A few weeks ago I shared a first concept, riffing off Zechariah 8, that I think is key in understanding and seeking deep, real cultural change. That was vision: seeing what a good city looks like.
A second concept comes from Isaiah 58, and provides the name of this blog:
6“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
The term “social justice” gets abused pretty freely. But in the Bible the concept of justice includes not only just procedure (the barebones Western view of justice) but also the attainment of a certain state of affairs. When the poor are housed and clothed, justice is at work – just as much as it is when evildoers are punished. If the poor are ignored, injustice is being done.
Two things jump out at me in this passage of Isaiah. The first is that justice is to be everyone’s pursuit, not just government’s. Now, it should be government’s, and a special onus is on the powerful and wealthy. But there is no one whose job it is. Take the homeless poor into your house. When you see the naked, cover him. The specific audience for the prophecy is God’s faithful people – his church. We are all to pursue justice, practically (not just “raising awareness“).
The second is even bigger: ruins are rebuilt, and foundations raised, counterintuitively through self-sacrificial service to the lowly. I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate the importance of this. As James Hunter recently pointed out, politics doesn’t do as much as most American Christians think. It cannot really “change the world” in the deep, God-honoring way we desire. Political action cannot repair the breach, restore the streets, rebuild the walls, or water the desert! To do great things, God’s people must go down, not up.
Next concept, some time soon: presence.