How does justice come?

How can justice ever come to our communities? Did Jesus have anything ideas?

Imagine you’re in a class on Training and Assessment. Everyone makes a presentation, and you choose your topic. What’s your passion?

Students chose everything from surfing to swords. I wanted something related to the kingdom of God that could be relevant, appropriate for a non-religious setting, and doable in 15 minutes.

You can read what I said below, and I’d be interested in your feedback. The group responded well, and the experience helped me think through this issue further.

Clearly this isn’t the whole story. But is this an approach that could help us present the good news in a way Aussies see as relevant and important?

Here’s the script:

For the next 15 minutes, I’d like us to engage with the topic of justice, specifically, How do we get justice? The outcome is not that you will know how to bring justice to the world in 15 minutes. Rather, the goal is to stimulate your thinking, to get you thinking about something that’s controversial, to ponder what you would be prepared to do to bring justice.

I know this is a tough topic. If you’ve been a victim of injustice, you’re not alone. Most of us experience injustices in many forms, whether minor or more severe. I hope you’ll feel empathy for other human beings who aren’t getting a fair go.

Twelve months ago I had the privilege of visiting the Middle East with a team of people. We landed in Amman, Jordan. Our guide treated us to a banquet in a Jordanian restaurant in the business district. We drove past palaces. Then as we came to the outskirts of Amman, we saw tents beside the road where Bedouin people lived, with their animals on tethers. The divide between rich and poor was very confronting.

We travelled into northern Israel, to the Golan Heights. Looking down to the west, the Sea of Galilee made a beautiful site. But looking east, we could see villages in Syria. This was southern Syria, not near where the war has been raging for 6 years, but it still felt eerie.

The Syrian conflict is so complicated. Insurgents are conducting civil war. Asad is bombing his own people. Then ISIS joined the rebels to bring help down the government. So America joined the rebels to fight both the government and ISIS. And Russia joined the government to help them resist the rebels.

More than 4 million people have fled Syria. Jordan has 1.4 million refugees. Lebanon has over a million. For every 5 people in Lebanon, there’s a Syrian refugee!

And it’s not just Syria. This decade, we are watching the largest mass migration of refugees from Africa and the Middle East to Europe that the world has ever seen.

We don’t need to go overseas to see injustice. Indigenous people in Australia die younger than the general population. They have lower education, and higher incarceration rates. And despite all the money spent, we’re not getting on top of these issues.

The point of raising these issues it not to make us feel guilty, but to encourage us to rethink the way we approach justice issues. The question is, What can we do?

When we think of “justice” in our culture, we tend to think it’s the responsibility of government. In Western Australia, we have a Department of Justice to address the issues

For us, justice is a combination of:

  • politicians who outlaw unjust behaviour,
  • police to arrest the perpetrators of injustice,
  • courts and corrective services to prevent it recurring.

Now, I’m glad for these people. Anarchy doesn’t work: the bullies win. Police do help reduce the crime and injustice in our community. But seriously, these guys can’t create a culture of justice.

Justice cannot come through being imposed on people. Government cannot force justice on the community. It has a useful role to limit injustice, but justice can only come from the grass roots, from the community itself. We can’t outsource it!

There are some rather naïve views in our community of justice and how we achieve it. There’ve been several pop songs titled, If I ruled the world. The basic idea is that if I had it in my power, no one would go to bed hungry, there would be no wars, people would live in love and peace. I want to ask those songwriters, “How would you achieve this? Would you impose your will with an iron fist so that everyone has to do what you say? Do you realize there’s only a finite amount of resources on the planet for us all to share, so some might have to relinquish their ownership claims if everyone is to have some? How would you enforce this?”

Dictators forcing their will on others doesn’t solve the world’s problems. It’s often the people in power who cause the injustice.

  • In the 1700s, the French people recognized that and rose in revolution against their unjust rulers. They succeeded. But a power vacuum doesn’t work. A General from the army took control and imposed his will on the French, and on surrounding nations (Napolean).
  • In the 1800s, Karl Marx argued that the only way ordinary people can get a fair go is to revolt against those in power and forcibly redistribute power and wealth. The Russians followed his advice. But did it bring justice? They soon found themselves under other autocratic rulers like Stalin.

Justice does not come to a community by being imposed by dictators or governments. Thank God for governments, but they cannot bring peace and justice. In a democratic system, politicians do whatever will get them elected again.

Justice cannot be imposed. It has to be generated from the community. It has to be a grass-roots movement. It has to be something the community wants. It has to be a lifestyle the community chooses.

And that’s the trouble. Not everyone in the community will choose that lifestyle. As a result, it’s dangerous for those who do choose to live for peace and love and justice. They’re likely to get hurt. If you choose not to shoot someone who may shoot you, you may be shot. If you choose not to retaliate against an evil person, you’re likely to be hurt. This is a dangerous lifestyle choice!

But is it worth it? What would happen if some people lived that way while others didn’t? Play it forward. Would the evil people eventually wipe them out, so the whole world sank into chaos? Or would the seeds of justice gradually grow until community values spread to the whole world? Which way would it go?

And what’s it worth to try? Would bringing justice to the world be worth it if it cost you your life or your lifestyle to live it now?

Okay, I must admit this isn’t an original idea. There was a Jewish man in the first century who thought this was worth a try. He taught people to love their enemies. He spent his life wandering around the community bringing healing to people who were suffering. And he dared to speak out against the injustice of the leaders of his nation. Predictably, they killed him.

But today, 2000 years later, about one third of the people on planet earth look to this one guy for their inspiration. Back then, he was a nobody, a mere footnote in history compared to the Caesars who ruled the world. Today he’s a household name. Parents name their children by his friends’ names, while we name our dogs Caesar or Nero.

Was he right? Can justice come as a grassroots experience of people deciding to do right to each other in community, even if others don’t do right to us?

That may be the only way justice can come to our world. It cannot be imposed from above. It has to be generated by the community itself.

And that requires us to make some changes, to commit to share the planet, to share its resources, to give forgiveness to each other instead of demanding retribution.

Could living unilaterally in the broken world be the path to peace and healing? What do you think?


What others are saying

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 18-19:

In 2009 I (Dave) gathered a group of twenty lead pastors in the Denver area so we could think, dream, and pray about how our churches might join forces to serve our community. We invited our local mayor, Bob Frie, to join us, and we asked him a simple question: How can we as churches best work together to serve our city?

The ensuing discussion revealed a laundry list of social problems similar to what many cities face: at-risk kids, areas with dilapidated housing, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, elderly shut-ins with no one to look in on them. The list went on and on.

Then the mayor said something that inspired our joint-church movement: “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”

After the mayor left the meeting that day, our group of pastors was left to reflect on what he had shared. I (Jay) can remember sitting there, and before I could think, I just blurted out, “Am I the only one here who is a little bit embarrassed? I mean, here we were asking the mayor how we can best serve the city, and he basically tells us that it would be great if we could just get our people to obey the second half of the Great Commandment.” In a word, the mayor invited a roomful of pastors to get their people to actually obey Jesus.

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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