When one is discussing a book with the title The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor, it goes without saying that the book is probably going to deal with people who are downtrodden, people who have serious needs.
How do people become downtrodden? The pathways to that type of life are as varied as all the humans on the face of the earth. Some find themselves in dire straits due to their own choices, but that is not always the case. Some find themselves the victims of injustice; they suffer due to the injustice of others in power.
That is a tough word…injustice. As a Christian, where do I fit in the picture when my neighbor is the victim of injustice? What should I do? God has total control of our world so why do I have to do anything to correct wrongs that our society has put upon my neighbor? What does the Bible say about correcting societal wrongs?
Well it turns out that there is a lot in the Bible about injustice. The writer of Proverbs says “The Lord detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please Him.” As I write this, I am serving jury duty and when I go to the Criminal Justice Center in my community I see a large sculpture of lady justice [Fermida], an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems. Her attributes are a blindfold, a balance, and a sword. Of course the blindfold personifies impartiality, the scales mean that she responds to the weight of arguments pro and con and the sword represents authority. The whole sculpture is to say that individuals who encounter our American justice system are supposed to get a “fair shake.”
But we all know that our worldly justice system can have its flaws.
Isaiah 59: 14-15 says “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” God even says that the Israelites were to “loose the chains of injustice.” All this was written in a time when Judah was struggling under the weight of injustice.
Since Pastor Labberton has written so much about the human heart, it is important to acknowledge that humans do unjust things all the time. We show partiality, we judge others and we just sometimes lack the love God would like for us to exhibit. We exhibit incongruent behaviors. When we make mistakes, we are quick to point out the reasons and we expect others to quickly forgive us. We are not that charitable to others, accusing them of grievous errors and holding them up to harsh judgement. Maybe that is due to the fact that we are mere humans, all falling short of the glory of God.
Maybe the only way to escape injustice is to accept the fact that we are inherently unjust. We are all sinners due to “the fall” so we have no right to claim that we are purveyors of justice in our everyday lives.
What is wrong is to act like injustice does not occur. As Christians, we can turn our backs and say “let God take care of it,” but this flies in the face of God’s idea about social justice. He expects us to care for the poor in an individual way. Each of us is challenged to do what we can to help the “least of these.”
A further challenge is to work through the political system to right some of the wrongs we encounter in life. It seems to me that Christians can lose their way when they are pawns in the games that politicians play, where individuals can get lost in a tangle of policies having to do with political, economic or civil rights. The American Declaration of Independence entitles us to certain inalienable rights but like the criminal justice system mentioned above, our system of democracy has it flaws.
We all turn on our televisions and watch political leaders grapple with large-scale problems but are we to join them in the fray to right society’s wrongs? We can try as long as we realize there is a difference between a God-centered approach to social justice and a man-centered approach to social justice.
Sometimes I supplement the comments I make on certain books with information from Christian-based websites and one of my favorites is Got Questions.org. The author of the article on “What the Bible says about Social Justice” writes “The man-centered approach sees government in the role of savior, bringing in a utopia through government policies. The God-centered approach sees Christ as Savior, bringing heaven to earth when He returns. At His return, Christ will restore all things and execute perfect justice. Until then, Christians express God’s love and justice by showing kindness and mercy to those less fortunate.”
We can all relinquish our responsibility to help those who have suffered injustice to the criminal justice system and let politicians correct the wrongs we see in life. After all, they are in charge of implementing policies that can help large numbers.
I wonder about that attitude. Sometimes correcting injustice is a very personal matter. I may not be able to affect the economic system on a large scale, I can’t give powerless people political power and make serious adjustments to our class system but I can be the heart and hands of God as I help my neighbor in ways that are tangible. When I see need and have the means to help, I can give. When I see a lack of information and I have the information that others need, I can share. When I see someone who just needs love and acceptance, I can give that.
I believe that God expects that of me: “love your neighbor as yourself.”