Justice, Spirit and Mission
(Based on a Bible Study from the book of Isaiah given at Micah Conference, Pune, May 2004)
The Bible talks about the Spirit of God as the Spirit of Justice. Today, most mission groups and evangelical churches see social engagement as mission. In the same way, in our attempt to make Justice an important aspect of Church’s mission we need to restore an understanding of the Holy Spirit and his relationship to Justice.
Justice is the character of God
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” (Isaiah 11:1-5)
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42: 1-4)
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…” (Isaiah 61: 1-2)
These are known as the Servant Songs. Christian scholars link these songs to the Messiah. It is clear in these passages that the Spirit was an indispensable part of the Messianic Mission. And in this role of the Spirit He is seen as the one who equips Christ to judge the world with justice.
Justice is a character of God in the Bible. The Bible says, ‘But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness’ (Isaiah 5:16). God revealed his holiness in his commitment to justice, and to righteousness. Holiness is not a branch or school of thought. It is very important to understand that when we talk about justice we are talking about the character of a holy God, and therefore when we are recovering justice in the church, we need to recover again an understanding of what it means to understand God as a holy God. It says here, God will show his holiness by his justice.
Holiness in India is usually presented as withdrawal from society. This is true even among the evangelical Christians, because the holy men and women of God generally have nothing to do with the world. There is a feeling that holiness requires a kind of a quiet withdrawal from the rest of the world. But what the Bible says here is that the holy God will show Himself holy by acts of righteousness and justice. Justice is the activity by which a person expresses his own pursuit of the holiness. God is just in all that he does. And that is why in prayer we can appeal to God’s justice.
We are good at running programmes. But justice is not a programme of God, it is His character. God is just, so we can go to him in prayer and say ‘‘you have promised and it is your character to do justice because you are Lord who hears the cry of those who are oppressed, you are the Lord who hears the poor and the marginalized”. Yahweh introduces himself to Moses as the one who has heard the cry of his people, seen their condition and has come down. That was the introductory statement of a God that the people of Israel knew. The God who hears the cry of the people, a God whose character is tuned to the crying of the people who are oppressed.
When Justice is only a programme, we can choose to either do it or not. But if justice is our character we will have no choice. It would be manifested in our life. Justice will become the character of the evangelical community, justice will become the way we look at things, the way we order our life, and the way we order our homes.
We should first work towards making justice a character of Christian community. So that we will feel uncomfortable whenever there is injustice. “I have heard the cry of my people and I have come down”. Sometimes injustice may not happen in our vicinity, it may happen in Africa perhaps so far removed from us. Christians in India need to begin to develop the character of justice - the character of God. Justice is an expression of God’s holiness. When God who is holy expresses his holiness through justice our holiness too has to be seen in justice. It is not in the way we wear our clothes, in the way we carry our Bibles, talking in a particular vocabulary, behave in a particular way and not being found with certain groups. Doing justice is an indicator of a spirit filled person.
Justice and Worship
How does Justice as character reflect in our encounter with God? It begins with our experience of Worship. It cannot be denied that today much of our focus on the Spirit is limited primarily to our experience of Worship. Often the quality of our Spiritual experience is in ‘the great worship time’ we have. But what is the kind of worship that is acceptable to God?
Again listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah (1: 10-17)
“ Hear the word of the LORD , you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! The multitude of your sacrifices- what are they to me?” says the LORD. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. ” When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. “
When we worship the one who is on the throne we are worshipping the God who judges the world with justice. The invitation to come to his throne is to witness the God who does justice. Worship is an activity of the community that is committed to justice. Worship becomes an expression of a community that hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness. In Amos, God once again expresses his displeasure with worshippers whose life does not manifest the character of God.
“I hate and despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies…. let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!” (5:21-24)
God too has a taste of music; perhaps He doesn’t like our worship. What is His taste of music? The sound of justice rolling on like a river; righteousness like a never failing stream. God seeks worshippers, it is not worshippers who seek God; God seeks worshippers and he is looking for worshippers who do justice. In our contemporary focus on worship we seem to dilute the concerns for justice that God expects of his worshippers. To a people who inquire of God:
‘Why have we fasted and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?’ God’s answer is very simple. He says:
“On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers….. …..Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? ..Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and unite the cords of the yoke to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…” (Isaiah 58:3-7)
To worship God in the Spirit is to worship him in line with his character as the God of Justice. Even in our songs of worship today there are hardly any songs that relate to justice.
Justice and Mission
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Mission. Both in the Old Testament and in the New, the Spirit is given to us in the context of Mission. Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem till they ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ and they will be his witnesses. Jesus began his Nazareth ministry with the announcement that the ‘Spirit of the Lord is upon him … to bring good news…’. Isaiah put it this way, ‘…In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.’ (42:4). Yes the end of mission is the establishment of justice on earth.
The word justice in Hebrew and Greek in New Testament means to do right in the eyes of the Lord. To do justice is to do right in the eyes of God. Even in the calling of Abraham, God intended to make him a blessing to the nations when he ‘directs his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just..’ (Gen 18:19). A very important responsibility of parenthood is to cultivate in our children the value of ‘what is right’ and ‘what is just’. Justice begins at home. Don’t leave it to society to give you value of justice, Christian homes should be the one to teach children. When society is unjust whom do you blame? Perhaps our homes are the main culprits. Our churches and institutions too have become unjust.
The Spirit of the Lord is the Spirit for mission; the Spirit creates the community of justice. The Spirit was not given to make us feel good. The Spirit would enable us to be a community in a mission and the community of mission is a community that is to bring justice. So justice is not just doing right but to establish an environment where right is done. It is not just your doing right in your private life; we need to create in our country an environment where justice is done.
When a person with HIV loses his job; has no house to live because nobody will take him in or his/her children are thrown out of school then the church in India should be there to stand with them and to create an environment of justice. When people do not have enough to eat, when people sell their children to survive, the church should be the one to establish an environment of justice. So that is the mission of the church.
We must remember that the essential character of holiness is that it is the character of justice. And the Holy Spirit is the spirit of justice and secondly we must remember worship reflects our understanding of a just God. It is not a feel good experience. It is a community that is committed to justice which gathers together to celebrate the character of God’s justice. And thirdly, mission is a mission of doing justice because it is the mission of the Holy Spirit.
CB. Samuel is the former General Director of EFICOR. At present he is the Chairman of Prabhaav- a network of Evangelicals in Social Concerns.