We’ve been thinking about the
nature of biblical justice lately here at BFJN, and how the nature of justice
relates to our actions and responsibilities. Several months ago we wrote a
post on justice, what it is and is not, and some thoughts on what living
justly requires. Recently we also attended the Justice Conference in
Chicago and came away with some reminders of the heart of it all, why a group
of Christians started the Boston Faith and Justice Network almost ten years
Justice as part of God’s character
“How can we speak of God without
speaking of love? How can we know God without knowing grace?” asked Eugene Cho,
Seattle pastor and founder of One Day’s
Wages. These are essential, defining elements of God’s being, tied up in
our understanding of his character. “How is it,” Cho then continued, “that we
have extracted justice outside of God’s character?” As we attempt to reflect by
our actions the fact that we are God’s image in the world, we are called to
love our neighbors. We are called to extend grace and mercy, all because loving
and giving grace are central aspects of who God is. And we are also called to
do justice, because doing justice—that is, dismantling unjust systems and
caring for the victims of injustice, the oppressed—is also who God is.
Justice as inseparable from love
Cornel West is famous for noting that “Justice is what love looks like in
public.” As the headlining speaker at the conference, he repeated those words,
but then expanded on them by adding, “Justice and love are not identical. But
justice and love are indivisible.” The love that God has for the orphan, the
fatherless, the widow, the prisoner, the foreigner—and all vulnerable groups
mentioned over and over again in the Bible— is the driving force behind his
mandate to us to care for them. Doing justice is about taking care of the needs
of the oppressed and the marginalized, about loving our neighbor, but it is
about bringing in the world that ought to
be, as Ken Wytsma says in his book, Pursuing
Justice, about righting the wrongs that have led to the oppression in
the first place.
Pursuing justice as an act of worship
Frederick Buechner writes in Wishful Thinking:
“To worship God means to
serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for
himthat he needs to have done—run errands for him, carry messages for
him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do
things for him that you need to do—sing songs for him, create beautiful things
for him, give things up for him, tell him what’s on your mind and in your
heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way
lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.”
If our lives of service to God make
up our worship to him, then doing justice as he calls us to do is an act of
worship. In fact, it may be God’s preferred
act of worship. Our last blog
post reflected on the “chosen fast” of Isaiah 58, to “loose the chains of
injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break
every yoke.” In that passage God says to the Israelites that offering personal
penance is meaningless if they are not first feeding the hungry, housing the
homeless, freeing the imprisoned, and removing chains of oppression.
Writer Deidra Riggs wrote this
prayer just after the events of McKinney, Texas, when Dajerria Becton was
slammed on the ground, her face pressed into the grass, by a police officer. It
is a high calling.
make me the one who steps in and says something.
me the adult who will come to the aid of the oppressed, the marginalized, the
minimized, the dehumanized.
me less afraid of a gun than I am of letting the moment pass without saying or
doing the right thing.
me know the right thing.
my excuses and my blindness and my love of my comfortable places.
make me a peacemaker. Make me an “us” person, and not an “us and them” person.
mercy, Lord, on me.