By / Aug 11

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

These aren’t my words, but they might as well be. I feel like I can’t take another day of bad news. War, political vitriol, violence, corruption. Our holidays aren’t even restful, because evil doesn’t take a day off. These “why” questions come from Psalm 10. The chapter is a desperate prayer, cried out without pretense, right from the pages of our Bible. In this passage, we meet someone in the middle of a crisis of faith. He is struggling to apply what he knows to be true about a good and just God to circumstances of rampant injustice around him. Surely, we can relate.

I am asking a lot of my own why questions these days. Why does our world feel like it is getting more dangerous, more confusing, more uncertain? Why can’t we go to our local parade without fear? Or send our kids to school, or go to the grocery store without worrying for basic safety? Why does it seem the most vulnerable among us keep paying the highest price? Why do our leaders— the very people charged with doing the right thing in the face of injustice— seem to lack fortitude? 

Beneath all of those questions, my heart is asking along with the psalmist, “Why, Lord, are you far away when we need you most?” But I am so grateful to see my concerns included in Scripture. And in this way, we see God is not distant. He speaks to us right here in Psalm 10, right into the real pain of our lives, meeting us in the tension of how to live in a world not as it should be. We learn several things from this passage about how to face injustice. 

How we pray

The author gives us a lesson in how we pray for justice. He first spends nine verses detailing how a wicked man exploits the vulnerable for his own gain and laments the way evil seems to operate with impunity. But then, the author turns to God and says, “Arise, O Lord. Oh, God, lift up your hand” (v. 12).

What a request! The directness makes me uncomfortable. But should it? The psalmist believed what God says about himself is true— he is righteous, just, helper to the helpless. And so he requests that God act on behalf of his own reputation. It is a request of faith, not doubt.

In verse 14, the psalmist writes that God not only sees the injustice, but takes it into his own hands. Stop there for a second. This image contradicts every fear we could ever have that God is indifferent to human suffering. He cares, enough to take it into his hands and deal with it himself. What better evidence do we have for this claim than Christ? In Jesus’ death, we see there is no length to which God would not go to deal with the sin and evil of this world— even the death of his only beloved son.

So, if we are uncomfortable being direct with God, it might be because we don’t trust him to be who he says he will be. Let’s instead, reorient our hearts to hold Christ as the firm foundation upon which every request is made. We can ask God for justice because he is just. We’ve seen is character in Christ’s willing sacrifice for our sin.

How we care

When we encounter injustice— on the news, on social media, or in our very neighborhood, what is our heart’s response? I confess that mine often cycles between detachment and vengeance. But we lose the ability to engage faithfully in justice work when we spiral into despair or rage. Psalm 10 offers a different model.

First, what stands out most in this entire passage is the heart of God for the helpless. His relationship with the vulnerable is beautiful. The wicked brag that God doesn’t care about their pain, but Psalm 10 affirms the truth: ‘you do see’. (v 14) God hears the cries of the afflicted, and he does not forget them. What is more, ‘he will strengthen their hearts’, (v 14) meeting them in their time of need. This picture of God’s heart and care should shape our response.

Second, when we step back from the story, we see this is about more than two earthly parties— the victim and the aggressor. There is actually a third person involved. Do you see it? The author. He is not passive. He is grieving injustice, with his heart and mind aligned with God’s care for the vulnerable. We see this as he desperately petitions God to intervene in righteousness.

And here lies both a promise and a warning. God cares deeply, specifically for the vulnerable— but do we? And as God’s people, do we consider that his care for the helpless may just flow through us, through our wallets, our prayers, our churches? Because when we get down to it, the wicked man is not so far removed from us. In fact, many commentaries believe the aggressor was a wealthy Israelite or group of Israelites who defied God’s commands specifically given to his covenant people to care for the vulnerable (Exo. 22:21-24). 

I don’t want to settle for cycling between detachment, despair, and rage. And I don’t want to be blinded by pride, thinking God doesn’t actually care how I treat the vulnerable. Thankfully, there is another way. We can look to the beauty revealed here and ask the Holy Spirit to help us reflect God’s heart in our own actions. It will require more of us— likely sacrifice and personal cost— but there is nothing better than living within God’s commands and promises by the power of his Spirit.

How we hope

For much of the chapter, Psalm 10 reads as a petition. Then, near the end, comes a change in verse 16. The psalmist breaks from speaking to God and makes a statement about God. “The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.” This is the truth claim on which everything else depends. All the power players of his day, and of ours— they are actually waning. 

There are so many times in the last few months particularly, where I’ve been tempted to believe darkness is winning. But what is beautiful about this chapter is that it reminds us to speak the truth to ourselves when we are most tempted to forget. We need this good news to break through and capture our hearts and minds. We need a secure hope while waiting for our broken world to be made right. We too need to be reminded that the Lord is king, and the land is his.

