thirsting for justice

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6; NLT

Justice is a theme all throughout scripture, especially justice for the poor and oppressed, as well as for innocents. Justice could be described as what is right in terms of societies and how people treat each other. We speak here in the United States of criminal justice, as well as justice in other ways. While the main idea may be agreed on, just what is involved in true justice, or what is right for all, is a debated point. For example, again in the criminal justice system it’s debated on what kind of justice should be given to those who commit crimes, the worst of such being murder. Some advocate punitive justice and the death penalty for the murderer. Others advocate a restorative justice which seeks to help the murderer and all other prisoners so that eventually they might not only be let out of prison, but also that they might flourish and desire to pay back something of what they owe to society.

Justice is grounded in a righteousness which at its heart is loving God with all of our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, which in the case of Jesus includes loving our enemies as well. It’s grounded in love. Jesus taught that those who are blessed include those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice. That they will be filled, or satisfied. We live in a world in which justice and what is right is scuttled time and time again for agendas of greed and power. And the “news” is normally about such abuses, so that we are prone to think that injustice reigns supreme. And in too many places, in too many instances, that does indeed seem to be the case. In this world we should be advocates of justice, justice of all kinds. That is part of hungering and thirsting for such. We are passionate about it, and we pray for it, but we also do what we can to promote it. It’s easy to give up and give in to the thinking that there’s little or nothing we can do.

We know that ultimate and final justice will occur at Jesus’s return when God’s kingdom in him is fully put in place. In the meantime we pray and advocate a justice in keeping with the world as it is now, in all its brokenness. One that can’t be as complete as it will be someday, but nevertheless with an aim for completeness even in the here and now. As we await the justice to come.


the death penalty

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death yesterday for his horrific, murderous act at the Boston Marathon of 2013. There is no doubt that he deserves such a sentence. The question remains, what position are we as followers of Christ to have and advocate on such matters? Many of us claim to be “pro-life” in our opposition to abortion. But are we pro-life across the board?

The state has its God-given place in the mess of this world, to keep a necessary, provisional order in place. It invariably exceeds its bounds, but death may occur in its just function, even as it tries to avoid such. Execution is an entirely different matter.

What place does the cross of Jesus have in this discussion, with reference to his death? What role did that death play? And with reference to what happened yesterday? I would say (and I said it on Facebook last evening): Death penalty, no, period. Jesus’ once for all sacrifice is for the sins of the world, all sin, including the terrible act of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He should be confined, hopefully redeemed through Jesus. Jesus’ death ends the need for execution.

We say that something new is in place in the world through Jesus’ resurrection. Nothing less than new creation, but still in this old creation which eventually is to be made brand new. Old things, not just in personal lives, but systemically are passing away now, new things are being set in place in and through Christ.

The church doesn’t have to apologize to the world for the new face in Jesus it brings to the world. Which contradicts so much that the world stands for. We have the better way, yes indeed, the best way in and through Jesus, a way that comes not from this world politic and order, but is for this world politic and order. But a way that can never be co-opted into this world system. Yet at the same time bringing accountability and ultimately judgment.

Jesus bore the sins of the world as well as the guilt of the world on that cross. While murderers may well have to be kept in prison, their lives should be spared with the hope that they will have a change of heart and life through the redemptive work of Jesus on that cross.

Perhaps the Apostle Paul should have turned himself in to authorities for at the very least his complicity in the death of Christians such as Stephen. He could have had his day proclaiming the gospel he had embraced before his just excecution. By and by Paul was executed, tradition says beheaded, for his witness to the gospel. Should the Auca Indian (I don’t have his name) who appeared to us in chapel at Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work turn himself into authorities for execution? He was among those who with their own hands murdered Jim Elliot and company, missionaries who were there to share the gospel with them. Afterward their wives returned to continue that witness of the gospel and nearly the entire tribe was converted to Christ. Today the grandchildren of those who were murdered call him grandpa, and God’s love and joy radiate from his being.

No. Abortion is wrong and so is capital punishment. We advocate mercy over judgment even for the state. Because in and through Jesus the possibilities of his redeeming work know no bounds. Even while in this evil world we await the day when final judgment and salvation comes at King Jesus’ return.

N.T. Wright on abortion and capital punishment

You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty. Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world. As far as they were concerned, their stance went along with the traditional ancient Jewish and Christian belief in life as a gift from God, which is why (for instance) they refused to follow the ubiquitous pagan practice of ‘exposing’ baby girls (i.e. leaving them out for the wolves or for slave-traders to pick up).

Mind you, there is in my view just as illogical a position on the part of those who solidly oppose the death penalty but are very keen on the ‘right’ of a woman (or couple) to kill their conceived but not yet born child…

From where many of us in the UK sit, American politics is hopelessly polarized. All kinds of issues get bundled up into two great heaps. The rest of the world, today and across the centuries, simply doesn’t see things in this horribly oversimplified way…

While we’re about it, how many folk out there were deeply moved both by the reading of the 9/11 victim names and by the thought that if they’d read the names of Iraqi civilians killed by your country and mine over the last ten years we’d have been there for several days?

N.T. Wright, American Christians and the death penalty, Washington Post.

For N.T. Wright’s take on what is “the big moral issue of our time”, see the last half of this interview by the National Catholic Reporter.