Justice: Something More Than Fair
Do you love God?
Think about this question for a moment. Respond out loud. Do you love God?
Okay, great. Thanks for your answers. Next question:
Is it possible to believe one thing but act in an opposite way?
Before you answer that one, think of a few things you were taught as a child that you believe are good things to do. For example, look both ways before you cross the street. Or treat your elders with respect. Or do unto others as you would have them to unto you.
So, do you always do those things you were taught as a child? Have you ever not looked both ways when you crossed a street? Maybe you just looked at the crosswalk sign and knew it was safe so you just walked across? Have you ever forgotten to treat someone older that you with respect? Have you ever treated someone in a way that you would prefer not to be treated?
I think we can all answer YES to one (probably all) of these questions.
So, let me ask you again: Is it possible to believe one thing but act in a way that is not consistent with that belief?
I am gonna assume at this point you are with me and we can agree that the answer is YES. So here is the implication of that question and its answer to we people of faith:
It is possible to be a believer in Jesus Christ and at the same time be working against the very thing that Jesus Christ is trying to do in the world today.
Even Paul knows this is true. Read with me from chapter 7 of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.
So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? (Romans 7:15-25)
Even Paul struggles with believing one thing and doing another. And Paul says that he doesn’t even know he is doing the thing that he doesn’t want to do when he does it. (You just have to love the way Paul writes! What a tongue twister this whole passage is!)
We are not always aware of the discrepancies between our beliefs and our actions. We are not always clued in to our hypocrisy. But its there.
There are some moments of hypocrisy in my life that I am aware of. Things I do of which I am conscious, but which I believe are not good or right for me to do. A big one for me is coffee. I love coffee. I know its not good for me. But I want it. So I drink it. Everyday. And I know full well that the caffeine and sugar (mochas are my favorite!) are not good for me. And the older I get the worse it is for me. But I do it anyway.
But there are others that I am not aware of. When I think back over each day, I can always find someone to which I have said or done something that does not fit with the things I believe. Someone cut me off while driving and I am less than kind. I become frustrated with my kids and become less than calm, cool, and collected in my responses. I think less of people who engage in behaviors that I believe are immoral, unethical, or irrational. I make a joke at the expense of other people. The list can go on and on. And in the moment I am totally unaware of my words or actions. But in hindsight, if I take the time to examine myself, I know that I acted hypocritically.
In a class I teach across the state of NC for clergy, we talk about our lack of awareness in our actions. We examine why we do things that are inconsistent with our beliefs through the lens of unconscious bias – that is, things that are happening in our minds that we are not aware of.
Think for a moment about how you think. How much of your thinking would you guess is conscious thinking (in terms of percentage)? Seriously, guess a number.
Now, how much of you thinking would that mean is unconscious? (Just do the math: subject your first guess from 100%)
Well, believe it or no, our conscious thinking accounts for 2-5% of our thinking according to Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kanneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. This means that your unconscious thinking accounts for a whopping 95-98% of your thinking. That means that you are completely unaware of most of what is going on in your mind right now! Hard to believe, perhaps. But realize that there are millions and millions of bits if information passing into your 5 senses right now and your conscious brain is unable to process all of it with the kind of logical, rational thought that it takes for you to read this sentence in this moment. So, your brain has mental short cuts for dealing with most of the unessecary information – like the hum of the air conditioning in the background or the colors and objects in your peripheral vision or the sensation of the seat you are sitting on (unless it is really uncomfortable).
So, yes, most of what is going on in your heads right now, you are not aware of.
Paul understood this and wrote about the struggle in his letters. It is an honest struggle. It is a struggle that does not make you a bad person. But when you acknowledge the struggle, you become a mature person, a humble person, a person who is willing to grow and learn. I’ll go so far as to say that acknowledging the struggle (like Paul) shows that you are a person who is following Jesus Christ by taking up your cross. Because the places where you are not living what you believe, not practicing what you preach, these places of hypocrisy in your life are places where – as Paul says – sin lives in you.
Paul has a solution though. He doesn’t leave us in this struggle. A few chapters later Paul says this:
Therefore, I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:1-3)
We only uncover that sin through humility, by not thinking we are better than we are, but by acknowledging that we don’t always do what we say we believe, by taking those unconscious actions to God, by seeking forgiveness, and by being transformed, that is, working with God on changing, on making the unconscious conscious so we can change our behavior.
Are you willing to do that?
Well, let me return to the question we started with today:
Do you love Jesus? (Really answer this out loud!)
Jesus says feed my sheep.
Do you love Jesus?
Jesus says visit those who are in prison.
Do you love Jesus?
Jesus says give clothes and shelter to the naked and homeless.