The psalmist ends here, not with a declaration of vengeance or even resolution, but a promise. He writes of a future time when “the man who is of the earth will strike terror no more” (v 18). What a triumphant declaration! And it points forward to a promised time when Jesus will establish his rule of justice and righteousness and reign forevermore (Isa. 9:6-7).

We are right to long for justice, but oftentimes what we want is far too small. The justice Jesus brings is even better than what we could imagine. We think of justice as a courtroom idea— to make payment for wrongs. That is true, but the just kingdom described in the Bible goes far beyond that idea. Our King upholds righteousness, so that humanity and all creation flourishes as it should, as it is intended to. Whole, peaceful, completely sinless. Restoration is coming through Jesus. And it is better than anything we could ever design (Rev. 21). Let us pray and hope toward that end. 

By / Jan 7

Today, the three men convicted of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder were sentenced to life in prison. Arbery’s family has waited almost two years for justice for their son after Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and Roddy Bryan mercilessly chased down Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, and fatally shot him while he was running in a Georiga subdivision. This horrible act of violence rightly brought national outrage. 

Arbery’s death renewed calls for racial justice and revived painful memories of racial violence across the South through the painful era of Jim Crow and beyond. Thankfully, unlike so many cases of the lynching and death of black men and women throughout America’s history, a jury of mostly white citizens reviewed the evidence and convicted the three men first, and then a judge handed down just sentences for taking the life of a fellow man.

Rejoicing and lament 

It is appropriate for Christians to both rejoice and lament in this moment. We can rejoice in the justice of the verdicts and sentences. It is right for these three men to be punished for their heinous racial crime that was perpetrated against an image-bearer of the Almighty. Our American system of earthly justice is far from perfect, but in this case, it brought about a just outcome. 

Yet, we should also lament the racial hatred that led to the death of Arbery, who was only jogging through a neighborhood. The guilty verdicts and life sentences, while correct, won’t bring back a son to his grieving parents; it won’t erase the pain they will likely feel for the rest of their lives. 

We should also lament the slow wheels of local justice in this case. When the shooting happened, local prosecutors declined to prosecute before a video leaked and provoked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to investigate. The GBI then arrested the McMichaels before the case was transferred to the Cobb County District Attorney. 

Though America has come far in moving to uphold her promises of “all men created equal,” she has a ways to go. The weight of slavery and the legacy of Jim Crow haven’t exited quietly. They continue to haunt our nation. 

The Christian’s longing for justice 

Earthly justice hits at the heart of Christians for many reasons. We believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, knit with care and purpose by God in each womb (Psa. 139). We believe that every drop of innocent blood shed does not escape the watch of the Almighty (Gen. 4:10). Because of this, our hearts were provoked by a good kind of outrage, a demand for justice, when we watched the horrible video showing Arbery robbed of the breath of life.

This longing for justice is not unnatural and has been a feature of the human experience since the entrance of sin in the Garden, when human hearts were corrupted by the enemy and prone to turn in violence on fellow image-bearers (Gen. 3–4). And our imperfect and temporary models of earthly justice point us to a God of perfect justice, a God who turns no blind eyes to racism, hatred, and violence. 

Ultimately, our longing for evil to be reversed, for injustice to be made right, and our cries to “let justice roll on like a river” (Amos 5:24) will not be satisfied in any earthly court. Civil authorities are delegated the sword of justice by God (Rom. 13), but there is only one place where divine justice and wrath against evil was satisfied. It happened 2,000 years ago, on a lonely hill outside a backwater Roman province, as Roman soldiers carried out an unjust state execution of an innocent itinerant rabbi. There, Jesus, human and divine, bore the weight of every unjust act in the universe and the wrath of a holy God (2 Cor. 5:21). No sinful human can pay for their own sin, no matter how long the sentence, no matter how cruel the punishment. Only Jesus, the sin-bearer, can bear this weight. And only God can bring about perfect justice for those who won’t repent. 

And yet it was also in this moment when sin — lynchings, racism, violence, the shedding of innocent blood — and death were forever defeated. Jesus not only satisfies our longings for true justice but also defeats, through his death and resurrection, what creates injustice in the first place. The resurrected Jesus is pointing us toward a day without sin, tears, sorrow, and death (Rev. 21:4). Until, then, we work to make our societies more just, to make injustice less common, and to announce the verdict, “It is finished.” 

By / Feb 25

The calling we have as Christian parents is to help shape the worldview of our children toward one that increasingly reflects the heart and mission of God. This includes talking about things like personal integrity, love for neighbor, generosity, and peacemaking. As a parent to four young children, I’m convinced this must also include conversations about race and justice. 

