Here two authors with firsthand experience in the justice movement encourage us to ground our call to justice in sound biblical and theological teaching as we engage with the most critical global needs of our time. The authors connect justice to Scripture, the character of God, and the long traditions of the church so that our passion meets perseverance and justice becomes an enduring and integrated part of our life and faith.
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The Justice Calling
Where Passion Meets Perseverance
By Bethany Hanke Hoang, Kristen Deede Johnson
Brazos PressCopyright © 2016 International Justice Mission
All rights reserved.
Engage the Whole Story
Justice and Righteousness
Boola was out of options. He knew he was risking his life, but he secretly found a way to make a phone call to his brother. When his brother answered, Boola whispered into the receiver what was happening: he had incurred a small debt and in the midst of this transaction he was taken a thousand miles from home and locked into a brick-making facility. He was enduring vicious beatings, grueling eighteen-hour workdays under a blazing sun, and given very little food or rest. He was trapped and desperate to get out.
Boola had been trafficked into labor slavery. The terms human trafficking and slavery both refer to the use of coercion (whether through force or deception) to exploit a person for labor, sex, or other means of profit or gain. The good news today is that, unlike in generations past, slavery is now illegal in nearly every country on the planet. Boola's own country has good laws against slavery. The problem is that, on the whole, these laws are rarely enforced.
When government authorities choose to turn a blind eye (and often even profit through bribery from their willingness to overlook the crimes) rather than protect those who are most vulnerable, slave owners and others who choose to abuse their power are able to wreak havoc on the lives of whomever they can pull into their traps with no fear of consequences. In this culture of impunity the ones who pay the highest price are the victims like Boola.
Slave owners often lure the vulnerable into their control through lending money and holding over them the ruse of debt that needs to be worked off in order to be repaid. The loans in question are not large, typically borrowed to cover an urgent need such as a medical emergency. And yet, it turns out that the amount of the loan doesn't actually matter. The truth is that slave owners are not interested in being repaid for the money loaned. International Justice Mission (IJM) has documented scores of cases demonstrating that the financial debt owed is not the currency the slave master is most interested in; a physical human body, turned into chattel, is far more valuable to the slave owner than the original money lent.
Taken by force and fraud, Boola was trapped in this highly lucrative trade in human beings. The estimated annual profits for the human trafficking industry today exceed those of Microsoft ($22.1B), BP ($23.5B), Samsung ($27.2B), Exxon ($32.6B), and Apple ($37.0B) combined.
Vividly corroborating the evidence of what slave owners really want, one of the most harrowing forty seconds of video footage I (Bethany) have ever seen comes from an undercover surveillance camera brought inside the walls of a rice mill in South Asia. The video captures a slave master throwing his head back in laughter about the idea of a debt needing to be repaid. With an enormous smile and cackle he says, "The debt? We're not so much interested in the debt."
In his laughter, the slave owner reveals that he knows the incredible profitability of owning human beings. A living, breathing human being is exponentially profitable once secured as a commodity. A drug owner can sell a drug only one time because it is then consumed. A human being can be sold and worked over and over again. Slave masters — whether brothel keepers, or labor compound owners, or the traffickers who broker a transfer of sale — profit many times over from a single human being, working them for months and years until their bodies are simply discarded.
What Is Justice?
Whatever you might be thinking or feeling about what you've read above, you likely have a sense, at root, that this is not right. When we intentionally put these realities on our radar, when we choose to know the stories of slaveowners who gleefully profit from the suffering of millions of slaves like Boola, when we encounter stories and situations of brutal injustice, we might have a deep, intuitive sense that this is not the way things are supposed to be. But what is the basis for our sense that things can and ought to be different? And what can we do to be part of that difference?
In its most direct biblical formulation, justice can best be described as setting things right. But how do we even know what "right" is? How do we make sure that we are pursuing God's vision of "right" rather than our own distorted or culturally constricted vision as we seek justice? The short but crucial answer is that we learn what is right when we look to Jesus Christ and the whole story of Scripture.
When I (Bethany) was in high school, I learned how to reshingle a roof. After several years of mission trips around the United States, I grew to love being up on a roof with a crew of friends. I loved ripping through layers of tar-laden shingles with a sharp shovel, using a crow bar to pull up the old nails, and heaving it all to the ground in a massive heap, creating a clean slate. Once we rolled out rows of tar paper to cover the cleared-off plywood roof structure, we needed to complete a critical step. Before the first shingle could be laid, we needed to stretch a horizontal line across the length of the roof. Covered in chalk, this thin line of twine was held by one person on one side of the roof and then stretched taut by another person on the other side of the roof. "Snap!" One of us pulled the line high, let go, and watched it ricochet off the tar paper, leaving a perfectly straight, level marking of chalk. We repeated this process at intervals up to the ridge of the roof. Only then, when we knew the precise standard against which we would mark out all of our work, could we begin to lay the first row of shingles that would guide the following rows.
