Putting the World to Rights

I’m currently reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian for one of my grad classes. Wright has a tremendous gift for taking weighty theological concepts and making them palatable on the popular level. That’s his M.O. with Simply Christian, his explanation of the Christian faith. Wright identifies four elements of our existence that can be interpreted as “echoes of a voice”: the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationship and the delight in beauty. Each of these, Wright contends, points beyond our existence to the image of God within us. I plan on writing about each of these issues over the next few days. Here’s a quote from Wright on our longing for justice:

We dream the dream of justice. We glimpse, for a moment, a world at one, a world put to rights, a world where things work out, where societies function fairly and effeciently, where we not only know what we ought to do but actually do it. And then we wake up and come back to reality. But what are we hearing when we’re dreaming that dream?
It’s as though we can hear, not perhaps a voice itself, but the echo of a voice: a voice speaking with calm, healing authority, speaking about justice, about things being put to rights, about peace and hope and prosperity for all. The voice continues to echo in our imagination, our subconscious….But the voice goes on, calling us, beckoning us, luring us to think that there might be such a thing as justice, as the world being put to rights, even though we find it so elusive. — pp.3-4

We live in an unjust world. An entire generation is being orphaned in Africa because of the AIDS pandemic. Natural catastrophes like hurricanes and earthquakes claim thousands of lives each year. The rich continue to line their pockets at the expense of the poor. Apartheid, slavery, hunger, genocide, war, rape, terrorism…our vocabulary is replete with words to describe the injustices around us.

We ask why it must be this way. Our innate desire for justice — or putting the world to rights, as Wright calls it — points to God Himself. Isn’t it odd that children playing on a playground have a fully developed sense of justice? (How long do you have to be on the playground before you hear someone crying, “That’s not fair!”) We have a difficult time squaring the way the world is with the way we beleive it ought to be. It’s as if we’re wired with a longing for justice.

And, although injustice seemingly runs rampant in these days, there are those grace moments, those moments when the curtain is lifted for but a moment and we hear the beautiful echo of that distant voice once more. And these moments of hope irrigate our souls and reawaken our passion to be agents of God’s justice here on earth. And may this passion for justice manifest itself through activism and engagement in our unique contexts.

May we follow the example of Christian men like William Wilberforce and John Woolman, who worked to abolish slave trade in Britain and the United States respectively. Their efforts flew in the face of popular Christian thought of the day with many people justifying the slave trade because the Bible mentions slavery. May we follow the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. who opposed the racial prejudice of his time by mobilizing the nonviolent civil rights movement in the United States. As Wright points out, God used these individuals and countless others like them to put the world to rights.

We continue to live in a fallen, unjust world. To believe injustice will be fully vanquished this side of eternity is both naive and absurd. But let’s not allow this to dissuade us from living out our calling. May God’s passion for justice become ours, too. May we be agents for Kingdom living that, through us, His will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

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2 Responses to Putting the World to Rights

  1. T.H. says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share what God, through N.T. Wright, is speaking to you about justice in these unjust days. My heart literally aches over the tension between the “what should be” and the “what is”. May we all dream of a tomorrow when the world is made right in an effort to affect the world we live in today.

  2. Jason says:

    T.H.,Thanks for the encouragement. I, too, yearn for a day when the world will be “put to rights” as Wright would say. But it’s sobering to realize how many resources God has given us to be His agents toward this end. For example, there is enough money in American bank accounts right now to eliminate the world’s hunger problem (according to some scholars). And we blame God for the injustices that occur here in a world of our own creation….

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