American culture has been guilty of the sin of racism. It goes all the way back to colonial times; European settlers stole land from the Native Americans and brought African slaves to North America. In short, this is not a new problem, and tragically, white evangelical Christians in particular have often passed down an indifference toward issues of race and justice from generation to generation — an indifference that persists even as our country grows more divided. Brothers and sisters, this should not be. 

Many of us struggle to engage in what are challenging and increasingly complex conversations on race in our country. To that end, I want to share a few guiding principles and practical steps you can take in this direction with your family. The goal is not to have all the answers, but to engage with a posture of humility — listening, learning, and depending on God, his Word, and his people.  

  1. Educate yourself about God’s heart for justice in the Bible. As a pastor, I have found that many of the people I shepherd are surprised by how much the concept of justice is talked about in the Bible. Spend some time digesting the prophetic books where you read things like these passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah: 
    Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isa. 1:17)
    Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer. 22:3)
    As you can see from these passages, the process within your family must move from education to action. For those committed to following the way of Jesus, these are not optional tasks. 
  1. Educate yourself about injustice in our nation’s history. All of our children should be learning about the evils of slavery and the significance of the Civil Rights Movement. They likely know the names Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. But as you do your own research, tell them about the figures and stories you come across that they may not necessarily read about in textbooks. The Equal Justice Initiative has been an incredibly helpful resource for me in this area. In 2019, I purchased their calendar where you can learn about a different historical event in the realm of social and racial injustice in America’s history each day. deBecoming aware of deeper history will help our kids become advocates and burden-bearers for those who have been oppressed by racism, and help them not become casualties to the ignorance that erodes into damaging indifference.  
  1. Educate yourself about injustice in your city. I live in Kansas City, a place with a long history of racial division. A street called Troost serves as a modern-day “dividing wall of hostility” that continues to remind us of our dark past and remaining socioeconomic and racial divisions. Every city and state has stories like these, so do the work to learn them, share them, and model for your kids what it looks like to strive for righteousness. 
  1. Be intentional about sharing what you learn with the next generation. We drive across Troost every day as a family. I’ve shared some of that history with my kids in age-appropriate ways. I’ve also tried to translate the complexities of redlining or racially-restrictive housing covenants into language they can understand more easily, so they can begin forming a wider perspective of institutional practices that have handicapped millions of minorities in our city and how those things are not in alignment with the kingdom of God.
    In the student ministry I led, we toook a driving tour of our city with historical commentary of the role of segregation. We do this in an effort to educate and create space for questions and dialogue, in hope that we may not be guilty of the same sins of our ancestors.
  1. Cultivate empathy. As we watched the events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the following global protests, we talked about the imago Dei, the dignity of every human being made in God’s image, and the pain related to various forms of injustice our brothers and sisters of color have carried for so long — injustice that my kids will most likely never have to experience personally. They saw my wife and I weep and lament the injustice in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color. My friend Brian Key says, “When you weep with someone, you identify with them in their pain. It is humanizing in the face of the dehumanizing pain of grief. It somehow makes the grief less lonely, though not less painful.” That’s the kind of posture we want to cultivate in our kids. It didn’t take eloquent speeches from us to point them that direction; it just took tears. 
    We want to stir empathy, compassion, and understanding in the hearts of our sons and daughters because that reflects the heart of our God. And we want to be the ones shaping the narrative biblically, not the media or their friends. This requires being proactive rather than reactive, and an eagerness to truthfully and courageously confront racist realities we have been born into as Americans. 
  1. Pursue expressions of diversity. In heaven we will worship with every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. But in the U.S., most of us have inherited the reality of living in more homogenous communities. It will take creativity and commitment to continually pursue diversity across the spheres of our life. 

Prioritize the conversation

What we talk about reveals the disposition of our hearts. This is what Jesus was highlighting when he said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). As evangelicals we have done a good job of prioritizing conversations around sexuality, gender, and the sanctity of life — as we should. But we must also not neglect topics of racial justice or treat them as less important issues. 

The opportunities are all around us, whether it be in the history they are learning in school, the political debates they are increasingly aware of, or the questions they ask about people they see every day. So the next time you see something on the news, or your kids share about what they are learning in American history, or when you take them to Ephesians 2 in your family devotional time, seize the opportunity to point them to God’s heart for racial reconciliation and pray with them along those lines. Repent of apathy, and pray for opportunities to live out justice in your community.

May we not be guilty of turning a blind eye or passively handing over discipleship to the culture. But with confidence in Scripture and the calling we’ve been given to be ambassadors of God’s love in Christ to the world, instill in our children a heart that pursues justice, loves mercy, and humbly submits to the God who tears down dividing walls for his glory and the good of the world. 




