Monday, December 18, 2017
Is justice inevitable? Is it true, as Theodore Parker (a Unitarian minister) first said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice!” One sees a touch of realism in that statement, that to get to justice we will have to wait quite a while. There is also a touch of optimistic idealism, or even fatalism, that the force of morality is heading in a positive direction.
Idealism is a slander used against Christianity, usually by Marxists and certainly non-believers. Christians affirm that we are idealists, but only in the sense that we think prophecy and Scripture, via the revelation of God himself, is not chance or luck, but certainty. The Reverend Parker’s statement however seems to be an echo of Christianity, almost there, but not quite. He has its optimism, without its certainty. Maybe he has its hope, but based on what?
In the Christmas season we sometimes hear this passage from Isaiah 42…
“Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. [There it is!] he will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. [There it is again!] He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coast lands wait for his law.” (verses 1-4).
If this is true, then Jesus, the one about whom this passage promises, “will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth…” Now that is a reason for optimism, and hope, and endurance. I take it that this means Jesus will not stop till His work is done. So, how is he going to do that exactly? Is this solely the work of his Second Coming? Is this a passage about trusting in the power of God to finally, completely, and inevitably bring about justice in the earth, by his power and intervention?
And does that mean that the only thing we need is the faith to believe it? That in spite of the centuries of war, of invasions, oppression, slavery, racism, colonialism, genocide, and the rape, pillaging, execution, and dehumanizing of one’s person, family, people, clan, ethnicity, and nation by other human beings we are simply to wait in constant faith? Is this supposed to give us contentment, peace, and some kind of consolation as we bury the bodies?
The Reverend Parker was an abolitionist. This means he was an activist of sort, not someone who was content to simply wait for that “institution” to outlive its usefulness. He wanted to be an agent of justice, to be an agent of bending that moral arc toward the correct inclination.
As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, as a believer that we are the body of Christ on earth, as a believer that as God is a God of justice so also his people are to be people of justice, that as the Church of Jesus Christ we are to proclaim the Kingdom of God throughout the earth, and that we are to make disciples of every ethnic group, and that as the Church we are to teach these disciples “everything that I have commanded you,” then the task of Jesus in pursuing and completing justice in the earth is also our task.
We do this with a certain hard faced realism about that task, its difficulty, its horrendous price of martyrdom, its discouraging and frustrating delay, but also with a faith beyond our abilities, determination, and patience. Our trust in the triumph of justice is because we rest in the triumph of Christ. Our energy is found in confidence that he will accomplish some of that work through us. As Isaiah puts it, “he will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.” “The earth,” the place where we live, in the place that needs justice so desperately, the Lord Jesus is on campaign. It is a place where we do grow faint, fall apart, panic, throw up our hands, and curse the world and others. Yet Jesus does not, and therefore as he lives in us, we will not.
I just want to encourage you. The work of Jesus is the work of justice, and it is going to happen no matter what anybody’s army says about it. We need to be about his work, preaching the Gospel, making disciples, speaking truth, living the Kingdom, until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth like the waters cover the sea. It is going to take time; that is what that little word “till” means. That word also means that there will be a definite conclusion to the matter, and that is when the world is finally healed from its sorrow, turmoil, and pain.