Justice runs throughout Scripture

One of the main themes that run through scripture is justice for the poor and oppressed.

Let me clarify that statement so you can understand the full impact. I’m currently reading “the Lost Art of Scripture” by Karen Armstrong. It’s a great and fascinating book – taking me back to my seminary days. She is a proficient author on theological topics having written over 20 books.

In this book she argues that all scripture – regardless of religion, culture, or time – have similar major themes that run through them. Some of those themes are about the human yearning for transformation, seeking the divine, and that the divine cares about the plight of the poor and oppressed and yearns for justice for them from those in authority.

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the teachings of Buddha or Confucius, the Vedas in India, ancient Chinese religious beliefs, or Islam, or any other religion from the ancient world. The message was always the same – justice for the poor. That’s because most of the world operated on an agrarian system that was oppressive to the vast majority of people. And the divine expected those in charge to care for those under their rule.

This wasn’t a one off set of beliefs – it was every culture in every time.

The prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures have a heavy focus on justice for the poor and oppressed as well as a specific focus on welcome to the stranger and foreigner. Many of Jesus parables and teachings continue with these traditions.

Yet somehow the Western Church, especially certain parts of Christianity have ignored these themes. They have turned faith into a private practice and piety that closer resembles ideological beliefs than any scripture tradition throughout history. Often discussion of justice in the church is shouted down by people in the church because it’s just “too political,” meaning it doesn’t match with their ideological belief system and so they don’t want to talk about it.

We want to claim the name of Jesus, but we don’t want to talk about the things that Jesus cares about.

Maybe we don’t want to look in the mirror and see how we contribute to the status quo of injustice to the poor and oppressed through out politics and policies that we believe we somehow personally benefit from. Maybe we don’t want to examine that we’re not the Israelites or first believers in the story, but rather are often the Babylonians or the Romans. Maybe we think this doesn’t really apply to us.

When we ignore justice for the poor and oppressed, we shift our attention to our favorite thing to worship – ourselves. We become far more concerned not with how God comes to the aid of the poor and oppressed and desires justice for them and how God calls on us to participate in that, but rather how God comes to our personal aid to do what we want. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Justice doesn’t have to difficult and feel like we are rowing against the stream. It starts with having empathy for others – another theme that runs throughout all scriptures. Yes, you are supposed to care about other people.

Anderson writes about left and right brain in relation to religion. The summary is that we’ve focused far much on the left side of the brain – the part of the brain that is concerned with fact, right/wrong, analytical thinking, and the side that is very competitive and far more selfish. The right brain is less self-centered, can take on wide-ranging vision to hold different views of reality simultaneously and doesn’t focus on certainties. It is focused on empathy and concern for the other along with a deep sense of justice. (Pg. 5-6).

We could use more right brain living in our world and society. When we are unbalanced in how we use our brains, like we are now, the negative effects have a real impact on society as a whole. Large segments of Christianity have fallen into this – far too concerned with who is right and who is wrong, rather than having empathy for others. Without empathy, justice can’t exist. Because there is no concern for the other.

This is our challenge. It’s well past time to rebalance faith. If our churches won’t, then they won’t survive, nor should they. But it starts with each one of us. We can train our brains, we can determine what we focus on. And we can live this way. Being concerned with right and wrong is a never ending battle which leaves you frustrated and exhausted and angry. That’s not faith. You can get that from any dictatorship.

There’s a reason why all scriptures throughout time and place have an emphasis on justice, encountering the divine, and transformation. Because we all need these things. Focusing on right and wrong doesn’t ever produce justice, blinds us from encountering the divine, and prevents us from being transformed.

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