Reflection by Pastor Shawn:
In my sermon last Sunday, I said, “In the Bible, justice in our relationships, including social relationships, is an act of obedience to God. That is clear from our passage in Isaiah [1:10-20]. It’s grounded in our faith. Justice flows from Jesus.”
In this reflection I’d like to consider two questions related to those statements. First, does this mean that Christians have some sort of “inside track” or monopoly on justice?
In one sense, we obviously do not: non-Christians can seek justice. All are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) and all have a conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). God gives a ‘common grace’ to everyone (Matt. 5:45), and I think this includes the possibility of recognizing, valuing, and working towards justice in all sorts of domains of our shared public life. I’ve marched arm in arm with all sorts of different people to protest injustice. I’ve learned much from people who don’t share my Christian faith who are experts on, poverty, police brutality, and much more.
In another sense, we do have a category that (many) others don’t: sin. We understand that, theologically, things like abuse of the poor, white supremacy, and gender-based violence are not mere social ills and are not just harmful—they are breaking of God’s shalom. They are against our very nature, the way we are created to be. Further, we understand that sin is not just something individuals do and that it has aspects beyond the aggregation of each of our actions and attitudes. In other words, we understand corporate sin and sinful systems. We aren’t always the best at understanding the ‘how’—we need sociologists, psychologists, and the like—but we understand the ‘what’. It is sin. We have a category that enables us to more fully name what is happening.
The second question is, What is unique to the Christian pursuit of justice?
This is a big question, one that I can only begin to answer. But a sketch might look something like this: Christians have a unique hope and a unique love.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is not a statement of historical determinism, although some have taken it as such. If we only have eyes on this world, there’s no guarantee things will improve. There’s no inevitability to it when we consider the human spirit or the workings of politics or the hearts of men and women (if anything, those ought to leave us rather pessimistic). There is no magical force that is pulling us towards some Utopian progress. It is only in view of the gospel of Jesus Christ that King’s oft-repeated line makes sense, and that.
And that means Christians should have confidence when it comes to justice. Not because people are good and justice is without our grasp, but because God is good and justice comes from his hands. Christians have a unique hope.
We also have a unique love (or at least we should). We bring the love of Jesus to justice work. Neighborly love. Indiscriminate love. Love that will not allow us to hate the oppressor, even as we hate the oppression. Love that will not allow for violence. It is a love that we find only in Jesus, and so it is love that will bring justice, as we strive to hear and obey our Lord and savior.