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Doing justice slow in a fast-paced world

Proverbs 19:2 reminds us that desire or passion without knowledge leads to no good end. In a fast-paced world where issues of injustice pop up on our news screens incessantly, this is bad news. We are surrounded by tidbits of knowledge on horrific situations around the world and have access to various quick and easy opportunities to get involved and “do justice.” Hash-tags, texting such-and-such to donate, signing online petitions…where is their place in a biblical pursuit of shalom? Arguments could be made for and against these methods of bringing about justice. Some may say, “At least it’s something. What more can we do? There is so much injustice in the world. We can’t fix everything.” Others would say, “It’s simply not enough and serves mostly just to alleviate any sense of guilt we may feel for not doing more. It allows us to feel globally-minded without having to really do much.”

I propose that the main problem can be explained as we look at the text in Proverbs and the reality of how we learn about issues of injustice and oppression today. We are quick to feel a sense of “this is not right” when we learn about horrific and oppressive situations. While I will argue that our response is not often the most effective, it is important to point out that this reaction is reflective of something good. We are offended at such injustice. It doesn’t sit well with us. We feel we must do something. This is good; this is reflective of God’s heart for true justice. Unfortunately, I would propose that we do so very much love easy fixes and too easily accept that quick solution that takes away the nauseating feeling we have over attrocities and move on, perhaps with little thought to the effectiveness of our efforts, and with some amount of self-satisfaction. This is not good.

The world is complex. Just as our own hearts are complex–we are eager to get involved and eager to be done being involved; we feel horrible as we see pictures of people dying under the hand of oppressive leaders, and yet we quickly forget as we enjoy our lattes and entertainment and sometimes too-comfortable lives. We are complicated. So, we must be willing to accept that issues of injustice are complex. Sadly, with the benefit of lightening-quick access to information has come over-simplification of matters. We can hear about it quickly but it’s too much to get all of the details. So, we end up with partial knowledge, and far too often we do not stop and challenge ourselves to seek more knowledge. Instead we accept the quick solution and move on.

I have done so countless times myself. Most profound to me, and the time when this verse in Proverbs struck me in between the eyes, was when I learned about the gross problem of slavery in Sudan. I read about it, was shocked and shaken by it, and came to the strong conclusion that “doing justice” meant buying back slaves and returning them to their families. I read about those who were about that work. It sounded right and good, returning young boys and girls to their parents, seeing them reunited. How awesome! However, I was challenged to look into the issue further and in so doing discovered that buying back the slaves served to feed the slave trade market further compounding the problem. I was passionate, I was eager to do something, and I was, prior to this discovery, wholeheartedly and sincerely advocating a solution that would only worsen the problem. When I learned more and went beyond passion to passion and knowledge, I came face-to-face with the reality that bringing about justice is difficult, slow, hard work.

Presently, I am reading Surrender or Starve by Robert Kaplan. He gives an account of the famine in Ethiopia in the 80s and 90s that will shock most of us who heard about the situation in the media “back in the day.” Very little true knowledge of the cause of the famine was actually presented to the world; very little true knowledge was sought by journalists and governments. Instead, action was taken based on perceived reality, and that “humanitarian” action, while potentially helping to a small degree, actually helped further the cause of oppression and injustice.

So how do we do justice in this fast-paced world? Is it possible? How can we handle all of the problems of the world carefully and effectively and with knowledge? The prospect of seeking out all that knowledge is overwhelming. How do we actually learn enough to act rightly and with true justice?

I propose that while it is not easy, it is worth the pursuit. Rather than feeling overwhelmed (or angry with the writer for making you feel guilty), let us consider God, the author of all knowledge, the God only one capable of perfect justice and mercy. First and foremost, if we seek to be pursuers of justice by primarily abiding in Him and involving ourselves in His work of justice, we are heading in the right direction. It will be a lot of work on our part, but we are tapped into the source of Justice and Mercy and Knowledge.

We must be humble seekers of truth and knowledge. We must not come prancing in with our “wise” first-world solutions to problems (at the same time, we must not be afraid to be involved, using the excuse that we don’t want to be paternalistic or imperialistic or some other istic–more on that in another post). Let us bring the God-given passion for shalom; let us listen; let us ask questions; let us be discerning and prayerful. Let us be slow to speak, but willing to when the time is right.

Yes, we must be willing to take action. And we must accept that the action may not always be comfortable or quick. It might be slow. In a fast-paced world, we are not adequately trained for slow, but we must adjust. We must be willing to put the time in, and that is a hard commitment. But let us remember that “desire without knowledge is not good–how much more will hasty feet miss the way” (Proverbs 19:2, NIV). Let us remember that the God of justice and mercy is in control of time, and He does not rush, and so we can walk wisely and purposefully in His path.

Jesus and Compassion

In the gospels, we read of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a simple meal of bread and fish. So often, I have looked at this as simply one of His great miracles. It certainly is that. However, I’d like to look at the “why” behind the miracle.

