~ Aggressive Love and Justice ~
Many years ago we were waiting for our meal at a restaurant. One of my nieces, a toddler then, passed the time by playing with the draw strings of the window curtain next to our table. Suddenly the curtain rack came crashing down, freezing conversation and time for a moment, during which my mind took a snapshot of my niece’s horrified face. She was in no trouble, but the unexpected created a sense of doom in her little mind. This was followed by a “God moment.” She flew into her mother’s arms and hugged her neck, tearfully saying, “I love you, mommy.”
My niece didn’t scream, say anything about being sorry or needing help, or hide under the table in fear. Instead, she flew to the source of her life and felt and pronounced the most powerful words in the cosmos – the same words into which the Creator incarnated: I love you. They were not spoken to “butter up” her mother or make the terrible surprise go away. They were not planned. “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2, NIV). Is there a more illustrious and powerful expression of praise than God-ordained love? Didn’t Paul, after writing a chapter on the dazzling spiritual gifts that capture people’s longing for the out-of-the-ordinary phenomenon, end it by saying he would now show us a greater, excellent way of doing and being? (1 Corinthians 12:29). Then he wrote the most eloquent chapter on only one gift, love.
Since we are taught to “put things into perspective,” we seem to do that with the divine mysteries very readily, as though it were possible to put mystery and God in some kind of human perspective! So we often hear, “God is merciful, but He is also a just God.” Those “buts” annoy me. For example, how many of us were ever able to feel no disturbance on hearing the ominous words, “I love you, but…”? So Scripture makes a great statement to ponder deeply: “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully” (Proverbs 28:5, NIV).
Many people, therefore, like to triumphantly say, “Well, the Bible says ‘An eye for an eye’,” as though to imply that is God’s justice. In those biblical days, and today as well, people typically practiced justice with a vengeance. If somebody stole your cow, teach him a lesson and burn down his house, or at least chop off his fingers. Levitical law put the breaks on this insane sense of justice: Listen people, settle on a cow for a cow. The law also provided for restitution, productive and redeeming justice, and even animal rights and just treatment.
Jesus, of course, characteristically turned cultural and legal mores upside down explaining that hate is murder and mercy is justice. Those, as Proverbs put it, “who seek the Lord” will find justice, mercy and love frequently coupled in both the Old and New Testaments. (By the way, please consider joining me in resisting the new politically correct trend of referring to the Old Testament as the “Hebrew Scriptures.” The New Testament is just as Judaic, written by Jews who remained faithful to their cultural and spiritual heritage and practices.)
“I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise” (Psalm 101:1, NIV). What is this relationship between love and justice? After Israel was charged with a “case against his [God’s] people,” the prophet, Micah, wrote, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come to him with burnt offerings,…? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8, NIV).
No eye for an eye is required here, yet Micah does go on to describe in detail the misery of sin. There is again, however, a wondrous conclusion: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light…Then my enemy will see it and will be covered with shame, she who said to me, ‘Where is the Lord, your God?’ My eyes will see her downfall, even now she will be trampled underfoot like mire in the streets…Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:8-10, 18-19, NIV).
Is this true justice or is it justice put aside in favor of mercy? The apostle John points at the answer: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” ( 1 John1:9a, NIV, emphasis mine). Paul wrote, “It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33b, NIV). We will not understand God’s justice by putting it into human perspective. Delightfully experience the mystery and appreciate the summation that “Many seek an audience with a ruler [or legal authority], but it is from the Lord that man gets justice” Proverbs 29:26, NIV).
Throughout history to today, millions of people in all nations have been victims of both the justice and injustice of humans. I say both because people who live apart from God or who don’t earnestly seek Him cannot seem to agree on the dividing line between justice and injustice. In God’s eyes, human justice and injustice are two opposite words for the same thing, be it civil, moral or military. A contemplative digestion of Scripture reveals God’s heart, along with the silencing of the incessant babble in our brains long enough to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.
And how we love to be
victims! If we haven’t been directly victimized, our ancestors have and
we can proudly adopt and wear their victimization. Being a victim endows
a moral superiority, not to mention the possibility of a cash bonus to
provide some “consolation.” To critique a victim is like giving a truthful
eulogy at a funeral.
A taboo it is, and those who break it incur the curse of social and political crucifixion. Jesus Himself reminded us that the people killed the prophets (proclaimers of God’s truth) sent to them.
As St. Paul wrote, however, we can choose the most excellent way: Let us pursue being victims of God’s love! What greater, more resplendent, ecstatic victimization is there besides being captive, bonded, seized, ravished and swollen by the Love of God? Our triune God has been and will ever be relentless in His love’s pursuit of our souls and spirits. Unforgiveness and parading our human victimization like banners fortifies our self-centeredness, a wall which only casts a dark shadow upon itself as God’s loving light comes to rest on the other side. Divine love is aggressive, but as the most excellent gift, that of eternal union with the Source of all good and love, it does not go along with any games that play hard to get or hide and seek.
My niece in the restaurant could have settled for being the victim of hurt, accident, fear, trouble, embarrassment or anger. Instead, she threw herself into the victimization of the most excellent way, that of love. Come to think of it, Christ did the same thing. Yes, He was a victim. Christ was a voluntary victim of His own incomprehensible love for us. Let’s strive to ever increasingly share that magnificent victimization with Him, symbolized by His cross. That is His will, to behold, cherish and love our fragility, weaknesses, pain and woundedness of our human hearts. And we do pray His will be done, don’t we?
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © August 3, 2002
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