The Image of God is the Image of Justice

But you, God of mercy and compassion,

slow to anger, O Lord,

abounding in love and truth,

turn and take pity on me.

– Psalm 86

The Lord has made known his salvation;

has shown his justice to the nations.

Rejoice at the presence of the Lord:

for he comes to rule the earth.

He will rule the world with justice

and the peoples with fairness.

– Psalm 98

The Psalmist says he will rejoice at the presence of the Lord.  Why?  Because as the Lord rules the earth, he does it with justice: fairness, with deep compassion, love, and truth.  This is cause to rejoice!  This is cause to respond in worshipful praise and thanksgiving.  

This is the kind of justice we’re looking for in our cities and communities.  As Christ followers and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are shaped by a biblical image of God who is about faithful, fair, authentic, loving, and compassionate leadership-governance-rulership-exercise of power.  

Our exercise of justice (the exercise of governing, leadership power) is now judged faithful or unfaithful in a moral sense because of God’s ways of justice.  Our sense of justice is now measured up to God’s sense of justice. This is why how we view social justice has much more to do with the way we image God.  How does God govern?  How does God rule?  How does God bring forth fairness?  He rules with tenderness, compassion, truth, love, and fairness.  This means that our sense of justice is to be shaped by God’s sense of justice.

My friend Robert is one of the most upstanding men I know.  A family man.  A committed follower of Jesus.  He has shared stories with me of growing up in San Diego and being pulled over by police officers who didn’t rule (justice) in authentic, faithful, and compassionate ways.  For no reason (other than being a black man), he’d get pulled over while going to work, or to the beach, or driving back home.  Simply because he was black.  

Are there good, faithful, authentic, and compassionate cops?  Absolutely!  There are two retired cops living in my neighborhood who are upstanding!  

But even they would tell you that having governing power in the wrong hands is dangerous.  And it’s in the particular stories that we find a particular God ruling something just or unjust.  And it’s in the particular stories of our friends that we find human unfairness, inauthenticity to exercise power, anger, and prejudice.

We seek God’s justice and pray that God would rule in the hearts of people. We pray for ways to see God in biblical ways: compassionate, faithful, authentically truthful, fair, and abounding in love. And this is why we are to pray for those who have misused their power and have used it unjustly. God will show them mercy and compassion. And this is why you and I are to seek God’s justice for the oppressed and marginalized.

One pastoral note: if we’re having a hard time with justice, we might want to return to the scriptures and read how God judges and rules. God has set the standard. Psalm 86 and 98 make it plain.

Our God Reigns

There are numerous instances in my life where things (an event, musical piece, relationship, school paper, work situation, a basketball game) seem to be spinning of out control. Chalk it up to things like unknown variables, high emotions and tempers, fears or concerns, or multiple voices.

Whatever it is, I feel like I’m spinning. Usually, it takes a shift in perspective, a friend, or colleague to help me get back to a place of truth and wholeness; a mindset and heart posture that help me create a great musical moment or a word of forgiveness. Or maybe a missed free throw to win the game but a redemptive 3-pointer made in overtime because of a team members’ encouragement.

My heart and mind have been spinning this week because of what’s happening in our country. To see a wave of protests calling out for change is historical.
Talking to friends and others about racial issues and justice seem like topics we shouldn’t have to defend. But here we are trying to explain why a prophetic phrase like #blacklivesmatter is part of the Gospel story, not a political one.

Today’s liturgical readings mention the God who upholds the cause of the oppressed, sets prisoners free, and gives sight to the blind. This is where we get our theology to uphold justice and come alongside a group of people who are experiencing suffering.

All four passages (Job 38:1-11,42:1-5, Revelation 19:4-16, John 1:29-34, Psalm 146, 147) have a recurring theme which John the Revelator summaries quite well:

“On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.”

The truth that Our God Reigns has been the shift in spirituality this week. When I’ve listened to a black friend share his bewilderment and pain, or when I’ve talked to an employee about a family member having cancer, or praying for an executive to lead an initiative, some of it can leave me spinning.

But when Christina and I are talking and sharing our laments, we were given the reminder that “OUR GOD REIGNS”.

Why does that change things for us?Why does it matter that we believe and confess something that seems obvious or trivial to some?What kind of difference does it make that we say, trust, and surrender to these words and reality?

Because the Story of God is the main narrative that frames how we engage injustice, racism, marriage woes, corporate culture, parenting, and my own sins and hopes.

We can share our protests to God and as Christ Followers, this is what we do! We cry out to the God who reigns with justice. To the God who liberates the oppressed and the oppressor. We can cry out to God and confess that we are in need of a power greater than ours.

For as much as we protest and do the work of justice in public and civil ways, we are just as much crying out for God to reign. Because when God reigns, there is justice, peace, and joy.

Compassion and Character Development

“God of justice, love, and mercy” are the lyrics to a song. And this God seeks to meet our needs. Jesus says in Matthew 15:32, “I have compassion for these people…” He goes on to meet the needs of the people without them even asking, which can suggest that God sees our needs and longs to do something about it.

Yet God is inviting us to a transformative life where we become compassionate people, taking initiative, and becoming responsible self-leading adults. The work of God to meet our needs is sometimes a precursor for us to learn to trust and become responsible citizens, parents, or employees.

Jesus shows us compassion so that we might be compassionate people. That’s why I’m open to border and immigration reform that attends to both the needs of the people longing for a better life, but also done in a responsible way.

It’s also why I encourage employees to take personal and professional responsibility in order to become just, loving, and merciful people. To be compassionate is to meet the needs of those hurting, to restore them to full function, so that they might become compassionate people who serve others as restored, fully functioning people.