Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Where in the world is righteousness and justice?

Written by: on November 16, 2015

I know I’m not alone in my feelings of frustration, anger, and ultimately exhaustion sparked by terrorist killing of innocent people such as we saw this past weekend in Paris and Beirut. “What can I do?” is a question that sparks frustration and helplessness, while anger at the senseless loss of life is overwhelming. We live in a fallen world, and hope grows dim.

German theologian Helmut Thielicke writes “We live in a world scarred by sin, often succumbing to its pressures ourselves, but we also hold to hope of righteousness and complete justice.”[1] Still, I find the hope of righteousness and justice very weak in light of our circumstances. The strongest militaries in the world can’t stop ISIL – superpowers with most of the world’s capital at their disposal can’t bring about righteousness and justice. The sad truth is this: We can’t make, inspire, or force others to live moral lives.   Where in the world is righteousness and justice?

In the Matrix of Christian Ethics, Nullens and Michener serendipitously offer a helpful perspective. In their introduction they provide some historical markers.   They describe Socrates, who would have found righteousness and justice in gaining knowledge; gaining wisdom would supposedly make people act morally.[2] And yet, the Roman Empire with all of its libraries, love of philosophy, and pursuit of knowledge wasn’t characterized by righteousness and justice.

The authors talk about ethics as understood in pre-modernity; they call this time “the empire of the church,” and it was the church that would be the guarantor of universal morality.[3] People looked to the church for ethics; the perception was that they didn’t need a personal knowledge or understanding of right and wrong because it was entirely based on the authority of the church.[4] You don’t have to be a philosopher to know that power corrupts and absolute power actually thinks “Christian Crusades are a good idea!” Righteousness and justice do not emanate from the power wielding church.

The authors continue with a word on modernity, a time in which societies fell in love with reason. This was the age of scientific revolution, the Reformation, and the enlightenment—all of which benefitted from the elevation of reason but they could rightly be asked “Can ethics stand on reason alone?”[5] This is the age that culminated in two world wars, rampant racism, along with the triumph of consumerism at the expense of the poor. Righteousness and justice do not emanate from reason.

Finally, the authors discuss post-modernity and the deconstructionism of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, whose approach questions everything, sows doubt, and dismantles whatever it encounters. But underlying this approach is a commitment to justice. “All human understanding is filtered through interpretive schemes, bases, cultures and backgrounds. Deconstruction seeks to bring these issues to light, to help recognize the latent prejudices causing the suppression of ideas the oppression of people and the prevention of justice.”[6] While I appreciate Derrida’s passion for justice, I have to ask “Justice based on what?” Post-modernity is the age in which terrorism has flourished—and why wouldn’t it in a world that acknowledges no universal truth? If some crazy militant Islamist says “Allah is sanctioning the killing everyone who doesn’t agree with our theology!”—who am I to disagree? Righteousness and justice are either based in reality, transcend time, and are universally applicable, or we’re screwed.

Righteousness and justice exist in the universe because they exist in God; and God exists in this world through the church, imperfect as it is. The church has everything we need to beat Islamic terrorism. Earlier I mentioned that my hope is waning, but that isn’t simply because the enemy is so evil it’s also because the Church is sound asleep.

Nullens and Michener briefly mention a bright spot in church history—a time when Christians were persecuted, and didn’t influence through politics, military, or prosperity:

The early Christians began caring for and sharing with each other with deep compassion, in ways completely known in the classical world. The poor were given food, drink and clothing. The sick were cared for instead of being shunned. Christian attended prisoners, widows, and orphans. During plague epidemics in Alexandria and Carthage, followers of Christ risked their lives to care for sick and bury the dead. This was an upside-down revolution in a society with a low regard for the value of human worth.[7]

If Christians lived lives that reflect God’s love as we’re called to do, if we had another upside-down revolution, I believe Islamic terrorism would disappear. All the frustrated, angry, bored 20- and 30-somethings around the world would be attracted to the faith that not only believes God is love but acts it out—living expressions of God’s justice and righteousness in this world.

