Do you know what Merriam Webster’s 2018 Word of the Year was?
When I heard it, it gave me instant pause. Their 2018 Word of the Year was “justice.”
Out of all the tens of thousands of English words, “justice.”
I don’t know about you, but for way too many reasons to count, “justice” doesn’t feel to me like a theme I’d use to describe our world in any recent history. “Justice” for much of the wrongdoing that makes our world unjust seems elusive or impossible.
You may be shaking your head and wagging a finger at me right now. I get it. Merriam Webster’s Word of the Year is not meant to be a label for the year in culture; it is the statement of statistical fact – public proclamation of the most looked-up word online in the 12-month period of a calendar year. In 2018 that most-looked up word was “justice.” I hear you. I get how it works.
Still, this statistical statement begs qualitative questions that drive me back to both our culture and our hearts: why did we look up “justice” 74% more times in 2018 than in 2017? What were we trying to understand or rationalize? What events happened that made us question the essence of justice? What teachers, authors, celebrities, political figures, family members and friends prompted unsettled discussions on the nature of justice? What realm(s) of justice – social, racial, political, criminal or economic – were we most concerned about? Were we searching out of technical, ethical, philosophical or spiritual motivation? Why did we suddenly care so much about what justice is? More importantly, what are we doing with what we learned? Are we fighting for change? Can caring and working hard even change the pervasion of injustice?
Exhale with me.
For all my pondering, I don’t have all those answers – or even a few. I only know my own heart has ached over injustices on the largest and minutest of scales this past year and beyond.
I’ve ached for the assaulted, abused, bullied, persecuted, discriminated and enslaved. For starving, impoverished children. For genocide and gang violence victims. For war-torn villages. For burnt down, raging storm-wiped out neighborhoods. For families separated for any reason. For those that didn’t live through a shooting or car wreck or cancer while others next to them did. On a far, far more trivial level, for the things I wanted, worked for and thought I deserved but didn’t get.
In aching for injustice I ached for justice to be served and in this I don’t believe I am unique.
Whatever the launching point of question, whatever the realm of application, whatever the level of motivation and concern and ensuing action or non-action, I believe our collective desire in searching the word “justice” over and over had to be a common longing to see and experience justice meted out in some way and place. To see it alive and active. To see right and what we deem “fair” prevail.
As a Christian, I know that anytime I feel at war inside with something going on in the world I have to take that struggle back to the gospel. So when I find myself consistently struggling with unfortunate, unfair and intolerable events (“injustices”) playing out before my eyes every day, I have to ask myself, “What does the gospel say about justice?”
Here’s what the Bible says:
- That actions and events we label “tragic” and “unfair” here on earth are secondary problems because the root of all injustice is sin ( 2:16-17, 3:1-6).
- That rampant injustice on earth wasn’t God’s original design but when man chose sin, the consequences of sin entered each and every person’s story– including mine and yours (Gen. 2, Rom. 5:12).
- That God is just and cares about justice (Is. 30:18, 61:8) even as He allows man’s choice to sin to create strife and suffering in this present time (Rom. 1:18-32). Seeing our sin – and its consequences – grieves God deeply (Gen. 6:5-6, Mark 3:5).
- That God Himself knows the pain of injustice because He sent His perfect and only Son to earth to suffer and die an unmerited death in order to offer me mercy and justify the debt of my sin so that we could accept freedom from bondage to sin and eternal fellowship with Him (John 3:16).
- That sin and injustice won’t last forever. One day He will bring about lasting justice for all the earth (Luke 18:7-8).
As I continue to embrace it, the gospel comforts me but just as much it challenges me. Colossians 1:6 tells us the gospel is alive and active and should be consistently bearing fruit in our lives. The gospel-driven life then is an evolutionary way of life that works like this: the more I understand and experience God’s love for me the more I am undeniably compelled to extend His unrestrained love to others in the most literal ways possible so that others might experience God’s love. My heart beats fast for what delights Him, and breaks for what breaks His – including sin and the brokenness it spreads in this world.
