CHRISTIAN LIFE & GROWTH
Godly Justice in a Temporary World
By Cory Carwile
God does not abandon His Creation. This doesn't just go for humanity (for whom God sent the Son, incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth, to redeem us from sin), it also goes for the material realm which He made. God declared His creation "very good" (tov mehode in Hebrew) as He completed it in Genesis 1, and the human race is created with the specific expectation of holding dominion over it (Genesis 1:26-30). This tells us something important about God's view of the created world: it is not a superfluity. It is not a mere terrarium for humanity. It is not a placeholder until the New Creation comes along. It is something with value in itself. While the world was cursed to futility along with humanity itself at the Fall of Adam, it has not ceased to be good. And just as God's people will be resurrected to uncorrupted, unfallen states at the return of Christ, so too will the Creation be restored to glory. Remember that the Christian afterlife is not an eternal disembodied spirit-state, floating among clouds and playing harps. Rather, it is a literal life after this one: we will be physically resurrected, just as Christ was, and live upon the Earth (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). The Creation itself, much like our own bodies, will pass through death into life, being redeemed from its fallenness (Romans 8:21-23).
As such, the common view of the Church, historically, has been that humanity still has a responsibility to hold dominion over the earth, "tending the garden" as it were, even in the face of our fall into sinfulness. This is a common grace expectation, meaning that it is common to the whole of humanity, not just Christians. It is expressed in a variety of ways, but perhaps the earliest example is the establishment of the civil magistrate (i.e., human government). This can be traced to Genesis 9:6, when God tells Noah and his family, newly landed after the Great Flood, to execute anyone who murders another person. God is handing over the responsibility of justice to humanity — not just to worshippers of Yahweh, but to all of humanity. Note where God roots His logic for expecting this of mankind: He cites the fact that Man is made in God's image. This is often (correctly) interpreted as meaning that the image of God reflected in humanity makes a human so valuable that to kill one is a grievous sin, worthy of death. But it also means that God's image, uniquely reflected in humanity, makes human beings appropriate agents for carrying out God's will for justice on the Earth. When God notes in verse 6 that Man is made in God's image, He is saying that as God's image in Creation, we have a responsibility to carry out the terrible duty of punishing evildoers on Earth. God does not say that when murder is committed we must wait for the New Creation to see justice accomplished. He commands that we act in the world itself to correct wrongs. What happens here matters.
This basic principle can be (indeed, has been) extrapolated to argue that we should work to fight injustice in the world, not just pertaining to murder, but in any instance where people are evil and unfair to one another. In this sense, we are expected to "improve the world," or at least strive to manage the evil in it until Christ returns. And there are other ways of doing good in the world, of course, beyond punishing the wicked and helping the unfortunate. It can include encouraging charity among our neighbors, visiting the lonely, and cleaning up around the community. Not every individual needs to single-handedly change the world or do something earth-shattering: "improving the world" on an individual scale might be as simple as being an upstanding member of one's community and encouraging others to be likewise. There are any number of ways to accomplish these things, many (most) of which do not require a government edict or special skill; whatever form it may take, though, we can safely say that doing such things is morally good and Christians should be happy to do and see good things done in the world.
Remember, the existence of an eternal life in the New Creation does not divest our current actions of meaning. It's true that our world will eventually be remade, but Jesus talks a lot about the way we behave in this life, often talking about doing good as storing up "treasure in heaven" (Matthew 19:21; 10:41; 6:20). It's hard to say what exactly is implied by "treasure," particularly since we know we aren't saved by our works, but what is clear is that the good we do in this life is not forgotten in the next. This means that, rather than rendering our current actions void, the expectation of the New Creation is actually what makes the good we do meaningful. The Bible's demand for justice and goodness is not exclusive to the New Creation; we are expected to do good in the here and now, where the kingdom of God has come in the form of Christ and His spirit, but has not yet been consummated in the New Heaven and Earth. The Church is expected to reflect the nature of the Kingdom until Christ returns. We can confidently say with the Book of Proverbs, "When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers" (Proverbs 21:15).
Image Credit: Richie Gledhill; "Convoy of Hope..."; Creative Commons
Convoy of Hope is an organization that coordinates with churches, businesses, governments, and non-profits to reach people in need with everything from food to medical care to voter registration and legal aid — and gospel presentations.
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Controversial-Issues | Eternity-Forever | God-Father
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