justice and the gospel
Recently, I’ve been blessed enough to have several very talented writers contribute to the blog as part of a larger conversation about modern articulations of Christianity. Common topics are social justice, the gospel, and reconciliation, although if you are interested in being a part of this discussion and wish to write on something else, that’s awesome. Please send me an email at email@example.com if you have anything you’d like to contribute.
Without further ado, I present to you the first such submission, a thoughtful discussion on “justice and the gospel” by Mr. Robert Maeder.
Justice and the Gospel
Whenever I hear someone use the word “justice” or the word “social justice” my tendency is to cringe. For me, the use of these words raises more questions than it does answers. However, these are good things, worthy pursuits. How can we move away from this knee-jerk cringe reflex? My contention is that when we explore questions of justice as Christians, we should go through two broad phases of thought before moving to action. Both of these phases are indicative, which means they tell us something about who we are before God. These phases also come before imperatives, that is, telling Christians what to do.
The thought motivates the action, as much as “I love my dog” precedes “I will pet him.” Someone who was told “pet your dog” without the “love your dog” information would merely be a slave. Too often, Christians are encouraged to do good outside of a trusting relationship with God. When this happens, Christian service becomes dark, dreary duty. When Christians think about who they are in relation to God, Christian service starts to show growth and grace. My old pastor described these two phases briefly as “Oh no!” and “Oh my!” Let’s look at them briefly and see how they change our fundamental orientation towards justice. That way, instead of cringing, we can move forward boldly.
Briefly defined, justice is getting what one deserves. When we talk about this spiritually, at the dawn of the creation of man, we were created wonderfully, as a recipient of God’s goodness in a variety of forms (food, wisdom, holiness, fulfilling labor). Though still made in God’s image, after the fall we deserve one thing: “[sure] death” (Gen 2:17). This is a promise of death which is passed to us through Adam, and much sin flows from our fallen natures and our binding to the flesh.
Be careful, then, what you wish for. If you turn to God, as a fallen individual, and ask for justice and God gives it to you, you will receive a nice, crisp, zapping. If you do the same with regards to social justice, everything you have will be taken from you for “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps 24:1). We deserve every social ill that we have, economic, structural, power, and otherwise.
This is bad news. The world, and all of Adam’s descendants are in big trouble. The world chose and still chooses to live apart from Him and the world is getting what they’ve chosen, a life apart from God, and all of the terrible things which flow from being under the dominion of the Devil, a part of the “world” that God is in the process of declaring to be guilty (John 16:8). How is this thorny problem solved?
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in complete unity to solve our imminent death and bring themselves glory. Christ came to earth, a humbled human, lived the life that we needed to live instead of the one we have, and died the death that we deserve to receive but have avoided due to God’s forbearance and mercy. He also had power over the grave, defeating death, and now rules with God. Some people say that God’s love for us is unconditional. I prefer to use two different words. I prefer to say that in some ways it is ‘conditional,’ and in other ways it’s ‘contra-conditional.’ God’s love to us is conditional upon Christ’s work mentioned above: we need a righteous savior. Christ MUST die, or else we are doomed, so God’s love is very conditional. In another way, with regard to our works, it’s contra-conditional. We have produced nothing but foulness before God, and yet he loved us and sent his Son to die for us. Despite who we are, we are loved, hence ‘contra-conditional.’
In Adam, justice is death. In Christ, justice means life, because of his sacrifice (1 Cor 15:22). So, in order to give people the justice that they want, we must show forth Christ, what he’s done for loathsome sinners like you and like me. Justice is satisfied by Christ. Now, when we go and ask Christ for justice, we can expect good things for humanity, because Christ died for the benefit of his sheep, and works all things to their good (Rom. 8:28). When we see how much Christ loved us, we can lend money without expecting to see it back, we can hold off on conspicuous materialism because this world is not our home, and we can love any unrepentant sinner without condoning their sin, because Christ loved us without condoning our choices.
On top of it all, when we see someone who is downtrodden, when we see systematic abuses of power, when we see sex slavery, and all of the wrongs of this world, we can address the problem fully armed. To use an idiom, we can bring guns to the knife fight. Rather than meager humans chipping away at the tower of oppression with our fingernails, we bring a mighty savior who WILL right all wrongs (Rev. 21:4). Now we go into our fight with the worldly powers with confidence, hope, and love. We were pulled kicking and screaming from the very same injustices which we see perpetrated in the world, and maybe God will use us to draw others from their impending death. Then instead of dying to righteousness and living in sin, we can live to righteousness and die to sin. That is the true life and freedom which everyone needs. That, my friends, is a thing of beauty, which will overflow from everyone who sees exactly how mighty their savior is.
“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
and great shall be the peace of your children.
In righteousness you shall be established;
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
If anyone stirs up strife,
it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
shall fall because of you.
Behold, I have created the smith
who blows the fire of coals
and produces a weapon for its purpose.
I have also created the ravager to destroy;
no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”
This week’s guest post was written by Robert Maeder, the youth pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Hillsborough, NJ.
Rob was raised in Cape Town, South Africa and Silver Spring, MD. His father is a brilliant bioinformaticist and his mother is a magnificent music teacher. He is proud of his only sister Liz, who is an astute architect.
Rob, who recently became a U.S. citizen, studied Philosophy and Political Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, receiving a double major in those fields. During college, Rob was involved with KCM, IVCF, Manna, Navs, and RUF teaching Bible studies for IVCF and KCM (Korean Campus Ministry). A week after graduating he and Suzanne Maeder were joined together in marriage. Suzi has worked as an excellent English teacher since graduating.
Rob received his MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington DC, after four years. During these four years, he interned at Wallace PCA as a youth director. He started at Crossroads almost immediately after super-storm Sandy hit in 2012, and hopes to be ordained soon.