A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon on Luke 18:1-8, one of Jesus’ many parables. The story he tells his disciples, in brief, goes like this: A widow goes to a judge in order to get justice from her adversary. Unfortunately, the judge is a cranky, perhaps corrupt, old guy who doesn’t respect God or men, and he could really care less whether she actually gets justice or not. Despite his apathy, she keeps persevering, and is eventually granted justice by the judge just because he had gotten sick of her perpetual nagging. Jesus concludes the story by reminding his disciples that if a widow can get justice from an uncaring judge, how much more is God our Father ready and willing to answer His children’s cries for justice on the earth!
Well, needless to say, I was excited when the pastor finished reading this passage: “Wow, this is so great! A passage on the importance of persistently seeking justice, and God’s faithfulness in answering our prayers! Now the pastor will tell us all about God’s heart for justice and remind us what role the church has in seeking justice on earth!”
My enthusiasm was short-lived.
The pastor continued his sermon with an acknowledgement that our lives are tough, and sometimes things don’t work out like we’d like them to. He told us of the troubles he’s had as the owner of two homes, trying to keep up with the mortgage payments on the one here in Idaho while being unable to sell the first one in Michigan because of the economy. He concluded that although these things are tough, if we just keep asking God to help us, it’ll be better soon.
By this time, I was fuming internally. “I can’t believe it! He just took this inspiring, call-to-arms passage about courage, justice, passion, and God’s faithfulness and reduced it to a mere reminder to pray more often for what we want. How consumerist, how completely short-sighted, how American!” Granted, in hindsight, I was probably too harsh on the pastor. As my parents gently reminded me on the way home, pastors preach on what their congregation needs to hear, and for all I know, maybe this particular group of Christians does need to hear again that God is big enough to answer their prayers and supply their needs/wants.
But, this brief internal burst of frustration did remind me again of the importance of definitions. If you’re familiar with my generation, you know that we have a certain penchant for the phrase ‘social justice.’ We throw it around a LOT, and use it to describe all sorts of things. I could spend a whole blog post talking about the nuances in our ideas of social justice, but my point right now, is this: I don’t think the American church at-large knows how to define the Biblical concept of justice.
Too often in our minds, justice is simply what happens when the world works like we think it should – which can include things as big as bringing freedom to the 27 million people enslaved around the world today, and things as little as getting our money’s worth for a meal at a restaurant. And so our understanding of justice is too-often cheapened, diminished, and easily dismissed. As long as the American church keeps operating with a haphazard, generic definition for justice, it’s not surprising that we hear sermons which reduce justice to mere fulfillment-of-what-you want.
So, my fellow Christians, Americans, young 20-somethings, justice-seekers, whatever you are: figure out what you mean by justice. Leave a comment on my blog if you wish to share (I know you all have good things to say, and I promise I’ll be more gracious with you than with I was with the pastor!) 😉 Later this week I’ll post a blog on my understanding of Biblical justice – I figured you should know what I mean when I talk about justice, since I’ll probably be throwing that word around a lot for the next 12 months. 🙂