I started a conversation a couple months ago about my issues with the word “biblical”. It is a word we throw in front of anything to prove our point. Trust me….my view is BIBLICAL! I was focusing specifically on the use of the word when it comes to biblical justice. In light of Ferguson, continued conversations surrounding immigration reform and the unrest in Gaza, Israel, Russia, Ukrain, Syria, the violence of ISIS, (do I need to keep going?) – justice, and what exactly that looks like, is on all of our minds. One of the main components I think we need to come back to when discussing a better definition of biblical justice is community.
To act with justice is to focus on communion with others. In The Prophetic Imagination Walter Brueggemann writes “the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context” (p. 94). In displaying acts of love we are making statements far stronger than we would with a picket sign, online petition or Facebook post. Christ’s ministry centered around people more than ideals. Brueggemann continues:
Jesus’ compassion is not only criticism of what is deathly, for in his criticism and solidarity he evidences power to transform. So his embrace of the death of his people are dying leads to a restored Lazarus, to healed people, to fed crowds, to a cared-for man, to an accepted son, and to good news for the harassed and helpless. The heavy criticism of Jesus holds the offer and possibility of an alternative beginning” (p. 94).
A greater possibility for alternative beginnings is what is achieved when we love. We open up the possibility of something new for those on the margins of society. We dare to imagine what could be different for them if the choices they have made in their life are not ours to judge but to grieve, love, move forward with and accept.
In most cases of justice throughout the Bible it was an act of community. Communities of people were called together to love the oppressed; which took the weight of the responsibility off any one individual alone. Rohr says, “I would say a very small percentage of Christians let the corporate Body of Christ carry both their goodness and their badness, both the weight of their glory and the burden of their sin, to use two of Paul’s felicitous phrases…Neither your worthiness nor your unworthiness is yours alone, and it is a burden to try and maintain them as if they were” (Immortal Diamond, p. 183). Both the weight of loving others in the work of justice and allowing others to love you is meant to be carried together in community. Rohr goes on to say, “most sermons remind us quickly of our unworthiness before first telling us of our inherent worthiness” (p. 125). The Church tends to think justice is calling people out for their sin when really justice is love. Christ already paid the price on the cross – justice was achieved. Justice is reminding someone of their inherent worthiness despite any sins or past they may feel dragged down by.
John Perkins speaks to the brokenness of our culture and the failure of our churches to bring about justice through love when he says, “a whole lot of our churches have decided to outsources justice” (Welcoming Justice, p. 108). We feel overwhelmed to take the responsibility for our neighbor so we convince ourselves that giving money or referring to someone else is playing our part in the solution. We have turned the gospel into an offer of individualistic salvation when it was meant to be a communal one.
Justice is not simply a concept, it is an action. We are called to seek justice by acting in love. No amount of biblical justice, no amount of loving, can ever be achieved adequately on our own. Truly loving someone the way God intends is not something we can muster up the strength or desire to do on our own. God was the one to provide justice throughout the Bible, and He allowed a few individuals and communities to join in His mission to bring humanity back to Himself by calling them to great acts of justice. All of that was motivated by love and carried out in the power of God through people wholly surrendered to Him.
God can and will continue to bring justice through us. Every act we take on behalf of God in a call to Biblical Justice is a call to bring humanity closer to reconciliation with God. No amount of eloquent rhetoric regarding stances on abortion, just war, gay marriage or racism will achieve this, only love will. Biblical justice is not a stance or a position, it is an action, a call to love and a charge to consider the other more important than yourself. It is a call to see the divine in them, believe in their potential and fight on their behalf to achieve it.
Never judge. Only love.