We’re not in Portland anymore, Toto.
I went for a jog when it was 13° fahrenheit – and sunny!
Everyone we’ve talked with in Portland says we must be wishing we were back in the milder climate. But we’ll take sunny and below freezing any day over nine months of grey.
We put food scraps in the trash here. This makes me feel mildly guilty.
Groceries have cost us two to four times what we paid in Portland. I didn’t anticipate more than the price of nostalgia for leaving the Hood River Valley.
I suppose California has something to do with this too.
I thought I saw Mount Hood on the horizon the other day. Turns out it was a smoke cloud.
My brother and I are living in the same city for the first time since high school.
After having spent three days together in the past week, I think he may be convinced I’m not a communist after all.
Our home has shrunk to a ten-by-twelve foot room. This is fun when I want to pretend I’m back in college.
Actually, it’s generally fun because we get to live with a fantastic couple and their dog. Thankfully we don’t have to fit all five of us in the ten-by-twelve foot room.
Add a baby and two mothers-in-law and we’re out by April.
Come pastorate, come!
We’ve finally started our drive east. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride I hope to share with you at a later date. For now, I’ve finally finished my reflection on the Kierkegaard piece I mentioned a month ago. Thanks for your patience as I struggled to find words amidst boxes, changing departure dates, and a job falling through – a lot has happened in the past month!
Mercifulness, a Work of Love
My last post was about Jennifer Toledo’s vision of a weeping room in which God sees every injustice and where He spends the majority of His time. As I reflected on dwelling with Christ in the weeping room rather than rushing into my own version of the strategy room, I was reminded of a chapter I recently read in Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love.
The chapter is called “Mercifulness, a Work of Love, Even if It Can Give Nothing and Is Capable of Doing Nothing.” Though Kierkegaard focuses on mercifulness in this piece, the concepts he discusses are closely related to justice.
Mercy and justice are intimately connected in the Bible as well. Micah 6:8 commands God’s people to do justice and to love mercy, as well as to walk humbly with the Lord. Zechariah 7:9-10 states that true justice is practicing mercy.
Given this strong biblical association between justice and mercy, let us consider how to live a just life in light of Kierkegaard’s understanding of mercifulness.
Justice Expressed as Mercy
Kierkegaard differentiates mercy from charity, considering the latter as generally associated with financial altruism. He emphasizes the state of a person’s heart toward others over the effectiveness of his or her actions. Though the world measures benevolence in terms of making temporal, materialistic differences, the eternal looks at the state of one’s heart.
Justice in a worldly sense tends to be seen as changing the circumstances facing the oppressed. In the world’s terms, “the main thing is still this, that need be met in every way, and that everything possible be done to remedy every need.”1
This understanding manifests itself in the modern world as popular movements and causes accompanied by t-shirts, tote bags, and bracelets, as well as fundraising reports that showcase measurable results. “An activist conception of need”2 dominates modern Christian thinking on justice.
In contrast, biblical justice focuses on righteousness, love, faithfulness – and mercy.
Kierkegaard defines mercifulness as having a heart in one’s bosom, as “sympathy for another’s wretchedness.”3 Mercifulness in these terms is concerned with the state of one’s heart toward others, much like biblical justice is concerned with the state of one’s relationships with others and with God.
“Mercifulness is able to do nothing,” says Kierkegaard.4 He propounds having mercy out of love for others, not charity for the sake of accomplishing some end.
He offers the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37 as an example, arguing that if the Samaritan had been able to do nothing but hold the half-dead man on the side of the road, he would have been just as merciful as he was in bandaging his wounds and paying for a room while the man recovered.
If the Samaritan had had nothing with which to bind the man’s wounds, no horse on which to carry him away, and no money to pay for a room, he could nevertheless have offered the “greater perfection”5 of being merciful – having compassion on the man and offering his love and presence. “One can be merciful without being able to do the slightest,” Kierkegaard argues.6
Yet, Kierkegaard does not say if we have the means to help we are to daftly sit by and watch the man die. For “if the merciful person can do something, he does it most gladly.”7 The point Kierkegaard wants to make is not that the material does not matter, but that “mercifulness can be seen in both cases…in the everything which the powerful do and in the nothing which the wretched do.”8
Tension arises for me in that it seems there is so much I should be able to do as an educated young person in one of the wealthiest, freest countries in the world. Even when I begin with mercy, I feel pressure and eagerness to change the world, to relieve the harrowing circumstances in which so many people live. Mercy quickly gives way to self-sufficiency and “doing good.”9
This is when I rush into my own version of what Jennifer Toledo refers to as the strategy room. Fixing the problems becomes more important to me than having mercy, and weeping with the Lord does not seem enough.
