"Love for Justice" - Pastor Zach Vandenberg
Today it rained. In fact, it rained all weekend. When I woke up this morning I rolled out of bed, dressed, and walked in the wet over to church. A few others were out and about - people heading to work, people walking the dog, and a homeless man heading to the spot in the neighborhood where he sits every morning.
I’m out and about because once a week I gather with some other members of my church for a prayer meeting. We always pray for those who are homeless, but we pray for them extra on days when it rains. We need the rain, but the rain makes life hard for the homeless.
The theme verse for this series of devotions comes from an occasion when Jesus was at a kind of prayer meeting with members of his community, and the familiar words that he read from Isaiah 61 still ring in our churches just as they rang in that synagogue. The words he read were the mission statement of the Messiah: good news for the poor, freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed, sight for the blind. Such action belongs to the heart of Jesus’ mission.
Then, just a few verses down the page in Isaiah 61 we find out why, why it is that this set of objectives is God’s mission. In Isaiah 61: 8 God tells us, saying, “I, the Lord, love justice.”
What is justice? And why does God love it?
One answer I heard recently, loudly declared, was that justice is when people get what they deserve. This answer has a ring of simplicity and seems at least somewhat true, but it’s an answer that obscures the way Scripture describes justice. For example, Psalm 140: 12 says, “The Lord maintains the cause of the afflicted and executes justice for the needy.” Or when Isaiah says “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Justice is more than giving those who do wrong what they deserve.
As the Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff explains, if justice is just people getting what they deserve then the impression we get is that justice is grounded in God’s anger at those who disobey his commands and abuse the rights of the vulnerable. But our examination of Scripture reveals that the work God’s justice is really about putting the world back together for the weak ones, and protecting the rights of vulnerable human beings who bear his image. God rescues slaves in Egypt. God hears the plea of the widow and the orphan and acts.
These Scriptures ground God’s justice in God’s love for people and love for flourishing communities, rather than anger at those who disobey. Anger may be a function of justice, but it functions as an instrument of love, love for the defenseless and the victimized. Jesus came to do justice in his ministry because of his great love for such people: the poor, the prisoner, the oppressed, and the blind.
This great love of God in Christ is a love that suffers with and for the victims of injustice, and this is why it is fitting for us to think about justice and love during the season of Lent, when we remember the way Jesus suffered for us. Wolterstorff sums up the connection between Jesus’ love and Jesus’ work of justice well when he writes, “God’s love of the victims of the world is God’s suffering love. It is in that love that God’s love of justice is grounded. The tears of God are the soil in which God’s love of justice is rooted.”
The rainy day ended at about noon, and the sun came out brilliant and beautiful. The sky was washed clean after the long, wet, cold weekend. I was glad for the rain, but felt a heaviness for those exposed to it.
Likewise, our work of justice is both a heaviness and a gladness, a sorrow and a joy, as we groan for a new world put back together. It is both a gift and a burden, for those who love Christ. As the puritan pastor John Owen says, “This trouble and groaning is amongst our best attainments in this world, a trouble which, I pray God, I may never be delivered from, until deliverance do come at once from this state mortality.” It is “like a shower that falls on a man in a garden in the spring.”
HOW TO PRAY:
The term “social justice” can be very loaded for many. Pray that God would show you what HIS justice looks like in light of His love for you and others.
When it rains, pray for our homeless neighbors who do not have any shelter. The cold weather and related complications can be a life-threatening for our elderly or medically-frail homeless neighbors.
Isaiah 61: 8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.”
About the Author: Pastor Zach Vandenberg - I grew up in Michigan but came west to LA first as a teacher and then as a pastor. I have been ministering here in Bellflower for six years.
The quote from Nicholas Wolterstorff is from the essay “Why Care about Justice” page 99. Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and Word. ed. Gornik and Thompson. Eerdmans. 2011
The quote from John Owen is from his book Meditations on the Glory of Christ. page 142. Sovereign Grace Union. London. 1933