Sunday, January 11, 2009

Responding to Injustice

I had a great discussion last night with Story Church about the Christian's response to injustice. We were studying Matthew 5:38-42. In this passage, Jesus teaches that the old way of dealing with injustice was "eye for eye" and "tooth for tooth". This served a couple of purposes, I'm sure. One was to provide a very practical and easy to understand system of justice. You kill my goat, your goat gets killed as well. You take from me, you get taken from in equal measure. I'm sure it made people think twice about doing something when they knew that the punishment for their crime would be exactly the same thing they are doing to someone else. The other benefit of this system was probably to avoid what many people today call "the Myth of Redemptive Violence." That is, it kept things from escalating. Watch children for example - what happens when Billy takes Tommy's truck? Tommy hits Billy. Billy then bites Tommy. Of course adults aren't much different, just more sophisticated. The Old Testament law that Jesus is referring to kept people from believing the myth of redemptive violence - the idea that I can somehow achieve justice through a worse violence or offense than what happened to me. This is one of the reasons that many people have problems with the war in Iraq, or what is happening between Israel and Palestine right now in the Gaza strip. Sometimes the response to injustice seems to be a greater injustice than the one that started it all.

So in light of that, Jesus basically says that was the old system, but the new system for responding to injustice is different. In the kingdom, we don't play by those rules. When someone wrongs me personally, I don't respond eye for eye or tooth for tooth. But many people have wrongly (I think) interpreted this passage. Jesus is not simply saying that when someone hits you, turn the other cheek and let them hit you again. He's not saying to become a doormat and simply suffer through injustice. I believe that Jesus is teaching here a way to respond to injustice that boldly calls it what it is, while not continuing a destructive cycle of violence. The text refers to a slap on the right cheek - that is, a backhanded "You're beneath me" kind of slap from someone who thinks they are better than me. Jesus says in such a case, we "turn the other cheek." We force them to recognize us as equals - "If you are going to hit me, you're going to have to hit me like you would an equal." Now, Jesus is clearly NOT advocating fighting someone here in order to maintain your dignity. He's simply saying that we refuse to allow injustice to go unchecked. We force the one bringing about the injustice to face our humanity. If you keep going through this passage and recognize the cultural stuff going on here, it's clear that this is Jesus' message.

Now, back to our discussion last night. We started asking the question - what is the church's response to injustice? Without rehashing the whole conversation, it's exciting to me to be tackling this issue with people who really believe that the kingdom way of living is the answer to these kinds of questions. What do you think? How does the church respond to issues of injustice both locally and globally without playing by the rules of the world? How do we come along side of the voiceless, the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized and creatively say to the rest of the world, "this is not right"?


I guess my big question with this is where the cross fits in. God is just, and the big point of the cross is that Christ died to redeem us. That it was a substitutionary death doesn't change the nature of the cross as both redemptive and violent. Christ received the punishment that we deserve in order that redemption might occur. How would you fit that in to this? If we're not to become doormats, but are also to end the "destructive cycle of violence" without a violent response, how does this at all fit in with what God says, that he will punish the unjust, and that Christ been punished in our place? What about Hebrews 9:22 and those who are still under the law or a law unto themselves (Romans 2)? What's happening when God punishes them?

Anonymous - i guess I don't see the conflict in what you are saying. The whole point of what I wrote was about how we as Christians, and by extension, we as the church ought to respond to injustice in the world. The fact that God can hand out punishment as he chooses (your argument) doesn't answer the question of the church's response. Unless you are saying that because God can punish the unjust, the church ought also to do so? If that's your argument I would certainly disagree.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More