Christ is Risen!

Greetings this Easter Sunday, a day to celebrate the victory of God in Christ, the Risen Lord.

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddAfter our Lenten series, what could be more appropriate than some words from the marvellous writer and theologian, Fleming Rutledge on the theme of Christus Victor.

The Christus Victor theme in the New Testament … speaks with new force and relevance for today because it grants evil its due. The theme emphasizes the infernal intelligence, the annihilating force, the lethal fury of the demonic Powers. In the contemporary world we know too much of this kind of evil. Anyone following the news as the twenty-first century continues to unfold must know the feeling that our globe is inhabited by truly unbearable wickedness, and that this wickedness is out of control. (392)

It is in to this reality that Easter speaks – of the crucifixion and apparent defeat of good by evil, and of the Risen Lord, triumphant over Sin, death and the powers of evil.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus

… the Christian life does not go on as if the world had remained unchanged. The church is not a redeemed boat floating in an unredeemed sea. It is not as if the only thing that has changed is that our sins are forgiven and we, person by person, come to believe in Jesus. Rather, there has been a transfer of aeons, an exchange of one kosmos for another. The Powers and the principalities may not know it but their foundations have been undermined and cannot last. The creation itself has been and is being invaded by the new world, the age to come. (393, my emphasis)

Romans 8:20-21

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

 

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Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (18) Sin versus Sentimentality

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post, we finish chapter 4 on ‘The Gravity of Sin’

Some questions up front

How much, do you think, preachers and teachers face up to what Rutledge calls the ‘sickening’ character of human nature?

How much do we confront and confess our brokenness and depth of depravity?

How can this be done constructively in corporate church life?

Or do you think the church generally prefers sentimentality and politeness in preaching and worship? And is then shocked when Sin rears its ugly head?

In the last post we traced Rutledge’s argument that Sin is not something we do, it is something we are in (195). It is a power that enslaves, it shapes our personalities, thinking and actions and the human society in general in a billion different ways.

Given the ‘gravity of sin’ and its effects in the world – the Holocaust, continual wars, repeated genocides, fear of violence, injustice, acts of terror, human destruction of our globe, racism, exploitation of the weak by the powerful ad infinitum …  it is ironic – and perhaps understandable – that so much of Western life lapses into sentimentality.

Rutledge is writing in an American context and says this:

It is the lazy person’s way of receiving data about life, without struggle. It is apparently very important for us to believe in innocence. Such a belief is a stratagem for keeping unpleasant truth at bay; it is a form of denial. (196)

The Bible is anything but sentimental. A collection of inspirational stories it is most emphatically not. It is unblinking in its description and analysis of human nature – with every sort of failure recounted, often ‘by men and women of God’s own choosing’ (196).

But in the age of the internet, social media and the 24 hour news cycle, it is becoming harder and harder to live in denial.

The RoadI love film. I think one of the major trends of recent decades is the exploration of the relationship between human nature and hope. What hope is there for the future given the catastrophic mess we are making of the world? Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for example.

An Irish digression: Over the last 30 years or so, any concept of ‘innocence’ has been stripped from Irish public life.

The Garda (police), banks, politicians, the Church, schools, sports (drug assisted Irish Olympian gold medalists), the legal system – have all been exposed and laid bare as overflowing in corruption, greed, power and self-serving interest.

The weak, the poor and the powerless have been ruthlessly exploited by the powerful and there has been next to no accountability and justice. The ‘myth’ of Ireland as a model religious nation full of devoted worshippers has evaporated as if it never existed.

To come back to the crucifixion, Rutledge argues that

‘The crucifixion of Jesus is of such magnitude that it must call forth a concept of sin that is large enough to match it … Looking at Jesus on the cross, we see the degradation and Godforsakeness of it, and we see the corresponding gravity, the weight, of sin … we may conclude that the gravity of sin was so great that no correspondence in heaven or on earth was weighty enough except the self-offering of the Son of God – not by the swift guillotine blade, but by submitting to the degradation of crucifixion. (200-201)

However, while we need a weighty and realistic doctrine of Sin, there is good news:

God’s grace comes unsuspected, invading our circumscribed sphere in which we contrive fruitlessly to exonerate ourselves. The knowledge that we are imprisoned by Sin is not a prior condition for restoration. Such knowledge arises out of, and is therefore overcome by, the joyful tidings of redemption and release. In this glad certainty of new life, the people of God go to their knees to acknowledge their need for a deliverance from Sin that they have already received. (204 emphasis original)

In the next post we begin Part 2 on Biblical Motifs of the Atonement.

