All of humanity dreams of justice, not many however are willing for justice to live with them. For the Christian, justice can be a confusing word. Illustratively, a recent London conference that I participated in, saw our group want to focus on the externalisation of justice. Justice as politics, as public morality, justice as legal constitution or the criminal justice system and its restorative or retributional elements.
Certainly in Britain we have a strong tradition of Christians invading the public arena and ushering in social change for the betterment of the poor and society at large. Trade Unions, The Christian Socialist Movement, the Social Reformers like Shaftesbury and Cadbury, the abolitionists like St Patrick and Wilberforce. The creation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the founders of the National Health Service all give witness to the power of an individual or a groups conviction in Gods justice giving rise to social change that led to a more equitable society.
Interestingly the one area of the public arena where Christians seem to be left behind is in shaping the global environmental movement, but even here, there are exciting developments emerging that may just puncture the British narrative and begin to drive the agenda. This narrative being rooted in the confession that God is the Creator and we as the created have a due diligence to care for, not exploit, our world for the common good. However these are the fruits, not the roots of the great river of justice that flows from heaven to earth.
For our group, the default position concerning justice was to digest the word justice as though it was an external reality, a law, a rule that I must obey and be imposed. The ultimate sanction being the removal of civil freedoms and in some cases state sponsored executions. The role of the Christian in this process was to act as a mitigating force for the extremes of injustice, and to in some way campaign for our beliefs. Yet when pushed we struggled to land a definition of what makes our view of justice distinct and unique for both personal life as well as a major force in the shaping of a just and equitable society.
As a follower of Jesus, this challenge of pursuing Gods justice has been a defining expression of what I believe God has called me to be. It has equally at times, become a burden, idol and obstacle to my maturing in my faith. How does one fulfill this primary mandate to ‘follow Christ’ whilst maintaining a just interaction with the world? Below I will aim to outline some of the understanding that I have gleaned over the years of working alongside people who are very much at the front line of out working Gods justice in countries as diverse as Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Sierra Leone and the UK. Drawing primarily from St Johns Gospel, I want to demonstrate the idea that without a contemplative foundation to ones spirituality, activism cannot find its fullest expression in whatever arena we may be active.
The Incarnation of God in the man Jesus is an extension of the Divine personhood and presents me with an immediate window through which to understand Justice. I should of course caveat this point with a basic assumption, that Jesus is the Son of God (John i v18, 34) as John the Baptist confessed. As a member of humanity (John i v14) he was equally divine (John i v1-2) and I have come to understand this to mean that to be God is also to be fully human. Jesus as a human, must be the distinctive and unique authority in all matter of social and creational ethics. For him not to be authoritative in these matters would be to deny the divinity and humanity of Christ. He fully inhabited this planet and a body. Jesus is the centre of worship, faith and of course practice.
Assuming this as I do, I reflect on the incarnation of God as an act of intentional communication as to these social and creational priorities. The word becoming flesh and living among us (John i v14) shows us that Jesus is the Word and the two are inseparable (John i v1) How God chooses to do something is as authoritative for the follower of Christ as the fact of God being God and due our devotion and adoration. What does this teach me in regards to Gods justice and perfect plan for redemption and cosmic reconciliation?
At this point I find myself having to reflect on the Holy Trinity. St John’s discourse throughout chapter one gives me one of clearest visual illustrations of the perfect community that is the Godhead (John 1 v32-33). Here I have a picture of God’s perfect world of mutual love, appreciation, submission and creativity. To use a negative theological approach for a moment, there is no fracture, social alienation, abuse, crime, power distortion or use of coercion and violence in what John the Baptist witnessed at the baptism of Jesus. There is no injustice in the character and nature of God. It is creative mutuality at its most intense and sublime. As God breaks into the world that moral consistent signature is extended to the world we inhabit (Colossians 1 v19-20).
The arrival of Jesus is therefore both illuminating of the world that receives Him as well as authoritative for us who wish to worship God in the light and truth of the Son of Man.
In a separate post I will look to develop this incarnational principle.