READING WHILE BLACK - JUSTICE
On April 28 a group of seminaries and Christian organizations hosted a webinar featuring New Testament scholars Esau McCaulley and N.T. Wright. The webinar was a response and reflection on MCaulley's excellent book Reading While Black. I'm going to spend the next few posts interacting with various aspects of their material.
Today I want to talk about justice. Justice, especially social justice, is a flashpoint for many today. When I preach on justice, I am regularly asked what I mean by the term. Some people tell me it is dangerous or risky for me to speak on social justice. That I have succumbed to current societal winds that are not rooted in scripture or the Christian worldview.
I affirm that Christians do not take their definitions from culture, no matter how appealing or popular they might be at the given moment. The Christian needs to start their study of justice within the very character of God and in what He has revealed of himself to humanity.
In the spring of 2020 when things were really heating up in the conversation around race. I watched a video on systemic racism by well-known Christian leader Tony Evans. Evans affirmed the reality of systemic racism, sharing painful personal stories of his own.
In the video, Evans quoted a verse that has become foundational in my beginning of developing a biblical understanding of justice. It is Psalm 89:14 -
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you.
Often when we speak of the character of God and our response to his character we will speak of his righteousness and our corresponding need to live righteously as well. This is often interpreted as moral behavior and piety.
But, justice here is shown to be a corresponding foundation of the throne upon which God sits and reigns. So, justice is both a part of the character of God and the Kingdom he comes to establish on Earth. Justice corresponds with righteousness and holiness.
It is in the heart of God to see human beings treated with equity. This same desire has been implanted within each one of us. We can not perceive a world where child molesters or rapists are not punished for their crimes. Something deep within us, a primal construct demands justice be meted out on to such evil. The most recent popular manifestation of this was the #metoo and #churchtoo movements in 2017-18. People demanded justice for victims of sexual abuse.
A lengthy list of passages can be offered which defend the thesis that God is a God of justice with a special concern for the poor. Let me use just one: Psalm 9.
v.4-5 - For you have upheld my right and my cause, sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
v. 7-9 - The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.
He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
v.12 - For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
v.16 - The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
v.18 - 19 - But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence.
So here we see a repetitive drumbeat of descriptions of God both as advocate and defender of the poor and oppressed on the one hand, along with judgment to be meted out on the oppressors on the other.
My next post will continue this biblical and theological reflection on justice.
To close, here is a video for Sam Cooke's great song "A Change is Gonna Come". The video contains many powerful images of people fighting for justice.