Ethics & Morality Evil & Suffering politics

Cruciform Justice 6: Between ‘The Rock’ & A Hard Place

BRINGING GOD INTO THE MIX

cruciformjustice1As indispensable as justice and peace are to a world of suffering and injustice, are these the highest goods worth striving for or dedicating our lives to?

A biblically minded Christian must answer ‘No.’ For those who find their lives within the redemptive narrative of the creator and redeemer God of Israel, there is still a higher good to strive after. Justice and peace find their home in the heart, mind and purposes of the all-powerful, all-wise, all-good Creator God. Justice and peace must be sought and experienced within the context of a still more significant covenant relationship with God.

In fact, as Walter Burghardt argues, “the biblical idea of justice can be described as fidelity to the demands of a relationship. Justice was a whole web of relationships that stemmed from Israel’s covenant with God.” Lasting peace (shalom), as well, is found only as one’s world is brought into harmony (i.e., shalom) with God’s creative design and redemptive purposes found in Christ (Rom 5:1; John 14:27; Col 3:15). In other words, the truly good life is found not in securing our own rights, our own goods, or our own securities by our own finite power; but rather is found as we find ourselves in loving fellowship with people whose ultimate good is resting securely in the arms of the God whose infinite power and wisdom are guiding history toward his desired ends—his just and peaceful ends.

BETWEEN ‘THE ROCK’ AND A SANDY PLACE

The New Testament teaches that any Christian social ethic attempting to address the world’s problems with faithfulness and obedience to Christ ought to be “built on the rock” of Christ’s teachings (Matt 7:24). Yet this is the very lesson that many well-meaning Christians have failed to learn. Many have instead fashioned their moral programs and social ethics upon the shifting sands of human wisdom; and each time the rains of injustice and suffering “poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell” (Matt 7:27). The world’s wisdom proves over and over again to be foolishness in eyes of the crucified God. As the scripture says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars” (1 Cor 1:19).

Many of us therefore live somewhat awkwardly with one foot on ‘the rock’ of Christ’s cross-shaped teachings and the other in the sinking sands of social pragmatism and human diplomacy. On the one hand, we tirelessly chase after our own perceived goods, using our own human power, and ultimately coming into conflict with others in their own pursuit of the same goods. On the other hand, we give lip service to God and convince ourselves that He is in control even though we are pushing all the buttons. In actuality, we have designed the machine, chosen the tasks to be performed and at the last minute we ask God to sponsor our creation, provide the fuel to run it, and give it a supernatural nudge to get it moving.

In the struggle for justice and peace, I refer to the entire Constantinian legacy of those who, like Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority Party, or many well-intended Christian conservatives, have chosen to ally themselves with the political powers and instruments of the world with hopes of establishing a just and moral world.

Jerry Falwell’s goal of calling apathetic Christians back to moral living rooted in biblical principles is to be commended. However, his conviction that America is somehow endowed with a special calling (much like Israel’s) to usher in God’s peaceful and just reign by means of Christianizing its political structures is to be criticized and ultimately rejected upon further inspection. He mistakenly opts for humanly powered, worldly means to achieve an eternal end that can only be divinely manifested. For instance, if America is going to stand for God’s justice, then, according to Falwell,

We must, from the highest office in the land right down to the shoeshine boy in the airport, have a return to biblical basics. If the congress of the United States will take its stand on that which is right and wrong, and if our President, our judiciary system, and our state and local leaders will take their stand on holy living, we can turn this country around.10

Falwell recognized that God is ultimately the one who brings blessings or curses to a nation, and he rightly holds free human agents largely responsible for which future comes. Still he unfortunately insists that the human efforts to secure justice, morality, peaceful existence—i.e., the good life—can be accomplished by tweaking and manipulating already established human power structures—government leaders, the judiciary system, and so on. As Cal Thomas puts it, “Jesus emptied himself of power that was rightfully his. We try to fill ourselves with power that belongs to the world and seek to usher in the kingdom not of this world by using tools that are of this world.”

It is at this point where I want to enter the debate and suggest an alternative approach to seeking justice and peace in the midst of suffering and violence. The church’s response to suffering and its struggle for justice must take more seriously the world-altering, value-flipping event of the cross. The struggle for justice and peace must be cruciform if it is to be truly Christian.

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