Beyond Justice: Biblical Foundation for Mission and Justice Part 1 of 2

Beyond Justice, parts 1 and 2 were written by R. York Moore and are the full, non-filmed manuscripts for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA and World Vision ACT:S campaign project, “Beyond Justice,” or “Get ACT:IVE” campaign.

The Scene

The world is alive around her-charged air, pulsing ground, high hanging blue sky.  The city with all its magic whirls around the couple walking hand in hand along the water’s edge.  Strappy heals dangle from her hand as she walks barefoot, feeling the grass beneath her feet.  A sweet smell fills the air as a summer breeze carries the hum of some unknown band.  Cicada beetles and cardinals echo throughout the city streets as she brushes her fingers through the dense air of a hot July day.  She tucks her head beneath his chin, imagining what could be.  A life together of joy, of endless summer nights-peace, safety, security-most of all togetherness-she breaths out a wishful sigh.  It is a place of magic, a dream that every once and a while we get to smell and taste and touch.  Every now and then we lose ourselves, forgetting about the worries of this world, we let go and feel the grass beneath our feet and just dream.  Joy, peace, contentment, safety, companionship-these are some of the things that we long for.  True happiness, love, and freedom, this is the texture of a world just beyond our reach.  It is the fabric of another place that we know exists in our hearts.  There is a place our soul calls out for, another place that our soul remembers.

Beyond Justice

We are aware of another world peaking and poking into ours, tearing at the fabric of our souls and bringing both hope as well as dissatisfaction.  We are aware of this other place not only during times of intense pleasure and joy but also during times of suffering and injustice.  Exploitation, abuse and neglect, death and disease, destruction and displacement-there are many conditions we see and possibly experience ourselves in this world that cause us to dream of another one.  For some, the suffering and injustice of this world causes them to lose faith, to doubt the existence of this other place, but for others it causes them to put their lives on the line, it inspires great acts of bravery and heroism, it drives some to give their all to reach for the dream. History is filled with the stories of millions upon millions who hoped against hope for another world and who risked their lives to establish justice in their pursuit of joy.  There are lots of obstacles to this other world.  Our world is broken in so many ways.  Children die in countless numbers from diseases that are entirely treatable or preventable for lack of medicine that the wealthy can obtain at nearly every corner drugstore.  Poverty and greed form a vicious cycle and often it is the children of the world’s poor that end up paying the ultimate price.  More than 2,000 children under 5 die from malaria each day-that’s one child every 40 seconds.  Malaria kills nearly one million people each year but 85% are children under 5.  Each year an estimated 250 million people get infected with malaria. That’s equal to 83% of the U.S. population.  But it’s the poorest of the poor that suffer most.  Malaria is the fourth leading cause of child deaths worldwide and second leading cause of child deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Slavery, death from disease, displacement, hunger-we know that this is not the way things are supposed to be so we long inwardly for another place, a place of hope.

Detroit-A Place of Hope

For several decades in the city of Detroit where I live hope was all but lost but now there are many who dream again.  There are corporations and government officials, teachers and civil servants, business leaders and scholars who know the secret of Detroit and the rich heritage that this city of hope has.  Something always drives us back to hope.  For countless slaves in the south, the dream of freedom once had a name and that name was Detroit.  It’s hard to think of Detroit as a city of hope but for many slaves who had escaped from the Deep South, this city and the Detroit River was a dream that inspired them to risk their very lives to see.  For scores of abolitionists and slaves alike, Detroit was the destination of hope.  The trek along the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses and safe people, led escaped slaves to Detroit-a year-long journey of over 1,000 miles.  A trek fueled by the hope of freedom, opportunity, safety, but most of all, joy.   The dream of joy is really at the center of the heart of every woman, of every man.  Often it is the goal behind the goal, the greater dream of a thousand aspirations and for countless slaves, it fueled prayerful miles and expectant singing.  Their dream may have started with the longing for freedom from the injustice and suffering of slavery, but there was something behind that dream.  What do we do when justice and freedom have been obtained?  We live the life we were meant to live-this is the dream that is beyond justice, the dream of joy.  They would sing about the Jordan River, speaking figuratively of crossing the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada, finally being free of fear and the repercussions of their decision to pursue their dream.  For many of my ancestors, slavery was all they knew.  They were born into the slave system, often separated from their parents and shipped off to fields throughout the south.  They never knew the dream of freedom.

