Tag Archives: Mercy

When Justice is Silent

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.

 

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Make us into People of the Ascension

For you, O Lord, see the tears of the widowed, the sobs that overtake them when the rest of us are not looking.

You see the disorientation in which so many people live every day—confusion borne of war, poverty, abuse, or chronic illness.

You see the people in dead-end jobs who trudge to work every day filled with so much despair that they can hardly breathe.

You see those who search a loved one’s eyes for traces of love but find only an empty stare. As Lord of the earth, you spy every instance of one person cutting another to the quick, every place where a child lives in fear, every bar where someone tries to drown their sorrows.

Yet you are our world’s every hope. You are tender enough to weep with those who weep and yet strong enough to lend comfort and not be consumed with the sorrows that overwhelm us.

You are discerning enough to see where our lives run off the rails and yet gracious enough to forgive our foolishness and open again the better path that leads into your kingdom.

You are the bright centre to all of life, O God! Your lordship helps us glimpse our future with you in your kingdom, even as it points the way home.

Make us into people of the ascension, Christ Jesus!

Make us your hands of mercy, your voice of grace, your presence of love.

Whatever we do, whether in word or deed; whatever we see, whether sinful or salacious; whatever we hear, whether uplifting or depressing; whatever we face in this world, help us to face it in your power and with the knowledge of your grace and goodness.

Help us to be gentle with prodigal children. Help us to be stalwart in the truth with people in love with lies. Help us to be radiant with hope with people who fear death.

Help us to be your people, Lord God.

For today, as always, this world needs your shalom-filled presence. Bring peace to war-torn places and help people everywhere to see in one another your image.

May those who delight in the paths of suicide and destruction be turned instead to delight in life and in mutual flourishing. End the terror in which so many live, and thwart the dreams of those who plot still more terror on the unsuspecting.

Where there is hunger, bring bread; where there is drought and thirst, send refreshing rains; where there is hatred, bring your peace; where there is greed, bring your own fullness and so turn appetites run amok away from short-term pleasures toward things that last and that foster richness and plenty for all.

We are the people of your ascension and reign, Holy Christ of God. Whatever we do, help us never to forget who we are, whose we are, and where true joy may be found.

In the power and blessing of your name we pray. Amen.

(I found this prayer somewhere on the internet.  Used it to close out our Story telling nights last year but as usual forgot to note where I found it.  But it is pasted to our fridge if that helps at all)

Book Review: The Irresistible Revolution

I realise this review (in hindsight I am not sure this even qualifies as a review) is about five years after everyone else has probably read the book.  But it is one of the occupational hazards of being a incurable non-conformist… if everyone is reading it then I almost always don’t want to.

The book made such an indelible impression on me in a couple of ways that I thought I would scribble down my thoughts anyway.

This is generally an easy read, a bit repetitive at times, a bit circular in theme and logic at times.  It reads more like a story but a story with a definite agenda.  The theology is at times a bit wonky and at other times down right dodgy.  With a few good bits mixed in.  Although both Claiborne and I would calls ourselves evangelical I am not sure we would both agree on what that meant.  I suspect Claiborne has jigged the term a bit to his own end.  Tim Challies has a mostly decent review that looks at some of the theological problems a bit more.

The impact of the book for me is that here is a guy who tangibly puts his life at the service of his theology.  Here is a guy that has read his Bible and come to an understanding about what it means to follow Jesus and now he is doing it.  Again I do not agree with all of his thinking or actions but you cannot deny that here is a Christian who has put it all on the line to follow Jesus.

My biggest frustration after reading this book is less with Shane Claiborne (although there is quite a bit of that too!) but with those of us who have a better theology, a more robust theology than Claiborne.

Critique his theology all we like (and critique we must!) but let us ask ourselves what is the fruit of our better theology?  If Claiborne with his wonky theology can serve the poor, seek justice for the oppressed, move into the forgotten areas of our city and live and love there, practice community at a deep level, welcome the outsider, feed the hungry, question the rampant commercialism of our societies and then follow Jesus in counter-cultural ways that actually display the love, mercy and justice of the Kingdom of God. And there are some great stories of this in the book…

Then surely we who have better theology should be doing the kinds of things Claiborne is doing but just better, deeper and richer.  As our theology outstrips his so should our practice…

If we believe what we say we believe… then we ought to know better than him dammit…

Why should I have to read a book filled with wonky theology to be inspired to follow Jesus more radically and counter-culturally.

I am surrounded by those with better theology and yet our track record is terrible in most of the ways Claiborne and his community is brilliant – justice, mercy, community, serving the poor and  moving into the forgotten or undesirable areas of our city.