The Good News of Justice

Will there be ultimate justice one day? And, if so, how?

This post is the first in a 4-part series on Justice to coincide with our current sermon series “Seek Justice”, which you can find HERE.

 

“If the earth could speak, what would it say?”

This question was posed on several social media sites on Earth Day just a few months ago. It’s a fascinating question that elicited a fairly predictable response: “stop polluting me,” “help me,” “take care of my oceans.” As true as those answers may be, I’m not sure the question goes far enough.

Ancient Israel imagined a similar question but instead chose to ask it a different way: “If the earth could sing, what would be its song?” This is the underlying question that is answered in two of Israel’s most famous worship songs, Psalm 96 and 98, which imagines all of the trees, animals, hills and oceans singing for joy. But what are they singing about?

“Let the seas roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”[1]

If we are paying attention, that last statement seems a bit odd. The animals, the trees and the sea are singing about judgment. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “judgment” the last things I associate it with are joy and singing. But it’s not only these two songs where justice and judgment are celebrated. All of Scripture from its songs to its stories seem to be anticipating and longing for God to put everything right again, for God to come and judge the earth.

This poses a very interesting question: are we out of tune with the song of Scripture?

As Rankin preached Sunday, seeking justice is not an option but is actually the call of every Christian who has been set right by the grace and love of God in Jesus. We are called to do justice, Micah says, for it is what God requires of us and it is good.[2]

It’s not hard, once we stop and listen, to hear the call of justice all around us – from the cries of protestors in the streets to the suffering sighs of the widows and orphans in our city. The need and desire for justice is hard to miss. It doesn’t take long for young children to begin exclaiming: “that’s not fair!” because a sense of justice comes with being human. It occupies our stories and even our cultural mythology: we create superheroes that fight for justice and we celebrate characters like Atticus Finch, who bravely stand against prejudice and racism.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” That is our hope.

It is the deep longing of our souls and the cry of our heart, but, for some reason, justice seems to slip through our fingers like sand on the beach. Sometimes justice is done in our world, but many times it feels like a frustrating and elusive dream. We all know there is a bright shining light called justice, but we can’t quite get to it. As one author said, “we’re like moths trying to fly to the moon.”[3]

The Scriptures not only give voice to this cry for justice, but they also give hope that such longings are more than just wishful thinking. The entire narrative of Scripture can be summed up in this magnificent hope for justice.

From the opening chapters of Genesis we see that human beings are called to be rulers after their own King who loves, cares for and provides for His creation. Human beings are called to rule in a way that is just and good. But sin wrecked the cosmos and ripped apart every human relationship. Our first ancestors in Eden opened Pandora’s Box and all kinds of injustice, evil and suffering were unleashed upon the world.

But God never gives up on his creation or his human creatures – in a great act of redemptive justice God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt. Indeed, God values liberation for the captive so much that you could say “freedom” is his middle name. God then gives his rescued people the Torah as a blueprint for a flourishing society of justice and renewed relationships. The commandments of God taught that justice was not some abstract concept but rather what love looks like when our neighbor is in need.

In Israel, God calls kings to be very different from the other kings of the earth – the Israelite king wouldn’t give preference to the rich and powerful, but instead he was to exercise justice on behalf of those at the bottom of the pile. He was to rule with justice so he could defend the afflicted and needy, giving a voice to the voiceless and speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

This image pointed to the true King, Jesus of Nazareth, who preached good news to the poor and set the world free from the slavery of sin. His mission enacted God’s passion for justice, so that because of the Cross and Resurrection, all tears will one day be dried and the world will again be filled with justice and joy. That is what the psalms are calling all humans, animals, plants, trees, rivers and mountains to celebrate: the Creator finally setting his world right.

It’s easy to talk about justice in abstract terms, but what does it mean for followers of Jesus living in Los Angeles in 2017? As Christians, we are swept up into this great story and invited to follow our Savior in the paths of justice and love. We are called to do justice now because Jesus is on the throne and we are in union with him. We are called to be healed healers – first healed by the love of God and then called to spread that healing love to our neighbors.

This call to justice can feel overwhelming, but it starts with our everyday relationships because every individual relationship matters to God (that’s what Paul’s letter to Philemon beautifully illustrates). It looks like patiently loving the hard and needy people in our community group, giving our time to volunteer with Hope for LA, or learning to empathize and fight for people who are telling us they are hurting.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” That is our hope. It might feel slow, but we can work confidently knowing that our efforts are not in vain because Jesus has won the victory. The longing for justice in every human heart is the echo of our own loving Creator’s deep desire for a world made right again. Do you want this too? If so, then hear his call and join in.

 

 

[1] Psalm 98:7-9

[2] Micah 6:8

[3] Wright, N. T. Simply Christian. San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pg. 4



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