[1] Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs: Paternoster Publishing, 2010), 22.

[2] Ibid., 24.

[3] Ibid., 33.

[4] Ibid., 34.

[5] Ibid., 36.

[6] Ibid., 43.

[7] Ibid., 21.

About the Author

Dave Young

husband, dad, friend, student of culture and a pastor.

10 responses to “Where in the world is righteousness and justice?”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Nice relevant post David. I loved your comment, “Righteousness and justice are either based in reality, transcend time, and are universally applicable, or we’re screwed.” And then how righteousness and justice exist because God exists. Beautiful stuff…What I have wrestled with as I read this week was the split Christians seem to have in regards to God’s justice or God’s ethics. We want the simple answer yet not even Christians can agree. I agree with you that God’s love would transform if we were “living expressions of God’s justice and righteousness in this world.” I just wish we could agree on how to do that.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Dave. It does seem that the church has always done her best when located at the margins of a society, doesn’t it? Most times when we have wrested power away from the heathens we strayed from the mandates of Christ and made a mess of things. So, how do we measure our activities? How do we know when we are being successful? Is it when the world is falling apart or is it when all is well and we live in peace?

    • Dave Young says:

      Jon, “How do we know when we are successful”? I think it tends to be more when the world is falling apart–in those times we can see more clearly God at work through us. And ‘measuring success’ is certainly a asspiration fraught with complications for the church but I’m reminded that heaven rejoices over the one who was lost and who is now found. And by the way the church has it’s greatest conversion growth when it’s operating on the edges of culture and society – not in the center.

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dave, Man do I want to believe your statement…”The church has everything we need to beat Islamic terrorism.” But I like you, am struggling these days. It is the ideal I hold in my head, but what that really looks like and takes seems so fantastical to the point of fictitious. I continue to be pressed by a picture of “faithful presence” (James Davison Hunter) and if we could just do that as the Church we would offer such hope and an alternative story to the world. It seems such a test of faith these days because it seems like such a community of lives would get crushed from the face of relevance in our world and never even get a second glance. Definitely deep thoughts evoked here. Great post!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Another wrinkle to this difficult conversation is, how do we offer an alternative view if we, as leaders, won’t become differentiated (Hirschman)? We have become so fixated on the idea of consensus and getting along that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish one stream of thought from another. Instead of a robust, colorful sharing of very different ideas from very different leaders, we have a grey, mushy, boring puddle of goo…

      If the church and her leaders don’t differentiate themselves from the rest of the herd, then our potential to radically change the lives of Islamic terrorists will surely remain unfulfilled!

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    Praise God Dave,

    I too am upset at the move of Isil and how they are persecuting Christians. I feel like the church in the West is not really concerned because out country has it good with all its wealth. It is a time for Christians to gather for prayer meetings, consecration, fellowship and to address these terrorist in a spirit of prayer and intentional spiritual warfare. I long to get back to some of the principals that the early church had. Who knows this persecution may be the way God leads the church back to its knees and the knowledge that we need him even the more!!!!!!!!!

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    I read an article the other day that mirrors nearly everything you’ve said in your post, Dave. “The best way to defeat bad religion is with good religion, and the better way to defeat religious fundamentalism is from within rather than trying to smash it from without.” https://sojo.net/articles/wake-isis-terror-mourning-lament-discernment#sthash.p7ezbI1w.dpuf
    The political rhetoric in the midst of our present situation with the attack on Paris seems to make things even more confusing. Help! As you offer, the only answer is God breathing his justice and righteousness into our broken world, whereby followers of Christ seek to know His voice and act upon it. It all seems so overwhelming. Who do we listen to? What kinds of actions do we take? I can only offer a prayer where I am, and hopefully live out that upside-down Kingdom where I am. Thanks for your words, Dave.

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