The Source of Hope

What is it in the heart of a woman that dares to dream of a world she’s known nothing of, a world without rape or exploitation where she is free to choose her loved ones and run her hands through the hot July air?  Where does the dream of a boy come from, a dream of a fantastical world of play, when all he’s known is the work slavery?  I believe the quote of an unknown slave says it all: “All my life I been called a slave.   They tell me I belongs to my master.  That may be true about my body, but my soul remembers a time when I was free, so when I get a chance I will run.”  Our soul remembers.  I believe because we’ve been made in the image of God that our soul remembers.  The world that pokes and peaks into our world of injustice and suffering connects powerfully with our soul because it was the world we were made for, a world of joy.  A world where cicadas echo through streets of giggles and strappy heels dangle as bare feet walk through lush green grass.  You see, there is something beyond justice that we all long for, a dream that we share with the rest of humanity.  Millions have risked their lives and are risking their lives today so the dream can come to pass.  A dream can change the world, literally.  There are ways in which we use the concept of dream to refer to a wish, a desire, or a hope.  Real change, however, comes through conviction, passion, power, and action.  During the civil rights era that brought real and lasting change to millions of African-American’s, it was the dream of one man coupled with the real actions of Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos and others that brought that dream to pass.  Dreaming is not incompatible with action; in fact a dream of substance, of real conviction and vision requires action.  God’s dream is the same way.  To say that God has a dream is an understatement.  The culmination of all history is heading somewhere; it is heading to a place that is beyond justice, a place of joy.

The Dream of God

God’s vision and passion for another world are coupled with His power and will to accomplish His dream.  God’s dreams come to pass and the exciting part is this; they include us, they include our action, our faith, our longings.  Some wonder why God doesn’t just snap his fingers and bring about his dream right away.  God invites us to join him in setting things right, of helping the world around us in both small and big ways begin to look the way it is supposed to be.  In Revelation 21 (3b-5a NASB), God gives us a glimpse of the day he will bring his dream to pass.  It says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The dream of God is a dream to make all things new!  God could, in fact, make the dream come alive instantly but as we will see, this wouldn’t be good for everyone.  The dream of God is not only of another world of beauty, order and joy.  It is also a world of severe consequences, particularly for those who have put their faith and trust in a world that is incompatible with God’s dream.  God will make all things new and this is not good news for all.  The first thing we need to realize, however, is that there is a dream behind our dream, a longing behind all our aspirations that we seldom can put our fingers on.

Our Nightmare

Our dream is a dream that is beyond justice-one that is rooted in another place.  Our soul remembers this place because we’ve been made in the image of God.  The dream of our heart is anchored in the eternal dream of God.  This is what is beyond justice.  When adjusted for population, there are more slaves living at this moment in history than at any other time, more than were trafficked cumulatively over the four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Millions of people live a life of horror, of degradation, of hopelessness and despair.  Such things should not be.  The reality of suffering and injustice causes most people to experience what the Bible calls “holy indignation,” or anger.  Indignation is that “strong displeasure at something considered unjust, it is righteous anger.”  There is something holy about righteous indignation-it brings out the best in humanity.  Emerson wrote, “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.”  If you are like most people, as you see the suffering and injustices of the world around you, you long to do something, to be an agent of transformation.  Kevin Jenkins, President of World Vision International expresses this holy indignation this way, “We don’t accept that any child should have to go to bed hungry.  We don’t believe that mothers should watch their children get sick and have no way to help them.  We don’t believe that fathers should work 16 hours a day and still not be able to provide for their children.  We don’t believe teachers should give lessons to children who have no textbooks, paper or pens.  We don’t believe governments and rebels should recruit youths to kill, or that girls should be bought and sold, or that parents must sell their children to pay their debts… There is a righteous anger at the heart of World Vision.  But at the same time, we overflow with love for all those with whom we are called to serve.”  Indignation causes us to reach for the dream, to band together across racial lines, across economic lines, across religious lines to do something greater, something that none of us could possibly do alone-to reach for the dream.  The realities of injustice and suffering cause a deep sense of dissonance and rage within us and this rage at the injustices and suffering of others is a demonstration that we are made in the image of God.  The commodification of people is as old a practice as civilization itself but in the dream of God, God Himself will reverse this in what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is a reality where the deepest longings of our hearts for justice and abundance are fulfilled because God will be in control instead of corrupt governments, greedy corporations, or broken systems of law.