Like a chalk line's offering of a horizontal reference point, plumb lines offer a vertical reference point. Both leveling tools have been used in construction since the civilization of ancient Egypt. As we grapple with the idea of righteousness, it is illuminating to note that the Scriptures describe righteousness using the imagery and metaphor of a plumb line (Isa. 28:17). God's righteousness helps us to see the path of right living we are called to follow and to gauge whether we are living "rightly" and treating one another and the created world in accordance with how God created and redeemed us to live.
Every leveling tool needs a point of reference. In our pursuit of what it means to be "right," Jesus Christ is that standard. Jesus embodies what is perfectly right, and his life serves as a measure against which we can determine what is right and what is not right. As God in the flesh, Jesus had all the power and the authority in the world, and he consistently used his power and authority not for his own gain but for the flourishing of others. He "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). Living in perfect communion with God, Jesus not only dedicated his life to love and service but he also gave his life to conquer sin, death, and injustice of every kind. Exemplifying how God intended humanity to live from the very beginning, he showed us right relationships, right living, and the right use of power, undertaken out of love for God and love for others.
We need the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ — "the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1) — to know what is right, but Christ doesn't just leave us with a measure of what is right. He is more than a plumb line or a chalk line against which we measure ourselves, leaving us to do the work of fixing what is not right in ourselves and in this world. Through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension he shares his righteousness with us. He sets us right with God so that we can live in right relationship with God and offer every part of our lives as instruments of justice and righteousness in this world (Rom. 3:21–26; 6:13). Ultimately, "setting things right" is God's work. We don't fully see Christ's justice reflected in this world, but we live in hope of Christ's return, when he will finally and fully set all things right.
Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit invites followers of Jesus to join him in his work of setting all things right; God gives us the ministry of reconciliation in this world (2 Cor. 5:14–21). God calls us to join him in the pursuit of justice as we use our power to seek what is right and just in this world. When people use their power to enable others to flourish and live as they were created to live, justice is the result. Injustice occurs when power is used to exploit, abuse, and even destroy.
The biblical sense of justice as setting things right comes into play after the fall, when humans begin to use the power God has given them to seek their own selfish ambitions rather than seeking God's vision. Shalom, the Hebrew word used to refer to the flourishing of all of God's creation, involves God, humans, and the rest of creation living together in harmony, wholeness, justice, and delight. The English translation of shalom is "peace," but that word fails to capture the rich and vibrant life that the Hebrew concept entails. In keeping with God's intentions, a world that truly embodies shalom is a world of justice and righteousness, with everyone and everything flourishing as a result of living "rightly" — that is, living in accordance with the ways God created them to live and to flourish.
When God created humans, he charged them with stewardship of the created world. He shared his very own power and authority with them so that they had the power and authority to faithfully care for God's world and for each other, using their God-given power to seek the wholeness of everyone and everything. But we know that the story takes a tragic turn. Instead of gratefully receiving the calling God had given them and faithfully using the power God had entrusted to them, the first humans chose their own way. Instead of trusting God's vision for them and for the flourishing of the world, they used their power to seek what they thought would be best for themselves. When they made that choice, they were essentially rejecting not only God but also the justice calling God had given them.
As a result, the door to injustice opened. Separated from right relationship with God, generation upon generation of people have used power not for love of God and others but rather to seek their own distorted notions of what is right, thereby seeking their own glory, security, or authority. Along the way, the people and the world that God created for flourishing have instead been exploited, abused, and even destroyed.
I (Kristen) was reflecting on this idea of "setting right" when my son broke his arm. The brokenness was immediately evident, as the bone jutted sideways in a clear distortion of God's intended design. The top priority of the orthopedic doctor was to set the bone right (ortho comes from the Greek for "right" or "straight"). With the bone painstakingly set straight by the doctor, the healing process could begin.
My son's broken arm, this departure from the way arms are supposed to be, reminded me of the way God's original picture of justice, wholeness, and delight gave way to an unjust and tragic world. In the midst of this fallen world, God called Israel to be his holy people and reaffirmed his justice calling. By drawing them into relationship with him and giving them his law as a guide, God called them to use the power and authority he'd given them to create a nation that reflected and pursued God's vision of justice, righteousness, and shalom. Justice as "setting things right" is what God is referring to when he tells Israel to "follow justice and justice alone" (Deut. 16:19–20). He is calling them to be a people set apart by their consistent commitment to seek what is right in a world full of wrongs, to return to the plumb line he has set, to seek justice in a world marked by injustice, to bring light to the darkness around them. Eventually, in his loving faithfulness, God sent Jesus Christ to set right all that was wrong, broken, and distorted. In and through Christ and the Spirit we are invited into God's family and called to participate with God in seeking and living God's vision of what is right.