By / Nov 30

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

Everyone has an interest in justice. Everyone would say they want justice and despise injustice. We learn about the complexity of justice as we age, but are born into the world with a spectacularly sensitive sense of justice. No child, for example, has to be told to feel angry about being wronged; the sense is innate. Injustice is rightly decried, denounced, and opposed. Justice is universal. 

The existence of rather widespread disagreement about justice today hardly requires elaborate argument. Some of our most significant disagreements as a society are at base disagreements about the meaning and scope of justice. Abortion, capital punishment, universal health care, immigration, warfare; these and similar issues are at their core about promoting justice and curtailing injustice. But this raises the question of why, if all these pressing social questions are fundamentally about justice, there remains such broad, deeply-felt disagreement about what justice really involves. How can there be rival accounts of something so basic and fundamental to social life?

Explaining rival accounts of understanding justice 

That is the central question raised by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? In pluralistic societies of the West, we simply assume disagreement on core social questions as a matter of course, but we cannot stop there if we are to avoid a relativist conclusion. Instead we must ask, “How ought we to decide among the claims of rival and incompatible accounts of justice competing for our moral, social, and political allegiance?”1WJWR, 2. MacIntyre’s answer to this question is fascinating, but on final reckoning, incorrect. It’s precisely why and how it is finally incorrect that the book continues to be of great importance.

Whose Justice? Which Rationality, like MacIntyre’s earlier work After Virtue, stands in the genre of modernity criticism common among intellectual histories of the past four to five decades. It is a compelling how-we-got-here story. Disagreements about justice are disagreements about practical reason, our thinking about judgement and action. But finding a solution through analysis of practical reason is equally futile, because accounts of practical reason are equally divergent. As MacIntyre puts it: “we inhabit a culture in which an inability to arrive at agreed rationally justifiable conclusions on the nature of justice and practical rationality coexists with appeals by contending social groups to sets of rival and conflicting convictions unsupported by rational justification.” Any resolution to this cycle of assertion and counter-assertion is fleeting, and any appearance of consensus simply disguises the facts of disagreement. 

The only reason we are able to discourse at all is because we all inhabit traditions. A tradition here functions as a ground for human agency; we all inherited one, and we all rely on the atmosphere our tradition provides. For simplicity’s sake, you can think of a tradition as being something like a way of thinking and acting durable over time. Exactly how these traditions converge and diverge occupies the large majority of MacIntyre’s account, the reason being is that we aren’t educated into one coherent way of thinking and acting but instead absorb an “amalgam of social and cultural fragments.”2Ibid. Whatever is true or justified is true or justified for that tradition because of principles internal to it. MacIntyre’s account of how various traditions conceive of justice is meticulous, learned, and often dazzling; a great strength of the book.

The primary culprit to our intractable disagreement is modernity itself, particularly its Enlightenment ideals and liberal sensibilities. If everyone is afforded the freedom to pursue their own individual end, as liberalism promises, then what counts as most decisive will be relative to the cluster of people holding roughly similar commitments. According to MacIntyre, modern liberalism not only protects the conditions needed for intractable disagreement, it enshrines them. The only way to get past this intractability and irresolution is to get beyond liberalism itself. This line of argument (among others) has made MacIntyre an important voice in post-liberal intellectual circles.

Areas of agreement

Before offering a few problems with MacIntyre’s account, let me first identify a few things he gets right. First, he is correct to question basic precepts of modern self-understanding. We have, all of us, been inescapably shaped by the liberal tradition. It has formed us. We, to a great extent, want a free and equal society where justice prevails while at the same time admitting that the principled foundations of that liberal order can never secure those lofty aims.  

Second, MacIntyre identifies a modern feeling shared by many, especially Christians, that social disagreement is intractable and irresolvable. A strength of MacIntyre’s account is highlighting why that disagreement occurs as it does. Even if it isn’t true that disagreement is intractable and that traditions are irreconcilable, it certainly feels as though our social situation is permanent. And in desperation or disgust we might contrive our own solution, retreating into localities, embodying our faith as called and commanded. A commendable strategy irrespective the liberal state of things, but, if we cherish truth, then it is worth asserting and reasserting, for without truth justice disintegrates into precisely the malaise MacIntyre posits.

Third, MacIntyre is correct that liberalism is under duress. Everywhere is evidence of social dissolution and fracture. Freedoms crash into one another. Our order is strained. 