Chapter 5 is on ‘The Passover and the Exodus’

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (17) The gravity of Sin

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

We are continuing within chapter 4 on ‘The Gravity of Sin’ and, in particular, Rutledge’s discussion of what Sin actually is.

That ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Cor. 15:3) is the core of the gospel.

But what is Sin? And why did Jesus have to die to somehow ‘deal’ with Sin?

This is a big chapter. Again, it’s worth repeating that these blogs only give a flavour of the book and do not do justice to Rutledge’s prose and argument. For that you need to go to the book itself – you could do a lot worse, it’s excellent.

Rutledge goes even higher in my estimation by bringing in Calvin and Hobbes:

Calvin and Hobbes Christmas

Rutledge sees 4 issues here: (180)

1) What’s Santa’s definition of good and bad (What’s God’s definition?)

2) How good to you have to be to qualify as good? (And who makes the determination?)

3) Maybe good is more than the absence of bad (which raises the issue of evil as the absence of good)

4) Such philosophical questions lead to worry which only a theological answer can resolve.

Sin is much more than failing to be as good as we might have been. Nor is Sin a comparison game – ‘at least I am not as bad as x’.

Sin is a power under which all of us are enslaved (Rom. 3:9; John 8:34). Only a greater power can liberate us. The Cross is that which liberates from Sin and Death.

Sin is responsible guilt for which atonement must be made. The Cross is sacrifice for sin.

Human solidarity in bondage to the power of Sin is one of the most important concepts for Christians to grasp. But it is not enough to say that we are in bondage to Sin. A result of that bondage is that we have become active, conscripted agents of Sin. (178-79)

So, Rutledge argues,

Unless we are to abandon the New Testament witness altogether, we much acknowledge that the overcoming of sin lies at the very heart of the meaning of the crucifixion’ (185)

A Cosmic Struggle

The story of the Bible then can be seen as

‘a cosmic struggle between the forces of Sin, evil, and Death … and the unconquerable purpose of God. (184-85)

This battle is seen in every book of the New Testament (see examples pp 186-90, with Paul in particular seeing Sin as a power that enslaves). It is framed in light of the story of Sin in the Genesis: the Fall as the story of how all humans are in a vast rebellion against God.

And, just when you think Rutledge can’t get any better, she brings in Bob Dylan – ‘You Gotta Serve Somebody’ – we all live under one dominion or another, the dominion of Sin or the dominion of Christ. (191)

Sin-Lite: Sin as bad deeds

We come back here to how a watery theology that attempts to speak of the gospel only in terms of God’s love or grace, without a robust account of Sin is, biblically and theologically speaking, incoherent.

It arises from a discomfort that to talk of Sin is somehow a ‘negative’ or ‘downbeat’ message. It cuts across American optimism but is far from confined to America.

But the Bible, and the OT in particular, gives serious attention to the ‘great weight’ of Sin. Rutledge comments that

‘Christian attempts to moderate or minimize it are anti-Hebraic.’ (191)

Another way the seriousness of Sin is minimised is by seeing it as some sort of catalogue of ‘bad deeds’. Rutledge comments on a humourous People magazine survey in which various actions were rated on a scale of badness – a ‘Sindex’.

Really bad Sins: murder, rape, child abuse.

Pretty bad: parking in a handicapped space; cutting someone off;

Not so bad: smoking, swearing, masturbation, copyright infringement, unmarried and living together.

Corporate sin was not mentioned.

Most telling for our purposes here, “Overall, readers said they committed about 4.64 sins per month.” We may laugh at this, but clearly, our sense of sin as specific actions is deeply ingrained. (194)

The Good PlaceWhich all brings to mind The Good Place – which is all about Sin and how to get a score good enough to get into heaven. I’ve watched and enjoyed all three series.

