Restoration or Escape: The Case for Social Justice | Bernard Garcia
| BERNARD GARCIA
"Seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
– Isaiah 1:17
Ah, Social Justice, a topic that seems to trend in modern day society. If you engage in or are concerned with social justice issues, I now classify you as one of the enlightened and progressed few who possesses a conscience and a heart. However, depending on what end of the political spectrum, others may deem you as a liberal who cannot be satisfied. Even amongst Christians, social justice issues are something that only our young, more liberally oriented brothers and sisters engage in. Many Christians believe that we should stay out of politics and focus solely on our private spirituality and enlightenment, and of course, evangelizing.
Now, is there room for pursuing social justice and being radical about it? Sadly, most of us choose to be conservative about it. This world is ending anyways, so it is pointless to engage in anything that would lead to restoration of our world. And this new topic is just a trend that will soon fade away. So we should just focus on our personal enlightenment and private spirituality that escapes the issues of our world.
These notions are far from the truth and Social Justice is not a new trend, but an ancient practice woven into the very fabric of Scripture. Seeking justice isn’t an option but a biblical mandate commanded by God.
For example, we see this largely evident in ancient wisdom literature, which isn’t too concerned with what happens after we die, but rather with how we live in the here and now, addressing proper relation with God, with our land, and with people. Proverbs 31 states: "Speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, and defend all those who have been passed over. Open your mouth, judge fairly, and stand up for the rights of the afflicted and the poor." For those of us who are in a position of privilege, we have the responsibility to stand up for the oppressed in our communities, locally or globally. God has commanded us to defend the rights of the destitute. When systems and policies exist to perpetuate social injustice, to keep certain people groups oppressed, we have the responsibility to do something about it.
We also see this theme in the Book of Isaiah. In modern Christian tradition, Isaiah is often remembered as the prophet who prophesied the coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah. However, this is only a small portion of the book. Most of Isaiah is actually a prophetic critique against the nation of Israel regarding how corrupt and unjust they had become. Israel had become a wealthy nation that benefited only the few at the expense of the suffering and oppression of the masses. Growing up in America, this seems all too familiar. As a matter of fact, the modern day world system has stark similarities to this society Isaiah was fighting. He was bringing into light the reality that the nation of Israel had fallen from their calling of being the light bearers of God, making the goodness of Yahweh known throughout the world, to now being a nation inconsistent with the ideals of the very God they claimed to be serving.
Or what about the Gospels? We often think that Jesus came down to reveal the secret of how to enter into this distant place we call Heaven. This is also far from the truth. Jesus came down to teach us how to live, to lead us into living lives of transformation so that we may then transform the world around us. Jesus wasn’t only concerned with our spiritual well-being, but also with our physical well being, individually and societally. He was very proactive in tending to the needs of those in his community: feeding the poor and healing the sick. He also exposed the hypocrisy of the religious elite, like their emphasis on what to tithe rather than on justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23).
Jesus was establishing the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth by leading us first into experiencing Kingdom realities within our own hearts; so we may be transformed and then empowered to participate in reconciling the realities of our world with the realities of Heaven. Hence, the prayer thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10).
Or what about Paul? He emphasized the truth that God is reconciling all things to himself, and that we have been invited to partake in this process. That is, in response to God’s love through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for humanity’s sins, we should no longer present our bodies as instruments of wickedness, but rather present our bodies as instruments of goodness and justice in our world (Romans 6:13). Perhaps, Paul further emphasizes this invitation when he personifies all of creation as eagerly waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed.
A deep and abiding hope was placed within creation that it would one day be liberated from corruption and decay to experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. All the pain and suffering in our world is a result of humanity’s sin. However, God is taking all of creation somewhere, towards a new and restored world order without the infection of sin. And He has invited us to partake in the process of bringing about this reality, to take our stand as His sons and daughters. So when we see corruption and decay in the form of social injustice, we have the responsibility to take a stand, to actively engage in bringing goodness and justice in our world.
Critiquing unjust societies, defending the rights of the oppressed, and bringing the realities of Heaven down to Earth are themes throughout the Bible. If Social Justice is woven into the very fabric of Scriptures, why aren’t many Christians compelled to engage with these issues? Why aren’t many Christians courageous enough to disrupt the status quo to speak against social injustice? Why are many Christians satisfied with mediocrity only to pursue private enlightenment and spirituality without having these things materializing into our surroundings? How did we stray so far away from our ancient practices? How did we move from a religion focused on the restoration and renewal of our world, to a system of rewards and punishments depending on whether or not we have the right doctrine and morals; from a religion focused on transforming us so that we may be empowered to participate in redeeming God’s beautiful creation, to a religion focused on converting others into the right belief system so that they can join us in escaping this world?
I guess it comes down to examining the fruit of our beliefs. If our beliefs causes us to become more like Jesus, then it’s safe to say that our interpretation of Scripture is in alignment with the Spirit of God, but if our interpretation leads us further and further away from the likeness of Christ, then we may need to revisit these ancient texts.
One reason as to why many Christians aren’t compelled to engage in social justice issues is that the narrative of God’s story were presented with is incomplete. The story often begins with the “fall of man” and therefore what is emphasized is sin remission, that Jesus died for our sins. This is indeed an essential part of the story, but it doesn’t stop there. And I believe that the primary reason is we’ve started the story pages away from where it began.
The story of God should always begin in Genesis 1 where God created the heavens and the earth and He called it good and beautiful. God is taking our world somewhere and He’s invited us to partake in the ongoing process of creation.
Jesus died for the sins of humanity so that we can be free from the bondage that sin has brought into our lives, to be empowered to actively participate in God’s process of redeeming and reconciling even the darkest places in society. At the end of the Bible, we are given a beautiful picture of a transformed and renewed world order without the infection of sin. A world without crying, no pain, no suffering, not even death. This is the complete narrative.
Unfortunately, many of our Christian leaders perpetuate the false narrative of the destruction of our world, which is not entirely supported by Scripture. It’s no wonder people are not compelled enough to engage in works of Justice, helping the poor or participating in anything that brings restoration to our communities. With the narrative we are presented with, it would be senseless to do such things.
The beautiful thing about engaging with Social Justice issues is the life giving exchange. We are creating life and bringing restoration to the world around us, while simultaneously creating life within ourselves. When we begin living for something larger than ourselves, when we are driven by love and live for the benefit of others, we are rescued from self-consumption and isolation. When we are proactively contributing towards God’s agenda, we liberate ourselves from the bondage of sin and decay.
Darkness is still very prevalent as evident in the many social injustices throughout our world. But the good news is that God is doing something about it and He has been inviting us to participate. There are many ways to participate in His grand plan. He is calling us all. The question is, will we respond in obedience?
"...For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation groans in unison with birthing pains up until now. And there is more; it’s not just creation—all of us are groaning together too. Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete—for we have been saved in this hope and for this future.” – Romans 8:17-24
When Bernard Garcia quit his career in Los Angeles, California as a Nuclear Engineer, he found life in volunteering for several NGOs and dedicating his time with different causes around the globe. Today, Bernard works for the International Justice Mission, a UN-recognized human rights NGO focused on combating modern day slavery, as well as a Pastoral Support for C3 Church Metro Manila. He is currently based in the Philippines, his country of birth. Bernard is also pursuing his Masters in Leadership at the Australian College of Christian Studies under the Sydney College of Divinity.