If I focus instead on my inward state toward God and others – if the main thing becomes mercy again – then appropriate action flows forth10 without the action becoming the point.
I want to do what is good and right simply because it is good and right – not because of whatever end it may accomplish. As the Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”11
Though I meet the needs of everyone around me but have not mercy, I am nothing. “Even if aid were given in every need…this wretchedness, that mercifulness was not practiced at all, would be greater than all temporal need.”12
Let us “learn from the eternal”13 this love and mercy of which Kierkegaard speaks. Let us draw near to the Lord to examine ourselves and all that drives us. Let the main thing be mercy learned by sitting at the feet of Jesus.
1. Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, p. 301.
2. Kierkegaard, 302.
3. Kierkegaard, 298.
4. Kierkegaard, 299
5. Kierkegaard, 300.
6. Kierkegaard, 300.
7. Kierkegaard, 300.
8. Kierkegaard, 304.
9. Kierkegaard, 292.
10. Kierkegaard, 297.
11. New King James Version.
12. Kierkegaard, 302.
13. Kierkegaard, 304.
I’ve been wanting to post new thoughts for weeks, but life has been crazier than ever. We’re suddenly moving – back to Baltimore, Maryland!!
I look forward to sharing more details later – when we know them! This is a huge leap of faith for us surrounded by questions and uncertainty.
My mom keep asking for info on “the plan” and all I can do is laugh and keep packing.
I’m so appreciative of the many people who read my blog during the 31 Days of Redefining Justice series. I hate to leave you hanging right now and am hopeful you won’t give up on me while I retreat for a bit to make this transition.
I’m currently working on a piece that relates the practice of justice to Soren Kierkegaard’s understanding of mercifulness. With the way life has been going, there’s no telling when the post will go up, but it’s in the works.
In the interim, here are some of my previous blog posts that have practical applications for living out biblical justice:
Thanks for your patience and participation!
Jennifer Toledo is a young missionary whose words have refreshed and encouraged me. In the recording below, she describes a vision from the Lord that vibrantly depicts the connection between abiding in Christ and living out justice.
It’s well worth listening to the detailed description Toledo provides from minutes 31:38 to 46:08, but I’ve provided a summary below as well.
The vision begins with the Lord leading Toledo into a quiet, intimate room in the Father’s house. The room is beautiful and extravagant – “fit for a queen,” Toledo says.
In stark contrast to the rest of the room, a small, wooden trap door catches Toledo’s eye. She asks where it leads, and the Lord says it goes to the weeping room – a place that’s very special to Him, where He spends most of His time.
Toledo wants to go into the weeping room, but the Lord says few are actually willing to go there because it’s so lonely and painful. It’s unlike any other room in the house.
Yet the weeping room is where the Lord chooses to spend His time. To be deeply intimate with the Lord is to sit with Him in the weeping room. So Toledo decides to descend through the trap door.
The further she goes in, the more she finds herself separated from the rest of the world. Eventually she must get on her knees to enter the room.
Once inside, she sees a chair beside a small window – nothing else. The Lord takes a seat in the chair and Toledo soon realizes that through the window, God sees every act of injustice and hears every cry of anguish.
In the weeping room, one can see and hear “every single cry coming from the earth, of every person, every child crying out to God…every child being raped, every child being abused, every homeless man on the street crying out to God, every single act of injustice blatantly in His face.”
The Strategy Room
After a time of interceding in prayer and weeping, Toledo notices another small door that leads to what she discovers is the strategy room.
The door to the strategy room is so small that she can’t fit through it. She must spend time in the weeping room getting to know the heart of God, “feeling His heart, choosing to see what He sees, choosing to care about what He cares about, choosing to let [her]self be open and broken and a mess” to become smaller in size.
She attests that after enough time in the weeping room, “things of yourself, your own agenda, your own comfort, your own ministry and life and whatever you wanna do begins to just fade away, until you get to a point where you’re so small you can fit through the door, and then He can entrust you into the strategy room.”
Until that point, you cannot be trusted there.
In the strategy room are “revival, worldwide global transformation, power encounter strategy.” All the things we try to hurry into without sitting beside the Lord, knowing His heart, weeping on behalf of His children, and letting go of our agendas.