Lastly, he is correct that, shorn of any notion of Final End (or telos), liberalism can at best propose only a provisional notion of justice, a notion that assumes some future unanimity but without accepting there’s a Truth about justice. This idea explains some of the resistance to the notion of “social justice” common today. It supposes not a static standard of justice—i.e., giving each their due—but a pliable, often amorphous standard of equality that shifts with the winds of opinion and sentiment. What sort of justice isn’t social, after all? It isn’t a program. It is a virtue and objective authority. Anything that is just for society must also be Good and True. And the question with respect to “social justice” is not whether equality is a worthy aim—of course it is—but of how much inequality and untruth this particular conception of equality may hide within itself.

The problem with MacInyre’s argument

Problems in MacIntyre’s account are well-noted. There is, first of all, the notoriously challenging method of intellectual history itself. Telling a how-we-got-here story, what academics call a genealogy, requires what every story requires—a selection of cast, setting, plot, etc. Including some means and not including others makes it difficult to near-impossible to avoid exaggerating some claims or features and understating others. MacIntyre’s history is selective in this way. Second, and most glaring, is MacIntyre’s argument that truth is relative to traditions of rationality. It simply cannot be that what is just is just because my tradition of rationality justifies that conclusion. Justice, if it is to be meaningful, must be about what is Good and Right. As such, it challenges our errors and biases.  

WSWR is among the most important books on justice of the 20th century. A challenging book for the average reader, but one that, if read carefully, is full of ideas and perceptive to the contested nature of justice today, provided that readers remember that Whose Justice? Which Rationality? offers not a solution but penetrating insight into the nature of our social disagreements about justice. If, on the Christian account, justice has its root in God, then there is a justice that bears universal scope.

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    WJWR, 2.
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By / Jun 23

All at once, our collective hearts were broken. We watched as his last breath left his body. These days, my tears are always right there, ready to be unleashed. Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and then George Floyd. 2020 has us reeling. Resonating with so many around the world, we’re connected by an undeniable ache. Grappling as a culture with the fallout of the sin of racism, we’re being forced to recognize the countless indignities that have always been inconsistent with God’s design for humanity. Loss, weeping, mourning, agonizing, demonstrations, passion, anger, unrest—this newly emerging landscape is almost unrecognizable. We must accept that who we are as a society has already been changed. 

Acknowledging the pain of the generations before us—abused, dismissed, and denied justice—we can’t forget that they labored for us. Despite their hard-fought movement toward “liberty and justice for all,” they’ve had to witness that effort hindered in its progress. Their requests weren’t idealistic, and MLK’s dream wasn’t silly, because they reflect God’s vision taken from his Word. So then, we ask, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” because today, the losses appear insurmountable. 

We hear God’s calls for us to comfort, but we choose to cross-examine instead. Christian infighting and finger-pointing bombards our timelines while calls for justice go unheeded. Unbelievers watch and wait for our response. How do we as Christians choose the gospel above all while doing the hard work of consoling and serving those who are hurting, those who we may not even agree with? Why is unity so hard? How do I, as an African-American woman and a mother to a young man in the South, inoculate myself against the bitterness, fear, and rage all around me? Where do I place my hurt? 

The psalmist wrote, “Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber” (Psa.121:1a–3). Returning to these words many times through the years, I again find comfort for today and renewed hope for tomorrow. God is awake. He is active. With his omniscient view from his throne, he sees all. And with his intimate knowledge of our hearts, he has a purpose for all. God didn’t do this, but he can most certainly redeem it. 

Glimmers of hope 

Amidst these hard months, we’re watching positive shifts take place. Good things are happening, gifting us with glimmers of hope that peek from the shadows. Within my own processing, the sting has been tempered by this hope. For so many of us, our pain has been a catalyst offering the opportunity to look past ourselves and to recognize others and their suffering. Others have experienced a fresh boldness, compelling them to donate their resources and influence to affect necessary change. Arising from the tragedy created by racism, many are experiencing an unprecedented connectedness to others. The gospel is being preached, and scales are falling from once-blinded eyes. Hearts are being massaged, and ears have been primed to hear.

Hope has been the currency that has sustained me in this heavy-hearted season. This currency has investment value for my community, my work, my home, and my soul. Hope can bring healing and resilience to broken situations, and it has pressed me to pursue peace even as we pursue justice. I’ve learned there’s no peace without a storm, no victory without a battle. Pain has a way of guiding believers right into the center of God’s purposes for us. Within God’s plans, pain has worked as a refining fire that he’s used to reshape me. Using our struggles, often he produces in us passions with which to pursue him while blessing others. 

