The Bible, Justice and My LifeRichard Lundie
Karl Barth, a theologian from the 20th Century encouraged Christians to take the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. Christ-followers are to interpret newspapers from the Bible. In a country like South Africa, this practice is essential. There seems to be a relentless barrage of news that tells of deepening poverty, injustice and divided communities and society. Not only do the Holy Scriptures help us to understand and interpret these realities, they are also instructive in the way we are to respond to them.
To have a Biblically rooted response to injustice means to have the Bible as ‘the loudest voice’. It is the launching point, the guiding light and the final say. It is the brightest light that shines into the darkest parts of our country as well as our own hearts. It is not merely an opinion, or a tool to accomplish a pre-conceived idea of justice. Too often we can treat the Bible as something to ‘use’ in order to support our point of view, rather than the source of what our view should be. We use it to read the world around us.
Thankfully, the scriptures reveal to us the story of the God of Justice. Nowhere do we read in scripture of a God who is distant, deaf or uncaring. Prayers aimed at seeking justice are all asking God to act in line with his already-evident nature. We don’t ask God to be just: He is already just and we are asking him to act, to intervene and to establish his justice afresh in our lives and in our country. We are on a journey of grasping and living out His justice, joining in what he is already doing.
To find evidence of this just God moving in our lives, we need look no further than Jesus. As the Son of God, come in flesh, we look to his life and ministry to explore the nature of this God who is just. There is so much that Jesus taught about his heart for justice.
Locating himself in poverty– Jesus took on flesh and chose to be born into a family lacking political power and influence. of all the families to be born into, it wasn’t in the hallways of power, but among those who were in financial weakness.
Touching the untouchables– Jesus’ ministry was filled with engaging those who were sick. We read of a range of illnesses that he healed. What stands out in those moments is how Jesus moved towards those who were ill. For many of those illnesses, like leprosy, there was social stigma attached to it, making these men and women both physical sufferers and socially rejected and isolated. Jesus broke down those walls of separation by talking to, praying for, touching and embracing those who society deemed untouchable. Jesus demonstrated that his life and message was not just for the rich, influential, acceptable ones. He was here for all.
Drawing in those on the margins – Jesus was regularly criticised for associating with people who on the edges of society, who were rejected by the majority. Whether he reached out to tax collectors, like Levi/Matthew (Luke 5) or Zaccheaus (Luke 19), a sinful woman (in Luke 7) or foreigners (Luke 17) Jesus was not threatened by the social structures and taboos that attempted to put people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories. Under his kingship, we are drawn into his family, where there is a new identity, a new definition of family and a new way to relate, love and honour each other. Those things that were barriers to true relationship become blessings in the life of a Jesus-focused community.
Jesus was moved by human suffering and need – whether it was raising someone from the dead (a son of a widow in Luke 7 or Lazarus in John 11), we read of how his heart went out to those who were grieving. Their pain reached his heart. He was ‘soft-hearted’ and open handed to respond to the needs.
When we look to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, we see One who is Justice. And it is his life, his Spirit that dwells within believers. Deep within the heart of every true believer is a love for justice that needs to be awakened and fostered. Stated another way, our regard for the vulnerable around us is an essential mark of being a Christian. It is a thermometer of our faith. A life poured out in deeds of mercy is a sign of true faith – an inevitable expression of faith. For a life whose roots are in the gospel, the fruit displayed will include that of a personal response to social justice.
As we survey the rest of scripture, we can summarise the instructions around issues of justice in the following way:
- Be innocent of injustice. (Jer 2v3) Search your heart and allow God’s Spirit to work within you to reveal areas in which you are not innocent of injustice. This is a journey and as you go through life, he will reveal areas that need more work.
- Love, serve and journey with those who are victims of injustice and poverty (Prov 31:8-9). This could mean being like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) or the generous fellow believer (James 2:15-17).
- Work to undermine and dismantle systems that perpetuate injustice and fight for those systems that uphold justice for many. We see Jubilee laws (Lev 25), gleaning laws (Lev 19), Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus overturning money changing tables in the temple (Matt 21) as a few examples.
These three instructions require us to engage with our context. They require us to ask of ourselves: what does it mean for me to love my neighbour? (Mar 12). How do I use the spiritual gifts that God has given me? (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12). How do I do good to all, as I have opportunity? (Gal 6:9-10). The life of Christ will move each devoted Christ-follower to respond to issues of poverty and injustice.
Our response is not formulaic. There is no easy-to-reference legal checklist. Instead, it is our whole lives following our saviour, as he leads us to love, serve and journey with those who are vulnerable, who are hurting and who are in pain. As Jesus gave his whole life, we are to explore how our whole lives can be, in his hands, part of bringing His hope, His healing and His restoration to those around us.
Yes, the need around us is overwhelming. It cannot be done on our own, without His sustaining power. Christ-followers are to pursue justice in their individual capacity, join with others in seeing justice upheld and to depend on the Spirit of the Just God to empower them. Live whole lives of justice for the glory of Jesus – the One who showed us the lengths and depths of his pursuit of justice.