Those who teach leadership skills today may love this story and could use it as an example of how to draw a following. But┬áJesus wasn’t into the “how to win friends and influence people” movement. He lived and moved and breathed out of a holy motivation. Yes, His desire was to bring glory to the Father, BUT He did so by revealing who the Father is which is love and mercy and grace, and yes, justice and righteousness (all of those meet together and are held in perfect balance by the Father).

In this passage, we see that Jesus was moved with compassion when He looked on the crowds of hungry people. We see this motivation time and again in the gospels, and in fact, throughout Scriptures. Our God is moved with compassion as He sees the brokenness of man, the absence of shalom or wholeness. It is His heart.

So, I pray: Lord, what motivates me? Am I filled with compassion when I see injustice? Do I understand Your heart for the hurting, and am I willing to enter into the pain, whatever it may be, of my neighbor, whomever he may be, in order that You might use me as a vessel of mercy? Transform me, Father, that I might reflect Your heart of compassion.

Then shall your light break forth

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up speedily;

your righteousness shall go before you;

the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”

(Isaiah 58:8 ESV)

What will bring about our light? What will speed our healing? Offering that cup of cold water. Seeking to end injustice–that which we carry out and that which we see carried out by others. Not turning our back on our own flesh. ┬áBringing the poor into our homes. (Isaiah 58: 6-7)

This is scary stuff. I mean, surely, God isn’t seriously saying we should bring the poor into our homes. Isn’t that dangerous? I guess offering that cup of cold water is easy enough, except when it’s inconvenient, but inviting people into our homes? Speaking out against injustices we see around us? That is not safe.

Yet, this is what we are called to as believers. It’s not really optional. And the result is a beautiful, though messy, healing of our own brokenness. As we allow ourselves to be vessels of God’s wellspring of love, grace and mercy–for truly we cannot draw love, grace or mercy out of our own wellspring for we have not enough even for ourselves–He reaches in and works His grace and mercy in the dark corners of our lives. What is there to fear in that? Yet, I admit, I am greatly afraid. Perhaps, this is because I do not trust that God will heal me nor do I trust that He will protect me from the risks of loving others. And so, I pray:

Lord, You know my heart. You know my thoughts and every anxious way in me. I desire for my light to break forth. I also desire to be a part of your work of justice as described in Isaiah 58. But I am afraid. You ask what seems like more than I can give–to give up my fear, to share my space, time, family, resources and life with others in a way that makes me vulnerable. Yet, You did this and more through Your Son, Jesus. And so, I place my trust in You. Open my eyes to see the tangible ways that I can live this life of justice, love and mercy, and give me courage to obey. Thank you that as I obey, You will bring about Your purposes, bringing healing both to others and to myself, and then my light shall break forth and my healing will come.

Crisis in Haiti

Please, pray for the people of Haiti as they face the devastation of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake. Let’s not be silent as we go before the throne of grace with confidence. Let’s allow ourselves to enter into the pain of these people and in so doing, allow the Holy Spirit to guide our prayer and lead us to action–whether it’s creating awareness, contributing to an aid organization, or going!

Given it up to Jesus

At the dinner table tonight, I was updating my husband on all the latest news from our local area and around the world. We talked about the situation in Iran as explained to me by my friend, a former refugee from Iran, now citizen of the US. We talked about the Karen-Burmese children who have fled with their families to Thailand refugee camps–children who may not live past next week because the Burmese army is demanding that they be returned to Burma where they will likely be used as mine sweepers, servants to the army, raped or killed. We talked about these things as we sat in our peaceful home, eating a feast of “avocado pita delights” as we affectionately call our latest food obsession. And I thought I was going to throw up. What was I doing here in all this peace while people around the world were fighting for their very lives? I am grateful for the blessings God has given me; I’m not asking for terror to strike my life; I recognize that my struggles and griefs are relevant and important to God as well. But…

…As I come and go to work, laugh and joke with coworkers, go shopping, plan a 3 year wedding anniversary, enjoy the peace and quiet of my home, my coworker cannot concentrate on his work because his country is in turmoil, his friends and family face uncertainty and danger, his life has turned upside down, and he feels caught, unable to save anyone. And I seem relatively untouched by the whole ordeal…

So, we finished dinner, enjoyed our avocado pita delights, and set to washing dishes. I turned on the new CD that our friend just released, and here’s what came out of the speakers “I’m given it all to Jesus…” I felt a quiet come over me. I’m given it all to Jesus. This isn’t a “spiritual” excuse for inaction or apathy; this is not my rationale for ignoring these horrific injustices. This is just the first step of action. First, I’m giving it all to Jesus. Why? Because He is the Creator; He is the Healer; He is Just; He is Merciful; He knows Suffering; when everything was messed up, He came down into this world to make things right; He is the Beginning and the End; He IS. And we can trust Him. So, I’m giving all of this to Him. He can handle this; I can’t. Neither can anyone else. Then, step 2. Jesus, what would you have me do right here, right where I’m at? That’s what I’m going to do.

So, will you give it all to Jesus? And will you take step 2? He’ll be faithful with the first; He’ll also be faithful to give you something to do.

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.' If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in." -Isaiah 58:6-12