What we’ve been seeing is the hand of God moving despite the backdrop of evil and brokenness. I’m having conversations with many who’ve never had to confront the realities of the harsh systems their black and brown brothers and sisters have had to endure. Hearing from those around me, we’re using this moment in history to educate and then walk through beautiful discipleship conversations in our homes and with our families. Leaders are being forced to acknowledge their ignorance, indifference, and even complicity. This generation of future leaders, including my own, are being enlisted, identifying injustice, and are empowered to use their voices, minds, and communities to broker change. 

More work must be done. Inspired by Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Mamie Till, Harriet Tubman, and others, I aim to be a person of peace, a part of the solution. I’m compelled by Christ to be a bridge-builder while the soil is tender, seeking to “act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly” with him as an active calling. We’re still broken, but God doesn’t slumber. And so, we don’t lose heart.

Growing up in the African-American church has steeped me in this rich theology. Our songs so often challenge the hurting to endure weariness, placing their hope and trust in God. Written as a poem, these words from “Lift Ev’ry Voice” became an anthem. Not one of war, but of struggle. Not of division, but of unity. Not solely of lament, but also of inspiring hope. 

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land. 

By / Jan 30

Several years ago I read attorney Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Redemption and Justice. It resonated deeply with me. I grew up just outside Montgomery, Alabama, the place where, in 1989, Stevenson formed the Equal Justice Initiative, a resource center and death penalty defense organization. But it wasn’t just the common geography that drew me in; it was also the book’s longing for justice and the echoes of the gospel.

Just Mercy (rated PG-13), the new film starring Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, was adapted from the aforementioned book. This true story faithfully recounts Stevenson’s representation of death row inmates while focusing particularly on his work with Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx). 

A mission of justice 

The film begins with McMillian getting pulled over by the police and arrested for the murder of an 18-year-old white girl. Stevenson soon visits McMillian in prison, expressing a desire to represent him, but all McMillian can see is another lawyer making promises he can’t keep and going up against a system set up to destroy the black man. Stevenson tries to offer confidence and hope, saying, “Your life is still meaningful.” McMillian can only reply, “You don’t know what you’re into down here, when you’re guilty from the moment you’re born.”

The murder took place in Monroeville, Alabama, in 1986, and that fact is not lost on the filmmakers. Monroeville is the home of author Harper Lee. When Stevenson initially goes to visit Monroeville, the prosecuting attorney proudly encourages him to check out the “Mockingbird Museum” before he leaves. “One of the great Civil Rights landmarks of the South,” he says sincerely, without a hint of irony. 

Stevenson is a Harvard-educated lawyer from Delaware, who is African-American. When he arrives in the Deep South, he experiences racism ranging from microaggression to humiliation to dangerous threats. But he is undeterred in his quest to find justice, particularly when he reviews McMillian’s case and notices many inconsistencies as well as the thin evidence used to convict him. Once McMillian finds out Stevenson has visited his family and friends (which is more than other attorneys had previously done for him), he’s all in—ready to hope, and ready to fight. And so begins their beautiful relationship and long journey together.

The mystery of how justice and mercy can co-exist in a single scenario is never better seen than in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Just Mercy is a wonderful film, but it is not perfect. Too often movies like this rely less on nuance and more on broad strokes. For instance, almost every white character in the South is painted as a racist. Stevenson himself often comes across as near-perfect. Despite these critiques, the story is well told. I particularly appreciated director Destin Daniel Cretton’s insistence on using closeups. Many conversation scenes, particularly those in prison, push in so close to the actors’ faces, we can’t help but feel the claustrophobia of the setting. We wait for the scene to end so that, perhaps, we can get to a wide shot and take a breath. And his use of choirs, hymns, and old spirituals is an intermittent reminder of the spirituality inherent in the characters’ desire for justice. 

The greatest picture of just mercy 

When asked in a 2011 interview for his definition of justice, Stevenson responded first by talking about injustice and the way it is seen when people don’t “protect the norms, the values, the goals, the aspirations of the entire community.” He went on to say: 

When you can identify injustice, when you can identify inequality and unfairness, and you confront that, then in my mind you are doing justice. You are doing something corrective to the abuse of power that is at the heart of injustice, to the bigotry and bias that is often at the heart of injustice. So in a lot of ways, identifying injustice, confronting it and challenging it is what justice is about.[1]

This mission of challenging injustice is encapsulated in the words of Jesus from Luke 4:18-19 as he began his earthly ministry to inaugurate the Kingdom of God:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

In these words and in the life and death of the One who spoke them, we see the greatest picture of “just mercy”—the coming together of seemingly opposite ideas. With Stevenson’s Christian upbringing, he must know something of this supposed paradox. The mystery of how justice and mercy can co-exist in a single scenario is never better seen than in the cross of Jesus Christ. He experienced God’s just wrath against sin that we deserved, and because of that, we have the opportunity to experience his mercy by placing our hope and faith in him.