Do you love Jesus?
Jesus says those strangers out there whom you do not know, invite them in.
Do you love Jesus?
Jesus says care for the sick, the orphan, the widows, the refugees.
Do you love Jesus?
Well, Jesus says the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
What I am talking about here is where love of God meets love of neighbor. And there is a word for this in the Bible. It’s justice.
Wait! What? Maybe you are thinking, “Well, I thought justice was punishment for wrongdoing, getting what you deserve, what’s fair. Isn’t that what our justice system is all about.”
God answers that question over and over again in scripture by pairing the word justice (Hebrew: mishpat ) with the word righteousness (Hebrew: tsedek). Most people tend to think of righteousness in terms of private morality, such as the 10 commandments, diligence in prayer and Bible study. And we are all wrong to think that. Righteousness is about right relationships or, as author and pastor Tim Keller says, “day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.”
Scripture over and over again talks about justice and righteousness together in the same breath:
- Psalm 89 – Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne
- Proverbs 21 – To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
- Isaiah 1 – begins over 60 chapters talking about justice and righteousness by stating that Zion shall be redeemed by justice and those in her who repent by righteousness
- Jeremiah 9 – adds another word to the justice-righteousness equation -hesed – unconditional, steadfast love – I, the Lord, act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth
- Amos – famous verse quoted by Dr King – let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream
- Song of Solomon 5 – speaks of the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of justice
- Kings and Chronicles talk about the kings task being to execute justice and righteousness
- Even Genesis speaks of Justice and righteousness being God’s charge to our forefather Abraham and his family
Over and over justice and righteousness are not two different things but two connected things. They are about following God through the way we treat one another. Justice is where love of God meets love of neighbor and we live in right relationships.
But this is hard. We don’t always get our relationships right. Most of us will say we believe everyone should be treated fairly, equitably , and with generosity, as Keller says we should do if we are to follow God’s command to justice. But in our everyday interactions, we do things that are not fair, are not generous, are not equitable. I judge one group of people more harshly while giving others the benefit of the doubt. I laugh off what one child does while punishing the other. I don’t even see what this person who looks like me does while I scrutinize the actions of a different person.
And I don’t even know I am doing any of this. Because I am only aware of about 2-5% of what is going on in my head. I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do, as Paul says. Instead I do the very thing I hate and it’s sin that lives within me.
We can be miserable. Or we can be transformed!
Justice, biblical justice, God’s justice, Jesus’s justice demands that our love of God be reflected in our love of neighbor.
Because justice – love of God meeting love of neighbor – affects the way you live in the world.
- Justice – love of God meeting love of neighbor – affects the way you nurture your family.
- Justice – love of God meeting love of neighbor – affects the way you run your business, the way you do your job, the way you treat you boss, your employees, and your customers.
- Justice – love of God meeting love of neighbor – affects the way you treat people, the thing you say (esp the things you say about people who you dislike, don’t agree with).
- Justice – love of God meeting love of neighbor – affects the way you spend your time, the way you tip a waitress, the way you talk to the custodian, the way you greet the delivery man, the way you vote, the way you govern, the way you volunteer in your community, the way you drive when someone cuts you off, the way you respond when someone curses you, the way you do this or that, the way you do anything, the way you live each and everyday in each and every moment.
When your love of your neighbor shows clearly, wholly and unconditionally that you love God, we call that justice.
Open the paper, turn on the news, log into facebook, go to the grocery store, the food pantry, under the bridge near walmart, and whatever you see or hear, whoever you meet, the question God puts before you is how will your love for God be reflected in your response to this person?Will you do justice? Will you live righteousness?
Or will what you do and say, how you carry yourself, show that what you say is not really what you live? Will what you do show the inconsistency of your beliefs with your actions? Will others see discrepancy and hypocrisy because your unconscious actions trump your conscious beliefs?
Will you be willing to see, perhaps for the first time, what lies within your unconscious? Will you acknowledge? Will you learn? Will you grow? Will you overcome the sin that lives within you? Will you become the kind of Christian which I think the church is all about – that is, the kind of Christian who says: I am a hypocrite trying to overcome my hypocrisy!
Pauls struggled with this. I struggle. You wouldn’t be human if you did not struggle.
Paul says that the answer to this struggle is being transformed by the way of Jesus. It’s not magic. It’s working hard everyday to follow the teachings of Jesus to feed, to visit, to care for, to clothe, to tend, to welcome, to love God by loving your neighbor. It’s examining our lives through our beliefs, looking for the hypocrisy, making the unconscious conscious, and working to make our actions consistent with our beliefs. It’s living in the kind of way that each day our love of neighbor aligns closer and closer to our love of God.