I’ll be honest (always a good choice) the word ‘justice’ makes me cautious. This has not always been the case. In the past I was happy to champion it, but I find that I now grow restless when it’s mentioned. Frankly, I find this change in me very upsetting because I want to be supportive of justice. I certainly remain strongly opposed to injustice. So what is it about this biblical word that makes me so prickly?
Partly, it’s due to the way the word has been abused. It seems to me that the word is overused and attached to some dubious agendas. But that alone is not enough to alarm me. What really troubles me is the theology that is frequently attached to “justice” causes. The wrong assumption behind much of modern Christian activism is that we have been called to save the world, that the mission of the Church is the redemption of creation.
This concern led me to read The World is not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. The title may suggest a general indifference to social need but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Wigg-Stevenson is the founder of the Two Futures Project, a movement of Christians for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. The son of activists, he has assumed their mantle and devoted his life to doing good. What prompted him to write this book is the cause-fatigue he sees in many of his fellow activists. They are growing weary and he believes that their exhaustion is based on bad theology.
He writes, “…those of us who shared such well-intentioned impulses were actually modeling ourselves after the wrong Christ. Our problem wasn’t a lack of concern for Jesus; his heart and compassion drove our response. But in taking the world’s burdens onto our backs, we were trying to grow in the image of Christ that we see in Colossians: the cosmic Jesus in whom “all things hold together” and through whose blood God chose to “reconcile to himself all things” (1:17, 20). Horrified by the sin and pain [of the world], we try to stretch wide enough and sacrifice hard enough to fix it. Does this sound like the faith of anyone you know?
Our shoulders aren’t big enough for that task. The miracle of the incarnation means that Jesus the man is also the Son of God, and so his sacrifice is sufficient for all of us. As disciples, we are called to conformity with his image, but not to his divinity (see Romans 8:29; Luke 6:40).”
Wigg-Stevenson explains that the world’s problems are enormously complex and the solutions continue to elude us. We, as humans, are culpable for the mess and incapable of fixing what we broke. Fortunately, there is a solution and he is Jesus. He is the one who will usher in a new heaven and a new earth, and then everyone who believes will enjoy peace and justice. When we lose sight of Jesus and assume his messianic role we are on dangerous ground.
Does this mean that we become passive in the face of injustice? No. Absolutely not! While we cannot construct God’s kingdom for Him, we can (and should) do good deeds that reflect the ideal that God is accomplishing. We may not be able to save the world but we can change it for the better. Realizing our limitations, and depending on Christ for the future will alleviate the crippling demands we impose on ourselves. A proper understanding of our role in God’s work will free us to do good for the long haul.
I’m not sure that I can endorse everything in Wigg-Stevenson’s book but I am short on objections. Some of his conclusions may differ slightly from mine but his premise is sound and I share his desire to see Christians do good.