God’s Judgment

The Kingdom of God is the Dream of God and it is this Dream where we find our hearts wandering. It is in this dream where we can feel the density of the air flow between our fingers and the green grass beneath our feet.  Throughout the Bible, God gives us glimpses, small snapshots of a world that that can barely be imagined given the world we live in today.  In Revelation 18, God gives us a horrific glimpse of the judgment that will come to those who exploit the poor, the world’s resources, and those who traffic in human beings.  In Rev. 18, we read about the future destruction of a city of sin, where people make millions from the exploitation of the poor.  The city is referred to as Babylon, but it represents for us every city where evil is allowed to flourish.  Listen to the words of Rev. 18:11 (Message), “”The kings of the earth will see the smoke of her burning, and they’ll cry and carry on, the kings who went night after night to her brothel. They’ll keep their distance for fear they’ll get burned, and they’ll cry their lament: Doom, doom, the great city doomed!  City of Babylon, strong city!  In one hour it’s over, your judgment come!  “The traders will cry and carry on because the bottom dropped out of business, no more market for their goods: gold, silver, precious gems, pearls; fabrics of fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet; perfumed wood and vessels of ivory, precious woods, bronze, iron, and marble; cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh, and frankincense; wine and oil, flour and wheat; cattle, sheep, horses, and chariots. And slaves—their terrible traffic in human lives.  Everything you’ve lived for, gone!  All delicate and delectable luxury, lost!  Not a scrap, not a thread to be found!” In the dream of God, we see the great anger and wrath of God, we see divine holy indignation in action.  Many people have a hard time with a God portrayed as vengeful, who would bring destruction to people and places, who would judge the world, after all, isn’t God supposed to be loving?  When we consider that men will fly across seas to commodify young boys and girls, that daily there are those who will pay to rape a child, when we see the expression of absolute evil in our world, the question shouldn’t be, “How can God punish the world,” but rather, “How can God not punish the world.”  God is loving and His dream is rooted in joy and freedom but God is also holy, He is pure and it would be a nightmare, not a dream, for the world to continue as it is today without a course correction.  According to the U.S. Department of State, an estimated 50 percent of all trafficking victims are children under the age of 18.  Every year 1.2 million children are trafficked for child labor; another 1 million are trafficked for sexual exploitation.  Every day, millions of children live the nightmare, not the dream.  God hates injustices and He cares deeply for the hurting and the poor-this is what authentic religion is all about.  Our world needs a course correction, we need God to bring an end to suffering and injustice, to bring the Kingdom of God, His great dream, to pass-this is why our dream is a dream beyond mere justice.

The Course of History

The things that cause us anger do so because we are made in the image of God and in the dream of God, God will make all things right.  All of history is heading toward this cosmic collision, a day where God will judge evil and bring an end to injustices and suffering.  In Rev. 11:15b-18 (NASB), we read of this day of judgment, “and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.  And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”” All history is heading toward a cosmic collision, a time of great punishment and wrath against the actors of evil-those who enjoy victimizing the poor, who enslave the weak, exploiting the world’s resources, while indulging in every luxury known to mankind.