Christmas Musings on Righteousness, Justice and the Kingship of God
Psalm 97: 1 The Lord is king, let the earth rejoice “The Lord is king” is a quite alien statement to those of us who live in a democracy and often inaccurately apply our democratic sensibilities to the Kingdom of God. We have this humanistic idea that we put authority in place and if they are not to our liking, we will simply vote them out. But God isn’t a president, God is a dictator; a benevolent dictator but a dictator none-the-less. God simply is not out stumping, pandering for votes or seeking to garner our approval. God created the cosmos, God makes the rules and calls us not only to submission but to rejoice in his rule. People often wonder these days if Jesus leans more Democrat or Republican but “Jesus didn’t come to take sides; He came to take over.” Here is the deal, we can accept God’s rule in our lives or we can reject God’s rule but we can’t vote Him out. We accept his reign to our temporal and eternal salvation and we reject it our temporal and eternal damnation.
Psalm 97:2 Righteousness and justice are his throne In its essence, the original sin was rejecting the reign of God over the lives of humanity. We humans wanted to be our own gods and were willing to test the limits of God’s authority. God told Adam and Eve, “Don’t” and they “Did.” And then heaven and earth braced to see what would happen next. Fall! Adam and Eve learn that just because you reject the authority of God, does not mean you escape the discipline of God. As a result, childbirth would bring pain and women and men were going to be relationally cross-threaded in a battle for power. Making a living was going to turn time consuming and difficult, physical death would loom on the horizon and humans were banished from the Paradise God had created for us. What was easy, just got hard. Really hard. It into that backdrop that Jesus entered the world at Christmas riding the wings of righteousness and justice.
Righteousness is the order of the world as God created it to be and justice is the fruit of righteousness. Where there is righteousness, there will be justice. Righteousness has at its root “right” and its essence is revealed in what we pray when we say, “May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When earth aligns with heaven, you have righteousness. Sin assaults divine order but it does not change the fundamental nature of it. In the heart of every damaged person is a seed of wholeness and restoration that emanates from the divine imprint of its creator. Sin made things wrong but God’s reign is going to make things right.
Justice has become a politicized word in our culture but God had it first. Justice ONLY comes through the righteousness. When people are righteous, justice is an inevitable outcome; when people are evil, justice is consistently denied. That is the problem with our culture today, people reject the righteousness of God and then demand justice from unrighteous people. It is not going to happen.
Let me explain. Regardless of your political persuasion, we all know that we live in the midst of grave injustices. Not all people are treated equally, not all people have equal opportunity and not all people receive a fair shake. Our culture approaches injustice as if it were the disease and fails to understand that it is a symptom. To work for justice apart from righteousness is like trying to cure the cough of a person with advanced lung cancer. It is only when God’s values, intentions, and agenda become more compelling than our worldly values, intentions and agendas that true justice and lasting justice will arrive. Sin will always act like a sinner.
I am not a guy who is going to be out demonstrating and marching and debating social issues in the public forum but I care deeply about what is going on in our divided nation. So what am I doing for the cause of justice? I am giving my all to call people to righteousness because it is only when we are transformed by righteousness that we will have collective hearts to dispense justice with love, fairness, respect and equity.
The bad news is that without righteousness and justice, we will continue to live in moral, ethical, racial, cultural, political and ecclesiastical chaos.
The good news is that Christmas reminds us that help for the world is not only on its way, help has arrived!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL