Tag Archives: justice

Receiving Justice

Power.

Too often, power is the enemy of justice.

“Justice” is the cry of those who cannot make their own.

Power calls itself justice. It makes a thriving land a desert and calls it peace.

Power knows how to be rid of a nuisance. It knows how to excommunicate. It knows how to execute.

But Easter stands, will always stand, over against power in order to proclaim that there is a greater Power who cannot be escaped. Easter proclaims that there is a true justice that cannot be bought.

Resurrection says to the tyrants of the earth: you cannot take from me what is always in God’s power to give.

Resurrection faith looks like this:

“You, who are marked out for vengeance, may take our present life, but the king of the universe for whose laws we die will resurrect us again to eternal life.”

When it was demanded of the third brother, he put out his tongue quickly, extended his hands courageously, and stated with dignity, “I have received these limbs from heaven, and I give them up for the sake of God’s laws. But I hope to recover them from God again.”

When the end was approaching, the fourth brother said, “Death at the hands of humans is preferable, since we look forward to the hope that God gives of being raised by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.”

The boys’ mother encouraged them, saying, “I don’t know how you grew in my womb, nor did I grant the breath of life to you or arrange what makes you who you are. For this reason, the creator of the world—who brought about the beginning of humanity and searched out the origin of all things—will again mercifully give you both spirit and life, since you disregard yourselves because of his laws.”

The last brother said to the king, “Just like my brothers, I give up both body and life for the ancestral laws. I call upon God to be merciful to the nation without delay, and to make you confess, after you suffer trials and diseases, that only he is God. Also I hope through me and my brothers to stop the anger of the almighty, who is justly punishing our entire nation.” (2 Maccabees 7, CEB [modified])

Resurrection means that justice matters.

Those who hunger and thirst will be filled with food and drink.

Those who surrender their hands and tongues will receive them back again.

The life-taking power of the tyrant, the love-shunning power of the zealot, cannot hinder the God of power and love.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ puts on display the previously hidden justice of God–from Christ’s faithfulness unto the faithfulness of God’s people. Just as it is written: the Righteous One will live because of His faithfulness.

What Crime Is This?

The shooting of Trayvon Martin continues to capture national interest. At least, the minorities I know are fully engaged and interested. Most folks like me (including me), not so much.

I want to tread carefully here. In America, we treat people as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I was in Durham, NC in March of 2006 when accusations of rape and racism against members of Duke’s lacrosse team made national headlines. Treating those charged as though they were guilty did not end well for the D.A. Facts changed the initial perceptions.

Having said that, there is a real, pervasive, and continuing problem of racism in our country.

A member of the Fuller Seminary community was recently accosted and injured fairly badly by police, apparently for the crime of walking down the street while black.

This should not be.

And, so, in solidarity with black Americans, who apparently must continue to live in fear that merely the color of their skin will make them objects of violence, I am taking up the theme of the “million hoodie march” and changing my online profile pictures to this:

I cannot be in New York or Philadelphia for a million hoodie march, but I can show my little corner of the world that I stand against the evil of racial hatred and the violence that comes from profiling.

Whatever the precise facts of this case, all injustice is an affront to God; and all hatred based on race is an affront to the God who makes each ethnicity and race uniquely beautiful.

World Water Day

It’s world water day.

If you can go over to the tap, turn a knob, and get safe, drinkable water, be thankful! Safe drinking water is a perennial, pervasive public health issue around the world.

My friends at Do Good Lab are trying to raise a few hundred dollars today to be distributed to water-focused projects in the developing world.

Would you help them reach their goal by chipping in something close to the cost of a bottle of water from your corner store? That’s right, I’m asking for an onslaught of $2 contributions in honor of world water day. If you’re in, click on over.

This is a CrowdTilt campaign: no money gets taken from the pledges unless they meet their $300 goal. I’m hoping, though, that they’ll hit twice that today.

Safe? Politic? Popular?

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. is my favorite of the many that have been floating around the interwebs today:

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come together with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man. (“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” 31 March 1968)

Today, I am thankful that MLKJ was an 8.

Eschatology is Everything

Eschatology. “The study of the end.” Or, “What we believe about The End.”

