Someone asks you to help at a charity function or to support a local or overseas organization. You recognize that an invitation to help someone in need has just been handed to you. You think about it, and while you know it would be a good thing to do, you let the opportunity pass by. “What could I do anyway? My small effort isn’t going to change much of anything. And how relevant is social justice to my faith in the first place?”
Many of us have a deep-seated misunderstanding that being “fishers of men” means doing whatever you can to get people out of an eternity in hell — which is only accomplished by saying the sinner’s prayer. Hell happens later, after death; in the here and now, the duty of the Christian is to sell heavenly insurance for the ultimate retirement in the sky.
Following this thinking leads a person to respond apathetically to injustice. If being a believer is about getting people out of an eternity in hell, there really is no urgency or vision for getting people out of the hell of their present. If today is merely a waiting game until souls get to be carefree in heaven, the present hell of an impoverished individual comes second to ensuring their eternal home.
Furthermore, our current era holds separate the physical and the spiritual, making us wonder what our faith has to do with dirty drinking water, lack of nutrition, or sexual safety. A lingering mistrust and even hatred of materiality — the “flesh” — has caused us to neglect the sacredness of being embodied in a beautifully created world. Because our Christian culture has overly-focused on “personal” relationship with Christ, we don’t often see ourselves as a worldwide community with a deep attachment to our most vulnerable family members.
Throughout the Old Testament, God mourns the injustice taking place in the kingdoms of the world. Isaiah 58 captures how God’s love pours forth liberation and healing from all forms of oppression and brokenness. In the New Testament, Jesus proves God’s care for the created, material world by coming in a human body, to a place here on earth, and miraculously healing physical diseases.
Jesus’ death broke the power of darkness and injustice in every realm: physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, political. All of these injustices are marks of oppressive kingdoms that oppose God’s righteous love. Jesus brought with him the reign of a new kingdom, one of liberation for all those in every kind of bondage. Indeed, God is interested in saving people from every kind of present hell.
It’s probably safe for all of us to accept the possibility that we haven’t been equipped to engage the darkest places in our world. We can feel overwhelmed because we don’t know if and where social justice fits in our “personal relationship” with God, if getting involved really matters in the end, and how to handle the difficulties and discouragements that arise.
“Justice is what love looks like in public,” Cornel West brilliantly writes. God isn’t sending you off to heal the world; instead, God is inviting you to places where the Spirit is already at work, places that require human hands and feet to unfold restorative purposes. When you accept only your part, trusting that God is at work, there is no need to be overwhelmed, even when injustice seems to be winning.
Link arms with others, and ask God to give you the power and courage to follow where the Spirit is inviting you. God is faithful to give you the ability to extend yourself to those who are in need if you are open to being led. And let us all pray, the way Jesus taught us to pray: that God’s kingdom would come to earth, as it is in heaven.
Originally published in Issue 20 of Converge Magazine.
Photo (Flickr CC) by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center