But while amusing – and The Good Place is very amusing – this trivializes the Bible’s realistic and weighty diagnosis of Sin.

Here’s scoring of ‘good deeds’ in The Good Place  just so you know what to focus on!

the-good-place-scoring

We will come back in the next post to how the Bible’s view of Sin confronts and contrasts to that of American sentimentality and superficial optimism about human nature.

 

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (16) Sin: where to begin?

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post, and the next couple, we turn to chapter 4 and ‘The Gravity of Sin’

What is your response to the word ‘Sin’? Emotionally? Intellectually?

What is sin?

Would you agree with Rutledge’s argument in this chapter, that the church has largely lost a sense of the gravity of sin? Are God’s love and grace much talked about, but sin little mentioned? Is it just too ‘negative’ and depressing a topic to focus on?

What is the connection between sin and the gospel? In other words, what is the relationship between the ‘good news’ (of Jesus Christ) and the ‘bad news’ (of human sinfulness)?

So, how to talk about sin today? It is hardly a fashionable, attractive or exciting topic.

In a culture of optimistic self-affirmation, sin is simply not taken seriously as an idea. If mentioned, it is a bit of fun, used to sell some form of ‘sinful’ self-indulgence because ‘you are worth it’ – chocolate, cream, a spa, a holiday. The ‘sin’ of making space for ‘me time’.

The idea of ‘sin’ here is purely ironic, a marketing mechanism. The message underneath the ad being that ‘sin’ (of a bit of self-indulgence) is really a good thing. And the sub-text is that the idea of sin itself (that there is something fundamentally wrong with us and the world) is nonsense, to be smiled at as a primitive idea and dismissed.

The reason Rutledge had the chapter on Justice before this one on Sin – and Anselm in the middle – is that we need to understand God’s justice as his good intent to put things right – ‘liberating and restorative, not crippling and retributive’ (169). Then we are in a position to discuss Sin.

Rutledge uses a capital S – Sin singular, in terms of a general term describing human rebellion against God, a brokenness of relationship that impacts all other relationships.

To be in sin, biblically speaking, means something very much more consequential than wrongdoing; it means being catastrophically separated from the eternal love of God. It means to be on the other side of an impassable barrier of exclusion from God’s heavenly banquet. It means to be helplessly trapped inside one’s worst self, miserably aware of the chasm between the way we are and the way God intends us to be. It means the continuation of the reign of greed, cruelty, rapacity, and violence throughout the world. (174)

Plural ‘sins’ follow on from ‘Sin’ singular.

The point here, and throughout this chapter, is that we have an inbuilt tendency to downplay the gravity of Sin.

In the following quote – does what is said seem surprising or puzzling to you? Why?

The church has always been tempted to recast the Christian story in terms of individual fault and guilt that can be overcome by a decision to repent. This undermines the gospel at its heart. (171)

Hang on a minute – is not the Christian story all about overcoming guilt through repentance? How does it undermine the gospel?

What Rutledge is getting at here is the shift from utter dependence on God to confront and overcome sin, to a more optimistic and spiritually naïve anthropocentric emphasis on what we can do – as if Sin is overcome by our action (of repentance). For Rutledge

‘human repentance is not powerful enough, nor thorough enough or dependable enough to deliver the human race from wrong. (172)

This is why Rutledge is critical of evangelical revivalism – it focuses and actually depends on the human response as the overriding determining factor of salvation. The aim in such evangelism is to whip up emotion, primarily guilt, about ‘my’ sinfulness as a precursor to the resolution of ‘my sin problem’ through my repentance.

To be clear – Rutledge is not denying the importance of repentance. What is being criticised is where one ‘begins’ when talking about the gospel.

This takes us right into recent debates within contemporary evangelicalism, specifically for example, Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel which was discussed at length on this blog some time back.