In Christian circles, eschatology is drawn to the fore when people are predicting that the world will end on a particular date. Or when we are trying to convince someone to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior before it’s too late.

But all of this puts the accent on the wrong syllable (as Mrs. Heavener used to say in Spanish class, giving due stress to the second syllable of the word “syllable” for good measure: syl-LA-ble).

And this month’s Christianity Today has an outstanding, short essay by David Neff putting things back in order.

Neff makes six points about Christian eschatology:

  1. Biblical eschatology is about justice
  2. Biblical justice is about eschatology
  3. Biblical eschatology is about the world’s divine destiny
  4. Justice announces the kingdom’s arrival
  5. Sacrificing for justice is an act of faith that God will make good our sacrifices
  6. Jesus’ parables of judgment are often about justice

When you survey this list, one thing that sticks out is that eschatology is very much this-worldly. It is one of the ironies of traditional evangelical (Dispensational) eschatology that its focus on “the end” has made it other-worldly, so concerned about the coming of Jesus that it has taken all attention away from the world in which we live.

Why ironic? Because Jesus’ proclamation of the end served notice that the days were numbered for the powers that were disordering his world: hunger was disappearing with the advent of a kingdom of abundance. Sickness was being undone with the advent of the kingdom of healing. Exclusion was disappearing with the advent of the kingdom of transforming embrace.

The end means that God is bringing justice.

For the end to have drawn near means that the justice for which we wait in the days ahead is reaching backward and invading the days in which we live.

It is in the face of this, the advent of the justice of God, that Jesus proclaims, “Repent, for the reign of God has drawn near!”

Evil and Love

One of the perpetual challenges that modern, western theologians and Bible readers face is the way that scripture assumes a world where not only injustice but true evil is active. We probably wrestle with the wrong issues, for example, when talking about justification, because we don’t experience the need to be vindicated by God in the face of perpetual persecution for doing what is right.

Ours is a world where we can claim that people are inherently good–and actually believe ourselves.

But Miroslav Volf does not sugar coat the world and he perpetually summons us back to reality. Having experienced a measure of persecution during his years in Serbia and Croatia, he demands of Christians that we recognize a moral duty to call evil evil–even while summoning us to the sacred duty of loving all our neighbors (even the evil ones).

His book Against the Tide is a series of short reflections on what it means to love in the world that we actually inhabit.

The book is a collection of articles that range widely while pushing us to have our imaginations transformed afresh by the Christian story of a God who loves us and calls us to be agents of God’s love in the world.

Volf is bold. He wrestles with the story of the flood. He demands that we learn from it that God will not rest content with a world full of evil. And, he draws on the flood imagery from 1 Peter and suggests that we can read the washing of the flood as a symbol not of God washing away the evil doers, but washing us up so as to stand pure before our God.

He also insists that we call evil when talking about the actions of people. The alternatives are to deny the evil that destroys the world or to demonize perpetrators. Demonizing the evil doer makes the person an object to be exorcised, expelled, destroyed. Calling a person evil maintains their humanity: yes, he is evil, an evil neighbor I am called to love so that I might overcome evil with good.

For short daily devotional reading, you could do no better than Against the Tide.

Disclaimer: I don’t need to provide a disclaimer because I actually paid $10 for my copy of the book. So the Fed won’t come after me for this one. But on the other hand, Volf and I are Facebook friends, which, of course, makes him my BFF. I was even in the same room with him once at a reception!

Forgiveness and Resurrection

Yesterday I did a little co-conspiring with Mark Scandrette and the guys from ikon here in San Francisco. We recorded a podcast about forgiveness (stay tuned for download details).

The conversation generated a number of thoughts and questions, not all of them worked out in our short time recording. Perhaps one of the most important has to do with entrusting judgment to God. At some level, especially for people who have been badly wounded, abused, left behind after a loved one has been killed, forgiveness will be tied to a conviction that the God of all the earth will do what is right.

Is that really the God who composes the Christian story? Is that really the God who beckons us to forgive and even to bless those who persecute us?

In my estimation, we have too often surrendered a major resource for answering this question because we have built our theology of forgiveness so much around the cross that we have neglected the crucial place of the resurrection.

