Why We Work for Justice
Why do we care about injustice? What gives us the grounds to say to someone else that what they are doing is wrong and that it must stop? The Christian responds to these questions by returning to the story of Scripture. In this story we find a wellspring for mercy and justice far deeper than corporate guilt or public relations or cultural imperialism. This story tells us things about God and humanity and creation that we may have suspected but never fully realized.
God created the heavens and the earth. He called it good. He made every living thing in both heaven and earth. And then He made Human. This much we know. But before you jump ahead to the bit about sin, ask yourself a question: Why did He make Human? Again you’ll have to momentarily silence the familiar chorus that “God made mankind to be in relationship with Him.” True. But Genesis doesn’t say that. What it does say is that God made mankind, first, to be in His image, and second, to reign. N. T. Wright explains it best:
[Creation] was designed as a project, created in order to go somewhere. The creator has a future in mind for it; and Human … is the means by which the creator is going to take his project forward.… The point of the project is that the garden be extended, colonizing the rest of creation; and Human is the creature put in charge of that plan.… God placed Human in the garden to reflect His image into the new world he was making—that is, to be the means, present and visible, whereby his own care of the garden and the animals would become a reality.
The goal of the first Humans was that, in fellowship and communion with God, they would be God’s image-bearers and bring His wise order and loving rule to the world.
Now we can get to the part we know. Adam and Eve sinned. They rebelled, and as a result of that rebellion, evil infected the cosmos. Jesus came and shared in our sufferings, took the worst blow Evil could give, and by rising again, defeated it, draining the poison from Evil’s sting and atoning for Humanity’s sin all in one triumphant stroke. Jesus, the God-Man, perfectly fulfilled the call of the first Human: He is the “image of the invisible God” and the world’s true King.
Now because of Him, the redeemed humanity—those who are in Him—recover the original vocation given to humans: to be priests and rulers. We share in the reign of Jesus, a reign that will result ultimately in the renewal of the whole world. One day, we will see a new heaven and a new earth. It is the clear hope we have for the future as glimpsed by John’s Revelation. The end of the story is like the beginning: God’s redeemed “new humanity” will reign with Him over His new heaven and new earth, joined together at last.
It is not simply about getting my soul saved. It is about getting humans back in right standing before God so that His work of new creation can begin in them and so that they then can bring His wise order and loving rule to the new world in the age to come. Any picture of salvation that is less than new creation in this sweeping sense is a bit anemic. To tell this Big Story as a set of spiritual laws is like explaining a Tchaikovsky symphony as a mathematical sequence of intervals: It may be true, but you’re losing the grandeur. To make the gospel only about personal salvation is like trying to replicate a Rembrandt on an Etch-A-Sketch: You may get the picture, but you’re missing the beauty.
Unless you grasp this broad framework of God’s first creation and the first humans’ role in it along with God’s new creation and the redeemed humanity’s role in it, you won’t know how to make sense of working to right injustice. You’ll think it’s all sort of good works that a Christian ought to do because Jesus said something or other about it. Or, worse, you’ll dismiss it as a mere social agenda like the man at church who said, “Please! Let’s not talk about human trafficking and helping the poor. Let’s get on with getting souls saved.” When all we’ve focused on is Jesus “dying for our sins so we can go to heaven,” it is difficult to know why we ought to care about injustice. But if you have a clear picture of how the story began and a compelling vision of its conclusion, the middle—our time on earth now—makes more sense.
If we believe that when “God redeems the whole creation, redeemed humans will play the key role, resuming the wise, healing sovereignty over the whole world for which God made them in the first place," then your view of the here and now begins to change.
When a Christian talks about helping the poor and extending mercy to the helpless, he is not engaging in a public-relations campaign, but he is reclaiming an Image; she is not imposing her cultural values on another region of the world, but she is recovering the call to carry blessing to all peoples. For the Christian, justice and mercy are not fashionable ideas that can fuel a clever campaign and give our church folks a sense of purpose and a nice feeling of fulfillment. Carrying hope to the hopeless, being a blessing to all peoples is our original design, a design now restored to us in Christ.
Why do we care about injustice? Because God’s new creation has begun in us. The work that God will do to remake earth and heaven has begun now in the renovation of our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Every time that renewing work spills out into beginning to set things right in our world, we are anticipating the kingdom that is coming. We are letting God’s will through us be “done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
In sports, players are taught to anticipate an opponent’s move. A good defensive back in football will study game film to anticipate where the opposing quarterback will throw the ball. He studies for hours and hours so that, on game day, he can anticipate it and “jump the route.” In basketball, when two teammates work on their chemistry, the one knows where to be at a particular moment; he is anticipating the pass. To anticipate is to go in advance: It is to go where the football is going before the quarterback releases it; it is to move without the basketball toward the basket because you know that’s where the pass will be. Anticipating, for the Christian, is all about doing in advance what you know will be done. It is learning to “live in the present in the light of God’s inbreaking future.”
The Church is called the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27). But the phrase is so familiar, it may have lost some of its zing. It be closer to Paul’s intent to say that we are “Messiah’s body,” the people through whom the Messiah, by His Spirit, is at work on the earth. The Spirit who anointed the Anointed One has anointed the Church; as anointed ones and the body of the Anointed One, we must ask: If the Messiah will set the world right, free the oppressed, end war—and do all the other things that Isaiah saw—when He returns, how should we live in the meantime? How does the Messiah continue to bring His Kingdom by the Spirit's power through the church here and now?
Every time we give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, every time every time we help the poor, every time we release people from oppression, we are announcing and anticipating the kingdom of God.
This is an adapted excerpt from LUCKY: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People.