo. She is about to take her 3rd chemo treatment, and days later she will be laid out in pain and agony. I watched her hair fall out, and then have her head shaved. There are still months of this and so many more procedures to go. It’s hard to pray sometimes because it feels like this is going on forever. It’s hard to keep asking God to do something when it feels like everything is falling apart. But me praying for this isn’t just for her benefit, it’s for mine as well. Because as long as I’m still crying out to God, I haven’t given up hope. Just over a week ago she and I had a really hard conversation because she felt like she was alone in all this. That I wasn’t affected by it because I was trying to be strong, when in reality all she wanted to know is that I was going through what she was going through in it. I need to keep praying for her and this process, because my heart still needs to be sensitive to what’s going on. I can’t let the pain make me callous, and as long as we are still crying out to God, we are still sensitive. I know that what we are going through hurts God’s heart as much as it does ours. I also believe that He will make it right. That the avenging, the justice, will come. Whether that’s through, healings, surgeries, or eternity. But God’s spurring on for persistent communication isn’t to be annoyed into action, but rather that we are in communication in the trial.
Having someone beside you when things are falling apart is such a huge blessing. Whether that be a friend, a loved one, a billionaire in a bat suit, or God who is is brokenhearted over your pain. Just like Batman wanted the Father to keep crying out, God wants us to keep crying out. To hold on. To not give up. To know that help is on the way, and that the help He brings will truly be enough.