Sunday, December 2, 2012

Justice: Reflections on the First Sunday of Advent

Reading this Sunday's readings, I was struck by the word "justice." There seems to be so little justice on the world. Children die. Innocent people get blown up. The poor get poorer while the rich get richer. And all the while, in our own lives, we see time and time again the bad get rewarded while the good get punished. Is this God's justice? What does God's justice look like? Why can't we have God's justice now?

A very commonly quoted verse in the Bible (1 John 4:8) ends with some very famous words: "God is Love." What does this have to do with justice? Pretty much everything, because we aren't talking about the warm-fuzzy love you get when you're cuddled up with your sweetheart. We aren't talking about blind love that accepts everything and everyone. We're talking about God's love. God's love isn't blind (although it doesn't list all our faults either). God's love isn't based in any kind of fleeting emotion (God loved you before you were born and He'll love you long after you're dead to this world). God cannot contradict himself and if He is Love, he cannot do anything that is contrary to Love.

That is where justice comes in. God loves everyone equally and immeasurably. God isn't really in the punishing business, although He certainly hates sin. God wants us to be in a close relationship with Him, He does not want us to stray from him. So, no, I'd argue that the "justice" we see in the world is not God's justice at all. In many cases it's an attempt to mimic God's justice. Whether you personally like it or not, Muslims living under Sharia law are attempting to live according to their understanding God's justice here on Earth. Although America wasn't founded as a strictly Christian nation (again, sorry for bursting your bubble), it's laws were profoundly influenced by Judeo-Christian values because, heck, all of the western world has been influenced by Judeo-Christian thought. So, you can say much of the world tries to imitate God's justice, but looking at the world we see that we clearly fail frequently and miserably.

So, what does God's justice really look like? Let's take a look at today's readings, especially the second one.

Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.-1 Thes 3:12-4:2
 There's that word, "love," again. The word translated as "love" used here is "agape" (By the way, "agape" is the same word used in 1 John 4:8, the more you know). "Agape" is commonly defined as a "selfless, spiritual love as shown in the example of Jesus Christ." Christians know what Christ did. He taught and He healed and, ultimately, He died a horrible death out of love for us. Love is the key to knowing God's justice and not just any love, but self-sacrificial love.

Here's the word itself: "Agape"

Let's bring this discussion down to Earth, shall we? Where do we see that kind of love today? In the movie theater shooting last July, no fewer than three of the victims died trying to shield others. In the Sikh Temple shooting, a priest (I'm sure that's not the right word, but google isn't helping me) died trying to take the shooter down. Just two days ago, a man died saving his wife from an armed robber. Everyday someone somewhere dies to save someone else. And there are little signs of sacrifice, too. As I write this, a picture of a police officer giving a homeless barefoot man boots is going viral. Recently, a bus driver risked her life saving a handicapped child on her bus. These are all actions of that "agape" love that the Bible talks about.

So, what is keeping us from perfectly mirroring God's justice in the world today? The number one reason: sin. We are in a constant battle against sin. God helps us in this battle, but sin will never be totally conquered until the very end. As the Gospel reading says:

Jesus said to his disciples:
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.

"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man."-Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
 The Son of Man will one day return and destroy the evil in this world once and for all. Then, all of the injustice that we listed in the beginning will no longer happen. God's justice, God's love, God's agape will reign. This does not mean that we can sit idle waiting for the time to come. As Jesus says in Matthew 25, "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me." We need to continue to try to model God's justice here on Earth, but we can have hope that one day God's justice will completely reign. 

This pic actually came from Drawception. How cool is that?

Look at the readings yourself:

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