I was truly born a social justice warrior. With a strong sense of fairness, an inquisitive mind and a drive to make things better and more efficient, it is no wonder that, when stewed in the soup of the various rights movements, peace initiatives and anti-pollution campaigns of the late 60s and early 70s, I would be creating an Equal Rights for Children campaign by age eight, complete with ERiC the Mule as mascot. This has remained the core focus of my life. No question was ever more important to me than: How can the human race live together on our planet in peace, ensuring welfare and freedom for all? I chased this question through high school, college and finally into law school. I felt confident that it was possible. Until I met Jesus.
Becoming a Christ follower and Scripture student confirmed what I was beginning to suspect after a couple of years as a cop’s wife and law student: evil is real, humans are born with sin, and the world will not be free of sin and evil until Jesus’ return. There went my hopes of earthly utopia. So, I readjusted my question to: How does God want us to live together on this planet to provide the most peace and welfare to the most people possible?
The answer has been surprising. Thinking of Live Aid and Greenpeace and Amnesty International, I sought to change the whole world. But the scriptures seemed to suggest I needed to change my heart. And then I needed to change others by doing good:
1Jesus saw many people. He went up on the mountain and sat down. His followers came to Him. 2 He began to teach them, saying, 3 “Those who know there is nothing good in themselves are happy, because the holy nation of heaven is theirs. 4 Those who have sorrow are happy, because they will be comforted. 5 Those who have no pride in their hearts are happy, because the earth will be given to them. 6 Those who are hungry and thirsty to be right with God are happy, because they will be filled. 7 Those who show loving-kindness are happy, because they will have loving-kindness shown to them. 8 Those who have a pure heart are happy, because they will see God. 9 Those who make peace are happy, because they will be called the sons of God. 10 Those who have it very hard for doing right are happy, because the holy nation of heaven is theirs. 11 You are happy when people act and talk in a bad way to you and make it very hard for you and tell bad things and lies about you because you trust in Me. 12 Be glad and full of joy because your reward will be much in heaven. They made it very hard for the early preachers who lived a long time before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. If salt loses its taste, how can it be made to taste like salt again? It is no good. It is thrown away and people walk on it. 14 You are the light of the world. You cannot hide a city that is on a mountain. 15 Men do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. They put it on a table so it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light shine in front of men. Then they will see the good things you do and will honor your Father Who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:1-16)
Then, thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Henry David Thoreau I thought I could change my country by peaceful protest or civil disobedience. But even then, the scriptures surprised me. They seem to suggest that we must humbly accept the evil done to us and pray for those who do evil to us, and even repay it with kindness:
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)
Servants, you are to respect your owners and do what they say. Do this if you have a good and kind owner. You must do it even if your owner is hard to work for. 19 This shows you have received loving-favor when you are even punished for doing what is right because of your trust in God. 20 What good is it if, when you are beaten for doing something wrong, you do not try to get out of it? But if you are beaten when you have done what is right, and do not try to get out of it, God is pleased. 21 These things are all a part of the Christian life to which you have been called. Christ suffered for us. This shows us we are to follow in His steps. 22 He never sinned. No lie or bad talk ever came from His lips. 23 When people spoke against Him, He never spoke back. When He suffered from what people did to Him, He did not try to pay them back. He left it in the hands of the One Who is always right in judging. 24 He carried our sins in His own body when He died on a cross. In doing this, we may be dead to sin and alive to all that is right and good. His wounds have healed you! 25 You were like lost sheep. But now you have come back to Him Who is your Shepherd and the One Who cares for your soul. (1 Peter 2:18-25)
And now, in light of the Scriptures, I must even take issue with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character....
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
That expresses a wonderful aspiration - one that I whole-heartedly support. But I must take issue with his usage of ‘free.’ The scriptures clearly teach that it is a life in Christ that makes one free. It is the truth of the Gospel that makes one free. It is knowing that our personal, individual sins have been forgiven by God that allows us to live free of the burden of sin and shame. This is not political freedom. This is not legal freedom. This is spiritual freedom.
God loves us. He adores us. He absolutely wants the best for us. But the scriptures are very clear that His definition of that is vastly different from the world’s definition. God wants us to love Him and get all we need from Him. Our spiritual life is what is truly important. Therefore, even if we suffer in our lives on earth - suffer from abuse, enslavement, imprisonment, illness or worse – that will not keep us from experiencing freedom in Christ. Sin and evil can take away nearly everything, but they can’t take away our salvation nor our joy in the Lord.
That said, I do believe God wants us to work toward justice and peace and equality and human rights and strive toward His righteousness in our daily living.
8 O man, He has told you what is good. What does the Lord ask of you but to do what is fair and to love kindness, and to walk without pride with your God? (Micah 6:8)
But He also wants us to trust Him to bring about true justice and change:
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.
20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:17-21)
Overcome evil with good. There you have it. That is the Biblical prescription. Do not resist evil, do not disobey evil, do not avenge evil – overcome evil with good – unrelenting, overflowing, confusingly crazy amounts of good to the deserving and undeserving alike.