I’ve found the weeping room so painful and myself so powerless that I’ve rushed to get into the strategy room. I want to quickly address the problems and make the anguish dissipate.
In the process of hurrying, I enter another room entirely – one filled with pride, anger, resentment, and eventually cynicism. Rather than growing smaller, I push myself to the limits in hopes of one day filling the vast space before me.
I leave the Lord by Himself in the weeping room because weeping will never be enough. I become convinced there is no strategy room and I must take things into my own hands. If anything is ever going to change, I must do it myself.
What pride. What unbelief and lack of trust.
God tells us through Scripture, “…weep with those who weep…Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”1
What if, like Jennifer Toledo describes, God asks me to sit in the weeping room with Him? What if that is how I can most intimately know Him and take part in the worldwide transformation He’s promised?
It makes sense in light of Scriptures like Micah 6:8 that He would ask such things of us: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NKJV).
Do justice. Walk humbly with your God.
What if doing justice never looks like what you’ve heard or expected? What if it means heartache and weeping?
And what if God never lets you into the strategy room? Are you willing to only weep with Him and trust that He is bringing justice nonetheless?
After 31 days of redefining justice, I think the best place to start with practical application is asking, “How’s my relationship with God?” Better yet, asking God how my relationship with Him is.
Based on my new understanding of the concept, justice begins and ends with God and hinges on our relationship with Him. So these are important questions to ask if we’re seeking justice.
To be honest, my relationship with God hasn’t been stellar amidst the 31 days of blogging challenge. I started the challenge seeking to know Him and His leading for each post. But the further I got into it and the more I had to scramble, the less I looked to Him.
Most days, I leaned on my own strength instead and stayed up until 3 a.m. struggling to get the right words out. I’m not saying God wasn’t working in that or would have made it any easier if I’d been more diligently seeking Him. But I think it would have looked different.
Even when I slow down to seek the Lord, I find it difficult not to turn the relationship into a task. This is particularly problematic for me with any sort of Bible reading plan or devotional. I can too easily check each day’s reading off the list, say a formulaic prayer, and never encounter the Lord.
I imagine this contributes to the disillusionment so many have with Christianity. When we’re not walking with the Lord and living in His power, there’s little visible difference between followers of Christ and the rest of the world.
Living in our own strength is not winsome or life giving. It ultimately leads to a Christian performance treadmill not unlike every other performance treadmill. Following God’s commands becomes a measure of success in a world already saturated with means of measurement.
In a desire to move toward Christ, I’ve tried numerous ways of seeking Him. I’ve tried the lectio divina where I slowly read through a short passage multiple times, stopping to meditate on a verse when it strikes me.
I’ve listened to praise songs and written down each word that resonates with me, then written a psalm using those key words.
I briefly practiced the inductive Bible study method, where you mark common words in a particular way – like circling nouns, starring verbs, underlining emotions – and consider the facts of a passage to move toward interpreting their meaning.
I’ve found word studies particularly helpful, where I read the passages surrounding every occurrence of a particular word in Scripture.
Each approach has helped at different times. But what consistently makes all the difference is shifting focus from me to God. In the past year, I’ve been learning to listen to God rather than always trying to talk to Him; to focus on Him in prayer instead of on my requests and emotions; and to be in His presence rather than attempting to do things to get to know Him more.
I’ve been learning to abide in Christ.
As John 15:4 records Jesus saying, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
Abiding in Christ is how we bear fruit that contributes to lasting, biblical justice. It is how we understand the character and relationships to which He calls us, and how we move toward living out His original intentions for the world.
We know justice by knowing the Lord. And we know the Lord by doing justice.
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in [Jerusalem], nor the voice of crying….They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat…It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.
– Isaiah 65:17, 9, 21-22, 24 (NKJV)
With the coming of Christ and the impartation of the Holy Spirit, justice advanced (and continues advancing) significantly in the world.
Upon Christ’s return, justice will permeate the entire world.
The Lord says that at that time, “the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard…the wolf and the lamb shall feed together…they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.”1
In the new heaven and earth there will be no more crying and no more pain.2
People will build houses they get to live in and plant food they get to eat instead of being taken advantage of for others’ gain.
What makes the new heaven and the new earth so completely different from the present one is that “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”3
Mankind shall finally know God face to face, living in unbroken relationship with Him. Ultimately God’s desire all along has not been for us to behave a certain way, but to be in relationship with Him. From that relationship alone flow true justice and righteousness.
