Updated: Nov 7, 2020
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
A glance at the headlines seems to indicate the news is not getting better. Everything sounds cataclysmic, as if at any moment, the world will spin off its axis. Not literally, I suppose, but rumor has it everything is falling apart. Do I actually believe that? No, not at all. But then, a great deal has happened that I never thought possible. I am stunned as I watch our nation torn asunder by multiple forces and causes. To be perfectly frank, I do not know what I believe is accurate and what is inflated, as well as what is not mentioned at all. After reading a headline announcing that the whole world is at risk, it occurred to me that reporting may be a little over the top. The whole world? Really? I believe the whole world is at risk, but I doubt seriously the journalist and I identify risks and dangers in the same manner.
More than a week ago, I watched a panel discussion led by a good friend from my seminary days who now serves a church in another state. My heart still hurts. He and two other pastors were discussing current events, when my long-time friend and colleague called for civil war, likening the rioting and looting to Jesus cleansing the Temple. Another panelist endorsing revolution, also a member of the clergy, pointed out that Jesus died a political martyr’s death at the hands of the Romans.
I began looking into the idea of justice, not from the perspective of our world or this generation and/or culture, but rather, what is justice in the Scriptures? What does God consider justice to be? As Christians, we want to pursue what is true, what is revealed from God, for eternity in Christ’s Kingdom will be ordered as God ordains, not you and me. What I found was something I’d never understood before, something quite different from justice as we are inclined to think of it.
The word God gave Micah was a word of indictment against His people. The Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians, and Micah went through the Kingdom of Judah, calling the people to repentance and obedience. I am pretty sure we are there. That is the message for all of us: repent and obey. Secularism is a soft atheism that, for the most part, tolerates the silliness of Christian faith around its edges. Unless we begin to separate ourselves from the ideas and values of a secular world, whether wealth or race or pride of knowledge or whatever else prevents humility, we will find ourselves talking about religion without sounding remotely like Jesus at all. The Jews were not excited about repentance and obedience, but eventually, that cost them everything. Babylon came in and conquered the Judah, as Assyria had done to Israel. We need to lift up our heads from the headlines to the King of kings, repent for having greater faith in humanity than in God and obey His commands, not our wants and wishes.
The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat, which is also the root word for judgment and righteousness. Psalm 85 uses justice and righteousness interchangeably depending upon the translation. “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” (verses 10-11, NASB) The prophet Amos, a contemporary of Micah, proclaimed God’s judgment upon His faithless people, but concluded with “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Mishpat… the Lord God promises to right all that we have made wrong. Justice rolls down from His Kingdom, from the Holy Trinity on high, releasing righteousness and goodness to flow from His throne into our world.
Justice, then, is a state of being in which everything is set to rights, from the lowliest plant to greatest of kings. All of creation functions as it should, and the world is rightly ordered and at peace. The last time this world fully experienced justice was in the Garden of Eden, which reveals a great deal about what is wrong in our current circumstances. However, justice is a godly state of existence inaugurated in Jesus Christ and maintained through Pentecost, the ever-flowing stream of the Spirit’s righteousness through all creation.
For us to have peace, we must have justice, but justice without righteousness is impossible. Moreover, human beings are incapable of attaining to justice because we are not righteous. When Jesus brought perfect justice and peace into our world, when He righted the wrongs – healing the sick, casting out evil, raising the dead, calling out hypocrites, challenging standard practices, and the like – He was crucified. That is our world. That is the world we live in today. To expect that we can make matters just or peaceful is prideful. At best, we can walk closely enough to Jesus Christ to bring righteous moments of justice and peace to a situation. That is a lofty and worthy goal for each of us during these days.
Please, don’t mistake me. I am not a passivist. I’m far too realistic about the evil that pervades our world to think we should avoid all war. However, we should not pretend that satisfaction of our grievances constitutes God’s revenge. We do not approach a true state of godly justice because we lack divine righteousness. Following on that thought, when Jesus cleansed the Temple, He was rebuking the Jews for exchanging money to make a profit when people came to make a sacrificial offering to God. Burning businesses, stealing goods, and destroying and defacing others’ properties are nothing like Jesus cleansing the Temple. Perhaps such activity can be justified for other reasons, but let us never cloak our justifications in the righteous work of Jesus. Likewise, to say Jesus was a political martyr is a gross misappropriation of the Gospel. The truth is that the Romans and the Jewish leaders were tools used by God to accomplish His purposes, which were and are to destroy death and to give life.
Before we reassure ourselves that we are the faithful, we must realize that justice is achieved when God reorders relationships and weighs our relative suffering and ease. If we live lives of ease, then we would be well served to take seriously what Scripture says about those who have much in this age, as opposed to those who have much in the age to come. The story of the rich man and Lazarus comes to mind. (Luke 16:19-31) But the Bible refers repeatedly to those whose reward is in this world with its riches, power, and position. When God establishes justice, we are at risk of finding ourselves owing for all the good we have now while others suffer. Justice and peace are a double-edged sword, but then, truth always is.
Bear in mind that this is our Father’s world. It is not yours. It is not mine. We are just passing through. The devil has free reign for now, but he is no match for our God. There are diseases, disasters, and death, but God will bring justice to His creation in His time, just as He will heal every disease, end our mourning, and restore all creation to its just and righteous state. Until then, the very best we can do, the most we can hope for, is to do what justice we can – exist in a state of righteousness and peace in the likeness of Christ, love kindness, which is constitutive of justice, and walk humbly with our God. One day, everything else will fade away. We will be left with our God and the vision of our lives in relationship to Him, to others, and to all creation. At that moment, we will know whether we understood justice at all.
Bear in mind… Bear in mind that our world is full of sin and that evil runs rampant. Bear in mind that you and I are part of the problem, not the cure. And, finally, bear in mind that we have been born of God, and if we are humble before Him, He will grow righteousness and bring justice through us – not for us, but through us, for we follow a Savior Who was crucified. We need to bear that in mind.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau ã 2020