Thoughts About Justice and the Christian Life…

There is no peace without justice while we are living “east of Eden.” If shalom (universal peace and flourishing ) is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human), then peaceableness is the top floor of shalom and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will (read my thoughts about peace here).

So what is justice? In the Greek culture, justice most likely referred to the Greek goddess Dike, who would have been the personification of the virtue. This is where the Greek (and biblical) word díkaios would have come from, which means, “to be just, or right.” In the biblical sense, the word justice would imply not only the just execution of the law of goodness, but right living on behalf of those who cry out for justice.

The words “righteous” and “justice” seem to go hand in hand in the biblical narrative, and they actually could be defined by the term justification. In salvation terms, to be justified, is to be declared “right and good” before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s rebellion and brokenness because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice) with his sacrifice.

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s inner and outer brokenness, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of simply saying: justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, work), then a society is just when everyone in the society enjoys the goods that everyone has rights to. But a society is also just when there are consequences for those who have disregarded or kept others from these certain rights as well. A city that is just is a city that respects the dignity of every human, especially within the Christian worldview that believes that every human is created in the image of God.

At the least, in the talk of renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and repairs made because of the wrongs done are at the very core of justice. If one skimmed the Old Testament to search out who were some of the people whom God had special concern for in view of justice, you would see that it is the most vulnerable of society: widows, orphans, aliens, sojourners, the homeless, the naked, the hungry and the afflicted. And this justice was never a nationalistic priority that made one nation or one people group more important than another. Actually, we can see in the narrative of Scripture, when Israel took their nationality too seriously, or saw themselves as more important or elite and selfish, correction swiftly followed. Humans, universally, who are a part of the demographics of God’s special concern are to be an integral part of our every day relationships.

If we followed this theme throughout the Old Testament, it would be hard to ignore the loud and clear message that justice happens when the marginal ones are no longer marginal. And this Old Testament understanding of justice is fully embodied in Jesus, who was very concerned with those who were on the margins of society, those who were vulnerable and exploited by people who had the power, and in many cases, Western Christendom has been more about law and power than justice and service.

This can also be teased out to include all who have ever come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of one’s sin and being declared right before God). We are all marginalized because of our brokenness, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for all, deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created, both internally and externally. God brought justice to humanity through the advent, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The righteous demands of the law, or in other words, the legal expression of God’s justice, were satisfied when Christ was put to death and suffered the torment of separation from God, in our place. In simpler terms, it is because the “just” paid for the “unjust,” that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer making our home in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, condemns all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice does not make sense to a world committed to the four P’s: power, progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness, and within this world view, many forms of churches in the West have been engrafted.

When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the four P’s if we’re going to stand against it. There’s no money in it for those who want to plead the case of the widow, feed and clothe the naked, or stand against oppressive systems and structures that abuse and exploit the weak. Actually, downward mobility is to be expected if one is going to give their lives to this kind of justice, and it’s hard to build a church when downward mobility is one of the chief engines of church growth. This new ethos must be present in the renewal of the Western church.

The result of living a life of justice in the biblical sense in our 21st century Western society, most of the time, means that we lose ground on the four P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in churches then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the P’s within the old institutional church model, and begin courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability of church business.

This will not be an easy lot for the pioneers of renewal, but justice has never been an easy virtue to live by. After all, justice on God’s part was very costly. The promise of comfort is very seductive, especially when faced with needed changes in lifestyle to begin standing against injustice. Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to get in on the fight for “justice.” It’s not attractive nor easy these days to stand for what is just and right, nor is it always clear what we should be fighting for.

I hope in this short article I gave you the beginnings of a blueprint with which to pray and meditate about what justice looks life in your life and among those around you. We are living within a contemporary Christian culture that has lost much of the ancient orthodox faith that has painstakingly been passed down to us and made Christian worship more about events, projects, and business, but not justice. I believe this “norm” must be renewed to have not just a biblical view of justice, but a biblical life of lived justice.

Advertisements

An Honest Conversation 

“I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom… Is there no virtue among us?… If there be not, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical (highly unrealistic) idea.” James Madison, late 18th century, via Habits of the Heart, 254.

This is indeed a powerful statement from a man who was the chief architect of our infamous Constitution that has helped shape a great nation. The power was always meant to be in the hands of the collective people, people with virtue and wisdom, people who are able to see goodness and honor, and to elect only those who displayed such characteristics. Is this not what we long for in America? Is this not why many people are outraged over the amount of support Trump has won over? The disregard of virtue and character disgusts us and confuses many in our country today. It also reveals how many of us have things we love more than goodness, truthfulness, and human dignity.