When God establishes the new earth and the new heaven, His original intentions for the world will finally be fulfilled. Justice in every sense of the word will exist.
As this 31 Days of Redefining Justice series comes to a close, my hope is that it has pointed people to relationship with God as the root of all justice.
In the current cultural climate of the evangelical church, it is easy to champion justice while losing sight of the One who is justice.
By walking with the Lord – keeping in step with His Spirit – we can participate in a justice that is more than passing.
True justice is not about programs or campaigns. It is not about starting a movement or even primarily about making a difference.
True justice is about living out a personal relationship with the Lord. It’s about the personal transformation that takes place in that relationship. And it’s about how we treat others in the mundane existence of daily life.
Where We Go From Here
For those of you interested in exploring what this conclusion means on a practical level, I’d like to share some examples and continue the conversation.
I no longer plan to post every day (I need some serious rest after what feels like 31 days of cramming for final exams!), and I’ll probably intersperse unrelated posts on my blog, but I’ll keep the 31 Days of Redefining Justice landing page updated with relevant posts. You can also read related posts by clicking on the justice category in the sidebar.
Keep checking back for more and, please, keep sharing your growing understanding of biblical justice with me. I’ve by no means got this figured out and am particularly weak on the topics covered over the last few days.
I look forward to hearing your insights, ideas, and stories. Thanks for joining me on this journey!
1. Isaiah 65:19, 25 (NKJV).
2. Isaiah 65:19; Revelation 21:4.
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold…I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations…I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in the darkness from the prison.
– Isaiah 42:1, 6-7 (NIV)
It is God’s Spirit that brings justice, and His Spirit entered the world in a never-before-seen way with the birth of Jesus.
In the form of a crying baby, the world moved ever closer to God’s original intentions.
After Jesus’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit entered the world to a greater extent by taking up residence in humans.1 Jesus became the Lord’s new covenant with mankind,2 a covenant that is “not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.”3
The Abrahamic covenant hinged on obedience to God’s laws and commands, which left not one person righteous. The law brings knowledge of sin and death, whereas the Spirit brings God’s righteousness “through faith in Jesus Christ.”4
The new covenant brings forgiveness and cleansing5 outside of fulfilling the law and being blameless. What is required is choosing and trusting Christ, who already fulfilled the law.
The new covenant turns the world on its head. Jesus proclaims hope and blessedness for those most in need of justice:
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh….Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth….Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 6:20-21; Matthew 5:5, 10 – NKJV)
Jesus is living proof of these words. Born into poverty and oppression, beaten, ridiculed, and killed – though having never committed a wrong – He was “robbed of justice by unrighteous humanity.”6
Yet God vindicated “the Righteous One”7 by raising Him from the dead, seating Him at His right hand, crowning Him with glory and honor, and putting all things under His feet.8 “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.”9
Indeed, “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”10 Those despised by the world as Christ was have great reward awaiting them in Heaven.11
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the world moved closer to justice in ways we cannot yet see. By the Holy Spirit within us, God continues to spread justice and grow righteousness throughout the world.
1. 1 John 4:13.
2. Isaiah 42:6.
3. 2 Corinthians 3:6.
4. Romans 3:10, 19-22.
5. Eds. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 427
6. Alexander and Rosner, 744.
7. Acts 22:14 (NIV).
8. Ephesians 1:20, 22; Hebrews 2:9.
9. Philippians 2:8-10.
10. Matthew 19:30
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known… This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. … [A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
– Romans 3:21-26 (NIV)
As seen yesterday, though as God’s children we fail to fulfill our part in the covenant He made with us, God still seeks right relationship with us. The fact that Christians are even considered God’s children and recipients of His covenant is a result of such reconciling action on His part.
Without God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made, the promise to bless the nations through Abraham and his descendants probably would have ended during Moses’ time, if not beforehand. But God remained faithful to His promise even when His people broke covenant with Him again and again.
Knowing that no human can align with the standard set by His holiness (in other words, no human can be righteous) or restore the world to its original intentions, God chose to come to earth as a human Himself.
Once again, Isaiah 59:16 says, “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him” (NKJV).
In the person of Jesus Christ, justice and righteousness entered the fallen world like never before. As the full expression of humanity, always living in right relationship with the Lord, Jesus was the manifestation of what every person was intended to be.1
He is the standard against which all humans can be measured and against which all “fall short.”2 The names by which Jesus is called therefore include “the Lord Our Righteousness,”3 “a Branch of righteousness,”4 and “the Righteous One.”5
Jesus did not come to set a standard though. He came to fulfill the standard that had already been set.
