One the workshops at the Living Water Retreat this year was a social justice workshop led by Tommy. As our world gets smaller and more connected, we become more aware of the lives and circumstances of people in other places by hearing and reading about them in world news, blogs, and podcasts. As this happens, it’s pretty natural to think about what can be done to make the world a better place. Social justice is an increasing topic of discussion and it’s certainly something I’ve been thinking about.
Tommy started by asking simply, “What is social justice?” I think that’s an important question. Restoring order or righting wrongs is pointless if we don’t understand what we are working towards. Pastor Frank put it very well when he reminded us that as Christians, we have been given a picture of what a restored world looks like- God’s coming kingdom where peace is restored and man lives in completeness with God and harmony with man. The Hebrew word for this is Shalom. It’s a greeting that not only means peace, but also has a meaning of completeness, or wholeness. When Nehemiah heard of the desolate wall of Jerusalem, he wept and mourned because it did not reflect what the kingdom of God should be and he prayed for it to be restored.
For me, framing my thoughts of social justice in terms of the kingdom has been so incredibly helpful. Instead of just getting angry with ethnic cleansing in Darfur, or disgusted by poll violence in Zimbabwe, or frustrated with Jews and Palestinians fighting to claim the same piece of land, I now have a concrete, specific thing to pray for: that God would bring about his kingdom in this broken world.
Now, at first this doesn’t seem that different than praying for what now seems sadly cliche: “peace in the middle east”. It’s a phrase that’s been repeated so much and yet seems so far away that it might as well be a trite saying that describes weather. But a kingdom prayer is very different. Instead of trying to figure out if this policy or that policy is better, instead of wondering how to pray for the decades of change that need to happen, instead of being overwhelmed by the destruction and evil that man is capable of, I can begin with a simple prayer for God’s transforming power to change hearts - to change men - and bring about a lasting shalom. Oh, God, that you would do that!
That’s not to say that all the details don’t need to be worked out. A lot of difficult work needs to be done and tough decisions need to be made. But for me, that’s where I start praying and start thinking about the tough questions.
Once we have a picture of where we need to be and we understand the goal, we need to start engaging the world and become part of the conversation. Justice and social justice is a societal agreement of ethics and morality- of right and wrong. As Christians, we need to be involved in creating that agreement. We can and we must be a part of shaping our understanding of what justice is and how it can be implemented in our governments and our communities. Our voice is not too small; your contributions are not insignificant. Society is made up of individuals, and the contributions of those individuals defines that society. We shape our society. Not just with our vote every 4 years, but by our participation in our local communities and by taking our part in the national and world discussion.
That discussion is the hard part. Hopefully it’s obvious that our role is not to force our ideas of a kingdom world onto society. In the Bible, God has laid out laws and rules for governing the nation of Israel. And the world would do well to take up those laws. But we live in a fallen world, and forcing all of God’s laws onto it when there is no relationship with God would be counter-productive, I imagine. But the challenge is bringing the hope we have in the coming kingdom to our world.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
Not sure what to pray for?
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Yogurt because of its probiotics. Probiotics because of the antibiotics. Antibiotics beauase I’m sick!