God's righteousness provides the backdrop against which we can understand God's vision for justice and the justice calling that God has for us today. As we explore the biblical story, the five concepts of holiness, hesed, justice, righteousness, and shalom — which are all embodied in Jesus Christ and evident throughout the biblical witness — will be important guides.
One Interconnected Story
Writing in the second century AD, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, is the earliest surviving example of a Christian who sought to combine the different parts of the biblical narrative into one story. Irenaeus also believed that each of us is a character in the story of the Bible. As you engage the story of Scripture throughout this book, know that you are part of a long tradition dedicated to immersion in the whole of Scripture — a story in which you are also a character with a calling.
My (Bethany's) friend and mentor Ruth Padilla DeBorst has committed her life to creating space for others to live more fully into this full story of Scripture. She and her husband Jim founded Casa Adobe in Costa Rica (www.casaadobe.org), and it has become a place to both learn and embody what it means to live in mission not only among neighbors in your own community but also globally amid the needs of the world as a whole. People are invited to come to Casa Adobe as visitors for a brief retreat or as community members for a year of immersion and service.
Ruth has been witness both to shattering suffering and unspeakable beauty, and every conversation with her imbues my life with wisdom. She's written and taught widely on the critical importance of engaging the whole of Scripture and living into the fullness of God's intentions for justice in our world. In particular, I find the following excerpt from an interview she did with Andy Crouch to be a helpful snapshot regarding what is at stake in our approach to reading Scripture:
I've been struck by how fragmented our reading of the Bible is. It's a kind of Sunday school version of the Bible: all these isolated little Bible stories, taught out of their context. What we need to reclaim is the big story, the big picture. "In the beginning God ..." — that's where we need to begin. In the end, we find the new Jerusalem and all people bowing before the Lord of all nations. The story between that beginning and that end is not divorced from human history. Rather, it is a picture of God's involvement in history.
One of the most pervasive themes throughout the Bible is freedom. Stories, illustrations, and allusions to freedom and slavery (both physical and spiritual, as well as the intersection of the two) abound, from Genesis through Revelation. Understanding Scripture as one connected story helps us to see how our pursuit of justice fits within God's long-standing desire for the freedom, the flourishing, and the wholeness of this world and everything in it. The larger story of Scripture gives us a picture of what God intended when God created and redeemed the world and what full redemption will look like when Christ comes again. It provides a picture of how things are meant to be so that when we witness how deeply things have gone wrong, we can name them as wrong and join in with the work of God — who is always moving and inviting us to join him in making things right.
As Ruth explains, "I often think about the disciples on the way to Emmaus. When they were blind to Jesus, he explained 'all the Scriptures.' Too often we don't look at all the Scripture, all of life, and God's comprehensive intentions of not leaving any corner of the earth untouched by his love." Jesus is with us on this road, just as he was with the disciples, and by his Spirit he will provide everything we need to know to understand the interconnected story of Scripture more deeply, to love the world and those in it, and to join him in all he is doing in this world.
As we wade into the murky waters of injustice, corruption, and violence, we need to know God's Word in such a way that we are buttressed by its truth in the face of darkness and lies. We need to be immersed in the story of Scripture to see more and more of the God who is leading us and calling us as we follow him beyond the borders of what we know. If we ask God to help us better know the entire story of Scripture, God will show us not only his consistent concern for justice but also his consistent calling to his people to seek justice in this world.
When we move from the story of Scripture to stories of injustice in this world, we realize that real lives are at stake, every day. But the reality of what is at stake is not meant to be a burden of guilt; it is a gracious invitation from God to join him in seeking justice through the saving work of Jesus Christ, who has given us all we need to respond to this justice calling.
Excerpted from The Justice Calling by Bethany Hanke Hoang, Kristen Deede Johnson. Copyright © 2016 International Justice Mission. Excerpted by permission of Brazos Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsContents
1. Justice & Perseverance
An Invitation to Live Deeply Rooted in Christ
2. Justice & the Bible
An Invitation to Immersion in the Whole Story of Scripture
3. Justice & Righteousness
An Invitation to Love
4. Justice & Creation
An Invitation to Sabbath Rest
5. Justice & the Fall
An Invitation to Move toward Darkness
6. Justice & Israel
An Invitation to Live Our Identity as God's People
7. Justice & the Prophets
An Invitation to Lament in the Face of Suffering and Injustice
8. Justice & Jesus
An Invitation to Be Saints, Not Heroes
9. Justice & Mission
An Invitation to Be Sanctified and Sent
10. Justice & the Age to Come
An Invitation to Hope