By Jamie Harms
A man was killed in our nation last week by the very people who were supposed to protect and defend him. In response, protests and riots have erupted in almost every major city as people cry out for justice and racial reconciliation. In the wake of this death and others in recent days, anger has swelled into action, some peaceful and some not. The call is for change and an end to oppression, and I keep asking myself how Christ followers should process events like these. How can we reflect God’s image to an angry and divided world?
I am reminded that God’s justice is founded in the love of His law. While our western minds can easily go to the love of law breeding an abuse of power, the context for how God gave His law to His people shows us that power was not His motive. The story of Exodus clearly illustrates this point. For hundreds of years, God’s people cried out to Him in hurt and anger as they suffered under Egyptian oppression. God saw their plight, heard their cries, and responded by sending an advocate, Moses, to plead their case before Pharaoh.
But Pharaoh wouldn’t listen, and God sent violent plagues in quick succession until he relented and released the people. God demonstrated a passionate love and care for His people: He orchestrated their freedom, saved them from pursuers, provided daily bread and water, healed their sicknesses, gave them resounding victory over their enemies, and blessed them with a Sabbath rest. And all before He gave them His law. When He handed them instructions for how to relate to Him and to others, this law wasn’t about bringing His people under a new form of oppression. Rather, God’s rules were a gift that showed His people how to have a relationship with Him and with each other.
Knowing that God’s law was given to establish honoring relationships, I ponder what it looks like to be image bearers of our God, reflecting the justice portion of His character. I think it starts by recognizing that God’s justice brings about right relationships with Him and others. In light of His great love, we should see and treat all men, women, and children as He does — created in His image and beloved.
In James we read that true religion is taking care of orphans and widows in their distress, the marginalized and voiceless of the day. When we see others as fellow image bearers in need or being treated unfairly, we are called to be advocates on their behalf. In this we reflect a just Jesus, who in love sacrificed His comfort, His time, and ultimately His life for us.
After a week of pandemic news, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, protests, and riots, it isn’t easy to determine what being an advocate looks like. God has not given us an explicit checklist to follow, but He’s given us His Word. In times of crisis, Christians often view the Bible as a self-help book or a guide for how to respond in a specific situation. We can easily forget that first and foremost the Bible is about our God, and when we rightly view God for who He is, we can rightly view ourselves and the situations we face.
Our time in the Psalms this week and throughout the summer is so timely. Looking ahead to next week’s readings, I see a recurring theme of God as the just Judge, dealing equitably and with righteousness. I note how creation groans and cries out for His judgment:
“Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”Psalms 96:13
“Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
“The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
I needed this reminder. Honestly, it feels like the world is out of control, and my heart breaks for so many in our midst who are hurting, for those who feel unheard, uncared for, undervalued, and misunderstood. When the world around me is hurled into chaos, I need to know that God is still trustworthy. I need to know that God is my King, that the rulers of the earth are under His authority and will answer to Him. I need to know that despite all protests, rioting, sickness, and pain that He is still just and merciful, and as I live in His example, I can advocate for His image bearers.