To recap, McKnight’s criticism is that evangelical revivalism fostered an individualistic salvation narrative, namely, a ‘gospel’ ‘method of persuasion’ designed to evoke a crisis of guilt and a subsequent decision to repent. Ironically, this took the focus off the announcement of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and zoomed attention in on the resolution of the individual’s ‘sin problem’.

This not only reduces the breadth and scope of the good news, it makes ‘the gospel’ all about ‘my salvation’ (individualistic soteriology) rather than the good news of Jesus and what God has done in Christ (Christology and soteriology – with salvation being much broader than individuals ‘being saved’).

So rather than beginning with the bad news of sin, Rutledge is arguing this,

‘If a congregation is led to an understanding of salvation, the sense of sin will come as a consequence – and then the knowledge that the danger is already past will result in a profound and sincere repentance. That is the proper time to start talking about sin. (173)

In other words, coming at things from a very different angle to McKnight and others, Rutledge is agreeing with them by saying the announcement good news (gospel) of what God has done in Christ comes first. This puts focus where it should be – on the grace, love and saving action of God.

Human response follows – including a deepened awareness of sin and subsequent repentance.

Karl BarthRutledge retells a story of Karl Barth about a Swiss legend. A rider unknowingly crossed a frozen Lake Constance by night. When he realised what had happened he broke down horrified at his near death experience. This is like the impact of the announcement of the gospel. We hear retrospectively the news of what God has done. It is only then we understand the fate from which we have been rescued.

The words of Karl Barth

Do we really live in such danger? Yes, we live on the brink of death. But we have been saved. Look at our Savior, and at our salvation! Look at Jesus Christ on the cross … Do you know for whose sake he is hanging there? For our sake – because of our sin – sharing our captivity – burdened with our suffering! He nails our life to the cross. This is how God had to deal with us. From this darkness he has saved us. He who is not shattered after hearing this news may not yet have grasped the word of God: “By grace you have been saved!” (Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, emphasis in the original in italics. Rutledge, 172-73)

So when it comes to Sin, there is a deep personal response – but it is to the gospel of good news of God’s love and saving action. Salvation does not depend on ‘me’, but on God.

Gospel first, then joy, gratitude, thanksgiving, repentance (a turning to God and from ourselves) and subsequent obedience.

 

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (13) Rectification

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we finish chapter 3 on ‘The Question of Justice’.

The question in view here is the relationship between the righteousness of God (justice, justification) and judgement (condemnation, destruction).

Rutledge moves on in the final section of this chapter to discuss justice / righteousness.

You may be aware that these two very different English words come from the same Greek word group. Justify, justification, righteousness, just, justice, righteous are all derived from the same root in Greek

So justice and righteousness are effectively, in the NT, the same thing. But we do not read them that way in English. We tend to think of the ‘righteousness of God’ as his holiness often in contrast to our unrighteousness / unholiness (pre-conversion Luther)

But the crucial thing to grasp here is that God’s righteousness is best understood as a VERB not a noun. It refers to the power of God to make things right. He acts ‘rightly’ to ‘rightify’ we may say.

This is why Rutledge prefers ‘rectification’ instead of ‘justification’ – it better captures this sense of God putting things right.

So, what difference does this make? Well, two aspects of God’s righteousness are brought out

  1. God’s Righteousness as loving pursuit

Rutledge gives the example of Hosea 11 – Yahweh pursuing his Bride in order to restore their relationship. So we can think of God’s righteousness in more relational and restorative terms than that of the law court.

The righteousness of God is not a static, remorseless attribute against which human beings fling themselves in vain. Nor is it like that of a judge who dispenses impersonal justice according to some legal norm. (136)

  1. God’s righteousness as ‘aggressive action’

But the other side of God’s loving pursuit is what Rutledge calls his ‘aggressive action’ to restore righteousness. The example of Isaiah 1:24-27 is given, but Rutledge could have stayed in Hosea. It perfectly captures the double-sided nature of God’s righteousness. It tells the story of God’s astonishing love for his unfaithful people, but also contains more warnings of awful judgement than practically any other prophetic book.