I would be neglectful however, if I focused only on Trump’s (or any other candidate’s) virtues and wisdom (or lack thereof) and did not take the time reflect on the virtue and wisdom of our founding fathers as well. The tension of this powerful statement comes from a man (James Madison) who did not count blacks as part of “We the people.” They didn’t even see them as fully human. To be exact, they saw them as 3/5 human. The “We the people” didn’t even fully include women, as they were void of many rights as well, including the ability to vote. This was a founding group of white men who forcefully took land, lives, and dignity from the natives, and to this day, has never fully been acknowledged and dealt with. It seems so easy to overlook this reality and romanticized the goodness of our founding fathers because of all the other good they stood for and the amazing Constitution they created, but to overlook this seems like a grave injustice and inhumane.

This is a generational narrative that has set an infinite amount of implicit rules that most white people are not able to see nor admit. Our nation was founded by white men who set up a nation to cater to people with the same color of skin as theirs. Within all this, implicit rules were established, rules that put white mans needs above everyone else. These unspoken implicit rules have set a culture that has so utterly permeated today’s culture, that to deny there is not equality or equity for people who have darker skin than the average Englishman is ignorant. There are forces at work that people in the dominant culture are not able to see unless they’re able to humbly get out of their privilege and see through the lenses of sub-dominant cultures perspectives.

I say this not to discount the goodness of what America has stood for in many other ways through out all the years, but to seek honest reflection about a nation that has become my heritage, my home. I do believe we live in a very great nation that has fought for justice and peace in many ways. But any good historian (and I am no where close to an historian) would never recount only the good and forsake the ugly of the past. Yet, we as Americans seem to easily neglect the mess as a way to anesthetize our senses to the dysfunction of our heritage, leaving cancer in our souls, slowly growing and hurting and killing us, like a frog boiling in water, and we wonder how we are in the place we are today.

So what is virtue and wisdom? How should we define those words? Does our founding father’s neglect of human dignity towards Women, Blacks, and Indians matter to any of us, or is it easy for us to overlook it and spin the truth of what it was like back then? Was our country founded with “integrous” virtue and wisdom? Does anyone care about our heritage? Do we even care that we’ve never fully acknowledged the atrocious acts of our beginnings? Are we willing to be honest about them, or is it too much for us to take in? Are white people scared to speak out and say that the race issue is the dominant cultures problem? Will white people read this and miss the point I’m trying to make, and become angry with what I’m saying? Where’s our virtue, our wisdom, our courage?

At this moment in history, we’ve been offered another gift. A gift that has exposed, once again, where we are at as a nation, where we are morally, where our allegiances lay, what we truly love and value, and our individual concern that has neglected the common good of the “whole.”

Many of us today are disgusted at what we see? The question is, what are we going to do with our disgust? Are we going to numb ourselves from it and say it really is not a big deal? Are we going to keep on spinning our heritage and twisting historical facts? Are we going to be selective listeners? Are we going to allow our disgust to move us to hate certain people and groups and create more division? Are we going to let the oppressive culture dictate how we treat people? Or are we going to let it move us to compassion that seeks alternative ways to live and honor each other’s diversity? Is it crazy to think that we would allow our disgust to radically change the way we live and love both privately and publicly?

The future holds the mysterious and unknown answers to these questions, and we will soon see what’s next for this people group called Americans. We are all responsible to act and change according to our convictions, and do so in a way that restores human dignity, with a virtue of humility and the wisdom of the divine. May we all be willing to not only take an honest loom at our heritage, but also an honest look at our own lives, our loyalties. We truly are what we love, and what our fore fathers loved, has shaped what we believe and how we behave more than we’re willing to admit.

What do you love, really? Be honest. It’s brutal at first, then you’ll realize you’re human, you’re flawed, and so is everyone else around you. Maybe then we’ll be able to offer more grace to others who are different than us, and will be able to see with a new set of lenses, our country, our families, our personal and public lives, and our need for one another.

Is this the world you want? You’re making it everyday you breathe the air of this world. What is your life song singing? Are you playing on tune? Are you playing in harmony with others or do you prefer solos, or should I say silos? We need each other more than we know, but we need to admit it first. Freedom is at hand, and it’s not the kind of freedom most of us think of. It’s a freedom to be exposed, to be wrong, and to admit it. It’s a freedom to not be in control, and to give up power, and to offer life to those who have had life robbed from them. The freedom we’ve been given, at whatever level we actually have freedom, has been given so that we are able to offer it to others as well.