Micah 6:8 addresses our charge rather succinctly: While we wait for Christ’s promised return and the ensuing rectification of our world, we are to seek justice, love kindness and mercy, and walk humbly with God.
But what does it look like to “seek justice” in a systemically unjust world? For wisdom I look to Christ and how He lived on earth. Here is what I see:
He usurped a patriarchal society by befriending women and treating them with unprecedented dignity and privilege (John 4:27).
He touched the unclean and diseased and offered them healing (Mark 5:25-34).
He broke bread gladly with societal outcasts and lifestyle sinners in their own homes (Matt. 9:10-13).
He opposed racial prejudice by engaging, healing and teaching Gentiles (John 4, Mark 7:24-32).
He intervened for the physical safety of the marginalized even in the face of angry mobs (John 8:1-11).
He spoke up for the vulnerable and those whose voices others would not or could not hear – especially and including children (Matt. 19:14).
He called out greed, aggression and hypocrisy in oppressors – even and especially in religious circles (Matt. 23).
He provided for the needs of the hungry (Matt. 14:15-20).
He told His disciples how they treat the oppressed is how they treat Him (Matt. 25:35-40).
He proclaimed justice (Matt. 12:15-21).
Over and over, Jesus crossed regional, social and political lines to look into the eyes of the hurting and ostracized, listen to their circumstances, and help them both physically and spiritually. He challenged the inequity, arrogance and aloofness of social structures, outdated traditions and corrupt leaders boldly but calmly. He loved well and faithfully and in doing so lessened the saturation of suffering for others. At many times He was mocked, mobbed and run out of town for this radical behavior yet He persisted. Persisted to love. Persisted to influence the world toward the justice of God’s original design.
His example affirms to me that any gospel that isn’t good news equally to every race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, lifestyle, age, socioeconomic status and political party simply isn’t the Gospel of Jesus and any one of us turning our heads or shielding our eyes from injustice and the suffering of our fellow man is simply not walking in the steps of Jesus. Just as it is the commission of a believer to invite unbelievers to partake of God’s grace and forgiveness, it’s the directive of the socially included and privileged to make generous room for the socially excluded and underprivileged. To love them as practically and as lavishly and as boldly as Jesus did and does. To bring light to darkness.
If we look at the world through the lens of the gospel and people through the eyes of Jesus, the question won’t be “if” we’re called to be an activist – not just advocate – for justice while we await His return. The questions will be “Where?” and “How?”
So are you being called to start a non-profit? To volunteer with one? To change the words you speak? To speak up more? To evaluate your views for subconscious prejudice? Your actions for micro aggressions? To learn what “micro aggressions” are? To change the ways you steward your finances? To educate yourself on justice issues by listening better to those who are/have lived in oppression and/or fight it on the front lines? Are you being called to re-filter your worldview through the gospel? To build friendship with people whose lifestyle and beliefs are different than yours? Change how you approach voting? Run for some office yourself? Fight attitudes of complacency by stepping into places and problems that are uncomfortable? Pray more faithfully for the oppressed?
You’re being called to something. What is it?
There’s one more thing the gospel tells me about justice: I can and should ache for the suffering of mankind (Rom. 12:15) but the weight of all the injustices in the world aren’t on my shoulders because Christ took them all on His when He went to the cross. The cross where He showed the ultimate outpouring of mercy and kindness. The ultimate spirit of humility. All to seek a means for justice on behalf of you and me. His love changed the scourge of injustice on our world and through Him ours can too.
Let’s make this the year we seek – not just search – “justice.” Let’s do it with kindness and humility, thoughtfully and impactfully, with God with us and in us. Let’s be known, as Jesus said we should be, by our love.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18
Be a part of the fall at Christ Chapel!
We’re so excited for the fall at Christ Chapel. If you’re looking for a way to get involved by serving or connecting to the CCBC community, we’re here to help. Our big fall series kicks off this Sunday, Sept. 22. (Click here for a preview.) Plus, from Bible studies to home groups and ways to serve, there are lots of other ways to make the most of fall with us. Click here to get started.