The film ends with Stevenson giving a speech on justice and poverty. It’s a fitting conclusion to the movie and a beautiful mantra for each of us: “We all need justice. We all need mercy. And some measure of unmerited grace.”

By / Dec 31

Gary Haugen shares how Christians can seek justice in everyday life. 

By / Jul 2

In the introduction to Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just, Tim Keller responds to three questions: 1) Why write this book?; 2) Who is this book for?; and 3) Why am I interested in justice? Keller says writing the book was critical because “less well known is the Biblical teaching that true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world” (p. xiii). He also explains why he was personally motivated to write the book. His own life was lacking in the pursuit of justice, and the more he studied the Scriptures and gained proximity to minorities, the more he understood that God’s people must do justice in the world. 

Generous Justice consists of eight chapters and two main sections. Chapters one through four lay out a theology of justice while the chapters five through eight focus on practices. It’s a great introduction to the relationship between salvation by faith through grace and its social implications in the Christians life. In explaining Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, Keller writes, “What does it mean to love your neighbor? . . . By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion—is your neighbor.” (p. 67) I consider it a must-read because it is biblically rich, practical, and seems to speak from an objective political lens. 

Justice grounded in the Word

Keller approaches each topic from a biblical worldview. He argues that justice begins to take place as a result of the right relationship with God and a heart-posture of generosity. As he expounds on texts in both the Old and New Testaments, it becomes clear for the reader that God’s concern for his people doing justice is a main theme throughout the Bible. For example, in chapter two, Keller digs into Deuteronomy 15:1-8 to show how God expected Israel to deal with the poor among them. If Israel had followed God’s direction with all their hearts, the existence of long-term poverty in their land would have ceased. 

Practical applications 

Because Keller makes the terms, ideas, and biblical truths around justice accessible, Generous Justice is highly practical. For example, in chapter seven, he discusses what justice looks like in the public square, explaining how there is significant division within academia around the definition of “justice.” Keller argues that justice is inherently judgmental and religious in nature. Therefore, to take a stand on what justice means inherently forces value judgments, which is the greatest sin in academia and our current American culture. For the Christian, to understand that justice inherently contains value judgments that are religious in nature should create a boldness when discussing the issue. 

Another example is in chapter five, when Keller says we do justice because it reflects God’s character, everything we have is ultimately God’s, and doing justice is a response to the grace of God poured out on sinners. In his conclusion to these points Keller shares,“The world makes social class into bottom-line identities. You are your social status and bank account—that is the basis for your self-regard.” (p. 104) But this is not true for the Christian. Our identity is in Christ, and everything we do is a response to his grace.

Politically objective

Finally, Generous Justice takes an objective political lens. This is especially evident in chapter one when Keller explains why he embraces the term “social justice.” “When these two words, tzaedqah (righteousness with social implications) and mishpat (justice in Hebrew), are tied together, the English expression that best conveys the meaning is ‘social justice.’” (p. 14)  

Keller then argues that a robust, biblical view of justice doesn’t fit neatly into either party in our two-party system in America. He goes so far as to say, “In the end what the Bible says about social justice cannot be tied to any one political system or economic policy. If it is possible, we need to take politics out of this equation as we look deeper into the Bible’s call for justice” (p. 32). Keller concludes with a warning, “And if we tie the Bible too tightly to any particular economic system or set of public policies, it bestows divine authority on the system” (p. 164).     

The main weakness of Generous Justice is chapter three. Where every other chapter thoroughly exposits the context, significance, and meaning of the text, this chapter is lacking. Scriptures are primarily relegated to parenthetical references. More robust examples from the gospels would show how Christ perfectly demonstrated justice in his earthly ministry.

Despite that, I think every Christian should read Generous Justice as an introduction to social justice and the Christian’s role in it. With a pastor’s heart and balanced approach, Keller speaks uniquely with authority, biblical fidelity, and cultural awareness on the issue. In a day and age where American Christianity has become overly individualistic and highly consumeristic, Generous Justice is an exceptional resource that turns the Christian’s gaze away from the self and toward others so that we can, as Keller writes, seek the “shalom” of our environments.

By / Jan 23

The United States is home to less than 5% of the world’s population, and yet almost 25% of the world’s prison population. A faulty assumption is at work in our criminal justice system: higher incarceration rates and longer sentences will automatically lead to safer communities and lower recidivism rates. Unfortunately, this conclusion has not proved true. 

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) upholds the belief that all men and women are created with dignity, and have the right to fair and just treatment under the law. The statistics on incarceration do not simply represent data, but people. These are our neighbors who bear God’s image—sons, daughters, and, more often than we realize, mothers and fathers. A balance needs to be struck between upholding the law for community safety and dealing holistically with how we punish and rehabilitate individuals who break those laws. Moreover, faith communities play a needful role in having a transformative effect on the life in question. 