Resurrection means not only that God has accepted and forgiven us in Christ. This much is true. But it also means, more generally, that the economy of this world is not equipped to bring about the just judgment of God.

The God of all the earth will do what is right, but this mortal life and its systems of power and even of justice are not the heavenly court.

Resurrection promises that there will be reversal. Injustice cannot escape the righteous judgment of God.

Prayers of Privilege

One of my pet-peeves is the sort of piety that strives to remove our worship of and prayers to God from our everyday life. The “prayer Olympics” that many practice sometimes makes it seem as though the greatest height to which we can attain is when we praise God “just for who you are,” “for who you are in yourself”–as though this is more lofty than praise and thanks for the manifestations of God’s presence here on earth or in our own lives.

It struck me recently that the very idea that such a prayer is the most pious of all is a theology of power and privilege.

It is Sadducee piety. The Sadducees were of the priestly families. Those families had gradually come to power, and under various Greek and Roman regimes had found themselves the indigenous leaders given charge (and the wealth that comes with it) under various “temple constitutions.”

Is it any wonder they didn’t believe in resurrection? Resurrection means vindicated the oppressed, rewarding the unpaid righteous. And it means repaying the powerful tyrants as well.

Those in power don’t want a piety that will turn the world on its head.

Similarly our theologically luxurious insistence that true worship, true prayer, has nothing to do with us. This is a mistake that can only be made by people who do not have eyes to see that for God to be “who God is” the world has to be changed. The redemption begun must be brought to completion. The righteous who cry must be answered.

And when God so acts, God must be praised.

If there is one thing that I hope we will learn more and more as we who are white, western, and thus worldly privileged listen to our African, Latino/a, and Asian neighbors it is that our culture of power has distorted our understanding of theological normalcy and theological virtue.

It is only people who know that the world suffers under the hand of the unrighteous who will know that God must make justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream–if, in fact, God is to be God; if, in fact, God will be “who God is” and thus worthy of thanks and praise for it.

And only they will know how to write the songs and pray the prayers that properly praise the God who, in the Gospel of the dead and risen Christ, has revealed God’s righteousness to the world.

Sure Deliverance

I’m not sure why, but the kids and I keep reading the Psalms.

I know, it sounds like a really great idea. But in the words of a friend who attempted the same and ultimately was punished by God for it with a PhD in Old Testament, “There’s some really strange stuff in there.”

Ok, so maybe “strange” isn’t the word for the dissonance I’m experiencing. But what I’m finding in the first dozen or so Psalms is that the core of Israel’s religious worship consists of an expectation that for the God of all the earth to what is right, Israel’s enemies must be sent running before her swords.

This, of course, is not everything. And perhaps it’s too much to call military victory the core. It closely resides next to the idea that the unjust will not escape the sight, or vengeance, of God.

As I read these poems, I am constantly moving among several thoughts in my mind. One is that the expectation of military victory as the means of YHWH’s engagement with the world is so deeply rooted that (a) I have constantly refreshed sympathy for the disappointed disciples of Jesus; and (b) I consciously wrestle out Christologically revisionist interpretations of the psalms in order to mesh them with a transformed understanding of the victory God has won, and is winning, through His King on behalf of the people of the earth.

The other is that the expectation that injustice will not succeed is weird. It seems off. It seems overly optimistic. It seems just plain wrong.

And here is where I get caught.

I suspect that for the singers of these songs, the tangible reality of injustice was much more acutely felt on a day-to-day basis than it has ever been in my own life. I bet that for them, there were particular faces of injustice to put to these general hopes.

And these songs were sung in faith.

The songs of deliverance are not, for the most part, triumphant proclamations of how God has socked it to the bad guys, but songs of invocation–celebrations beforehand of the just and powerful God that would not believe that evil will be allowed the last word here on earth, as it is not allowed it in heaven above.

The more that the songs strike me as wrong, as wishful, as overly optimistic, the more I am reminded that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

I need to be reminded that the God of all the earth will not allow the unjust to escape his due recompense, that God will not turn a blind eye to the cheat and the swindler–that God will not allow the cry of the righteous to go unheeded.

And we have the resurrection to prove it.