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.