By living a life without transgression, then taking on all human transgressions by dying on the cross, and finally rising from the dead, Jesus overcame all unrighteousness that separates us from God.
He fulfilled the human end of the covenant made between God and Abraham’s descendants.
In other words, Jesus offered a way to make things right again between God and man. According to the verses with which I opened today, God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”6
In Johannes Pedersen’s words, “To justify a man means to obtain for him the place due to him within the covenant.”7 (More accurately stated with regards to the Abrahamic covenant, justification obtains the place man was meant to have in the covenant, for mankind did not behave in such a way as to make the place due him.)
Jesus restores man’s place in the covenant God made with him. By Jesus’s righteousness, death, and resurrection, God grants righteousness to all who have faith in Him. He thereby reconciles once and for all with the intended recipients of His covenant promises.
Because of Jesus’ righteousness fulfilling the covenant, people no longer depend on conformity to the law and animal sacrifices to be able to rightly relate to the Lord. For God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”8
1. I do not intend to exclude the unique personalities with which God creates us here.
2. Romans 3:23.
3. Jeremiah 23:6.
4. Jeremiah 23:5 (NKJV).
5. Acts 22:14 (NIV).
6. Romans 3:26 (NIV).
7. Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, vols I-II (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), 345, qtd. in Hemchand Gossai, Justice, Righteousness and the Social Critique of the Eighth-Century Prophets (New York: Peter Lang, 1993), 59.
Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.’
– Isaiah 56:1 (NKJV)
The Lord does not say to keep justice and do righteousness so you can save the world. He says to do so because His salvation is coming.
Though I can influence the people and the world around me, I cannot save the world. Only God can do that.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t make all the pieces fit together as they should. I can’t force the world to correspond to the plan laid out for it. I can’t even make all the pieces within myself fit together and correspond to a plan.
I didn’t think it possible that I’d knowingly contributed to injustice, but as I spoke with friends, I realized I’m so oriented toward making things fair and right that I can lack mercy for those in the wrong. And mercy is necessary to be able to live in the kinds of right relationship biblical justice requires.
I also clamor for rock-bottom prices that likely demean the lives of those providing them. And I become absorbed in tasks and productivity to the detriment of relationships.
Even with an acute sense of justice, I regularly fall short of what the Lord requires.
The longer I sit with my redefined understanding of justice, the more I realize no human being is capable of living a wholly just life.
According to the Bible, to be just, one must love one’s neighbor as oneself yet be willing to rebuke that same neighbor. This requirement alone probably disqualifies all of us.
The Bible also says one must keep the Sabbath, obey the Lord’s commands, help one’s enemies, practice generosity rather than hoarding, pay fair wages on time, and love and honor God.
Furthermore, one must not be jealous of what others have, show partiality, lend with interest, deal falsely, take a bribe, or cheat one’s neighbor. We are to guard our mouths so we don’t lie, speak maliciously, or profane the name of God. And we are not to estrange those from other lands, hate our brother in our hearts, take vengeance, bear any grudge, or turn to other gods.
Of course, we mustn’t forget feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and standing on behalf of widows, orphans, and strangers either.1
If this isn’t enough to convince you that even the cumulative efforts of humanity over time cannot fulfill the biblical call for justice, then consider the eradication of natural disasters that is necessary to make the world truly a place of peace and order.
Though we can participate in bringing about justice and are commanded to do so, we cannot restore the world to God’s original intentions. We are dependent on God to do so.
For the earth to be a place of order, peace, and right relationship – for humanity to align with the standard God has set – God must step in. And He does so because He seeks justice not only among us, but with us.
He fulfills His covenant with Abraham to bless all people on earth through him by offering salvation in Christ, a descendant of Abraham.2
Though we as God’s children have failed to fulfill our part in the covenant, the Lord still seeks right relationship with us, offering opportunities for repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.
Thus, three chapters after the verse that opened this piece – when justice cannot be found and the Israelites’ transgressions separate them from God – the Lord “saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm achieved salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him.”3
When we try to achieve salvation for the world, we have replaced God with yet another idol, well-meaning as we may be. When the point for us becomes changing the world rather than knowing God and trusting Him to change the world, we have gone astray.