The cost of incarceration absorbs a significant percentage of taxpayer dollars at the federal, state, and local levels. Overcriminalization and poorly managed parole and reentry programs creating a crisis that negatively affects more than 65 million Americans with criminal records. It also consumes more than 80 billion dollars from state and federal agencies annually. These numbers are alarming and suggest our current system is broken. Public revenues saved by a reformed criminal justice system could be applied to improve and expand parole, probation, and reintegration programs. 

Government should commit to implementing a criminal justice system that supports the flourishing of communities and families. The ERLC is committed to advocating for thoughtful changes that strengthen families and reconcile offenders to their communities. We support legislative policies that seek to reduce high incarceration rates without jeopardizing public safety. We affirm that probation and parole may serve as a wise, just, and effective alternative to prolonged incarceration for certain nonviolent offenders. We urge churches and other ministries to participate in programs that assist prisoners with reintegration into society, including transitional housing, vocational and drug rehabilitation, and family support. We want to see lives not only reconciled to society but ultimately reconciled to Christ. A criminal justice system that deals justly with offenders serves that end. 

As Christians, we recognize the value of second chances and restoration to community. We support prison chaplains, local churches, seminary educational initiatives, and other ministries that serve in prisons and youth detention centers. Furthermore, we support programs that seek to reintegrate prisoners into their communities to reduce recidivism through moral and spiritual transformation. Southern Baptists are committed to leading the way in forming and maintaining healthy communities and families who welcome the trapped, broken, and afflicted to new beginnings and more productive futures.

By / May 27

You may not know much about soccer or FIFA, the governing body of international competition, but chances are you will learn something soon. This week United States law enforcement officials arrested several high ranking FIFA officials on allegations of pervasive bribery and racketeering in connection with the sport. A thorough investigation by the FBI alleges that top leadership at FIFA routinely accepted money in exchanges for predetermination of tournament location, television broadcast rights, and even the location of at least one World Cup.

The FBI investigation and arrests are simply the capstones of years’ worth of corruption accusations against FIFA and its leadership. British journalist Andrew Jennings published an expose on corrupt practices at FIFA in 2006, and many such allegations have surfaced over the past few years. According to The New York Times, the investigative reports done by American agencies describe FIFA leadership  as similar to organized crime.

The picture that emerges from the investigations done by government officials and others is one of extreme corruption, greed, and contempt for the game. Soccer is the most popular sport on the globe, and with that designation comes a natural association with simplicity and purity. More than that, international soccer competitions—especially the World Cup—are significant cultural moments, not only in unifying countries to cheer on their team but in bringing considerable economic boons to host countries. The thought that any of this process has been tainted by fraud and bribery is outrageous to millions around the world.

Americans are still somewhat ambivalent to soccer. But that doesn’t mean that Americans can’t join the rest of the world in getting upset about corruption and cheating. Recently the New England Patriots of the NFL, along with their quarterback Tom Brady, faced serious scrutiny for allegedly tampering with equipment prior to a playoff game last year. Professional baseball is just now beginning to recover from a decades-long scandal involving performance enhancing drugs, and other sports have endured cheating controversies as well.

The Scripture has clear and strong language about the acceptance of bribes and perversion of justice. In Exodus, God commanded the people of Israel to take no bribes, “for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” (23:8) Proverbs 15:27 says that “whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live.” The Bible gives an unequivocal condemnation of those who thwart a just process.

Very few will try to defend the corrupt executives at FIFA. Yet how much of this is because we have a regenerated moral imagination, and how much of it is due to the fact that competitive sports is one of the last social fixtures in our society in which we expect fairness and equity? In today’s American culture, we have websites that boast about helping us cheat in academics, cheat on our taxes, and even cheat on our spouses. But when it comes to soccer or any other sport, the very whiff of something unfair or unjust incites us to moral outrage.

Perhaps this is because we are a culture that feels being sinned against much more keenly than sinning. Cheating and corruption in competitive sports means someone is at the losing end. On the other hand, manipulating circumstances in our own lives or intentionally trying to befriend those who could “help us out” later is often considered smart. We don’t feel the weight of injustice when it’s not us or our favorite team that has to bear the load.

The FIFA scandal should be a reminder of the biblical promise of justice. Though ultimate equity isn’t promised until the full realization of Jesus’s kingdom, the Bible does warn that those who pursue injustice for gain walk into their own snare. The executives at FIFA are living out that passage right now. Their plight should be an example to everyone that everything done in secret will, in this life or the next, be made open.