South Africa, it feel like, is often on the brink of another violent protest. The poor and the marginalized are frustrated. Their voice is not being heard. They are being ignored. As a result they resort to violence or vandalism in order to get a hearing. Most often it works. Even if it is only to get the politicians to argue about whose fault it is. This same philosophical dilemma was debated in the 1960’s between the older ANC members and the young firebrands like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. In South Africa, we celebrate the results of their decision to engage in the armed struggle. The ends it seems have justified the means. I suspect among Christians this may be something of another elephant in the room.
When you are not being heard through the normal channels, do you do whatever it takes to get those with the power to listen? And if these actions gain you a hearing or a victory are these actions then made righteous because of the favourable outcome?
I get it! On purely rational or even emotional grounds these arguments resonate with me. But the biblical reaction, I suspect, is something altogether different.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), for instance, Jesus clearly says, that our righteous acts alone are not enough to make us just in the eyes of the law. It is not enough that we do good deeds we must also desire to do that good. It is not enough to not murder someone rather we must love them, even our enemies. It is not enough not to commit adultery rather we must be pure in heart. True righteousness, are righteous acts fuelled by righteous desires. Neither grudging righteous acts nor unrighteous acts in order to achieve righteous goals fit the criteria for true biblical righteousness.
Jesus’ words in Mark 7:14-23 make it clear that anger, pride and violence come from the unrighteous desires of our heart. Our actions are the overflow of our heart. If our actions are evil that is because our motives and desires are evil. Unrighteous actions cannot come from a heart that is righteous or which desires righteous outcomes. If the means to bring about the result are unrighteous then the result cannot be righteous. Even if the outcome is the desired outcome or the outcome benefits people – it cannot be regarded by God as righteousness.
A robust belief in the sovereignty of God confronts us with the reality that it is not all up to us. In other words Christians cannot partake in this type of thinking that believes that if we do not stand up for ourselves and make ourselves heard then no one will do it on our behalf. Or which says we must force them to listen to us, because if we do not do it then no one will.
So what do we do, when we are not being heard? When everything within us cries out for us to force ourselves to be heard? Do we “sell our soul” to commit injustice in order to fight injustice?
No, we go to the one who sees the injustice. To the one who always hears, always sees and always listens. We fall on our knees before our Heavenly Father, crying out for mercy, for justice and in repentance for our own hearts filled with violence and evil desires.
We petition the one who has all the power to soften the hearts of those in power, to calm the restless spirits of those who would resort to violence. We pray that we may persevere to do what is right even when it feels foolish and powerless. We trust that God sees, God hears, God acts and He will do what is right.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Will we trust God’s unseen hand at work today in the midst of chaos and uncertainty?
Too often, when the pressure is on, our theology is revealed, and it is revealed to be man-centred and not God centred. We are found to be those who trust in the immediacy of the hand of man rather than the seemingly hidden hand of God.
All true theology is cross-shaped. The cross demonstrates once and for all that God takes injustice seriously. At the cross God has dealt decisively with injustice. Wicked and unjust acts do not escape punishment. And not only the institutional or systemic injustice against which we protest but also the self-centred injustice that lurks within our own hearts.
The paradox of the cross is that whilst God takes injustice seriously, he is also the one who, in mercy, lays down his own life, in order to redeem us from the consequences of our sin. At the cross we see justice and mercy hand in hand.
It is the cross which must drive all our thoughts and actions against injustice. Work hard against injustice, cry out for change, lay down your finances, your time, your comforts and your preferences in order to bring about change. Get involved in change in your community. But fight to remember that a fight for justice must always come from a heart that knows and extends mercy. Mercy not only to those who are victims but also to those who are the perpetrators. That is the scandal of grace. Grace offers humanity, forgiveness and love to those who would dehumanise, humiliate and oppress.
When we remember the cross we are compelled to cry out, not only for the victims but the oppressors also. We must ask ourselves what does it mean to bless, to serve and to love, not only the victims but the oppressors too. We cannot dehumanise, demonise or hate those who are as much the recipients of Jesus grace and mercy as those whose needs we feel. The way of the cross is a mystery, a paradox, an unnatural, uncomfortable, irrational way of following Jesus who holds grace and mercy together as he builds his Kingdom of peace, healing, justice, mercy and forgiveness.