Rutledge contends that even God’s judgement is restorative – the overriding goal is renewal and justice – and that means ‘smelting away impurities and the removal of alloy’ (137)

God’s Righteousness as apocalyptic intervention

Rutledge goes to lengths to make the point that by the end of the OT, this longing for justice – of restoration and renewal – had effectively come to a dead end. Post-exile Israel could only hope for divine intervention. Righteousness could only come from God, not from within

Justice and righteousness are not human possibilities. And this brings us to Jesus, the arrival of the Kingdom of God and his death on the cross.

In the final analysis, the crucifixion of Christ for the sin of the world reveals that it is not only the victims of oppression of injustice who are in need of God’s deliverance, but also the victimizers. (141)

… all are under the Power of Sin. In the sight of God, everyone is need of deliverance .. (142)

This means that God’s action at the cross is the unique and shocking place where loving pursuit and aggressive action against Sin come together.

Nothing else, no other method of execution, no other death, could achieve such justice.

The wrath of God, which plays such a large role in both Old and New Testaments, can be embraced because it comes wrapped in God’s mercy.

The wrath of God falls upon God himself, by God’s own choice, out of God’s own love.

God, in Christ on the cross has become one with those who are despised and outcast in the world. No other method of execution that the world has ever known could have established this so conclusively. (143)

In the next post we start an extra chapter sandwiched in between chapters 3 and 4 – a ‘bridge chapter’ on Anselm.

 

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (11) forgiveness and justice

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we continue within chapter 3 on ‘The Question of Justice’.

The question in view here is the relationship between the righteousness of God (justice, justification) and judgement (condemnation, destruction).

If the OT ends with hopes of a coming kingdom of justice (Jer. 23:5; Isa. 9:6-7), the NT begins with dramatic announcements that that kingdom of justice has arrived.

First Mary: Luke 1:46-48a, 51b-53

The Messiah himself: Luke 4:16-21

Rutledge’s observation

God’s justice will involve a dramatic reversal, however, which will not necessarily be received as good news by those presently on top of the heap (reader, that means us). (113)

So God’s justice is a deeply disturbing idea – it challenges the status quo, it up-ends the powerful, rich and well-connected, it liberates the poor and oppressed.

And this means that the idea of justice can often be side-lined – it is just too threatening and difficult to face.

Justice and Forgiveness

Rutledge explores this neglect of justice in relationship to forgiveness.

Let me give an Irish example – I grew up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. A school friend’s father was shot dead. A university lecturer and politician was executed outside our lecture room at College, another student was murdered as he waited to go into an exam. No one in ‘the North’ was untouched by violence, either directly or indirectly.

Decades later, after a long ‘Peace Process’, deep wounds remain, mainly, I think, because there has been huge political effort to reach a compromise settlement (The Good Friday Agreement, 1998) but little progress in facing the much harder questions of justice and forgiveness.

Or, to put it another way, a political settlement was reached largely at the expense of justice and forgiveness. A pragmatic political process intentionally left justice and forgiveness to one side in the hope that an absence of violence (not genuine peace) would ‘normalise’ society to such a degree that it would become unimaginable for violence to be ‘justified’ in the future.

To a large degree this political approach has ‘worked’ – but in these days of Brexit and political instability, the return of violence is a very real possibility. Divisions are perhaps as deep as ever.

The ‘hole’ at the heart of the Northern Ireland ‘Peace’ Process is the failure to make progress on justice and forgiveness. This is not to say that major efforts were not made – they were. But (and some who were involved on the ground may want to correct me) deep hurts have not been healed.

There has been a lack of forgiveness and subsequent reconciliation because there is little sense of justice.

Rutledge warns against ‘easy’ or automatic forgiveness where a victim is asked, while a loved one’s body is barely in the grave, ‘Do you forgive?’. Authentic forgiveness is hard work, it is costly and difficult. It does not exist in isolation from justice, as if deep wrongs can just be swept away under the carpet.

What do you think of this statement?

Forgiveness in and of itself is not the essence of Christianity, though many believe it to be so. Forgiveness must be understood in its relationship to justice if the Christian gospel is to be allowed its full scope. (115)

But what does ‘justice’ look like? Is it simply that the offenders pay for their crimes and end up behind bars for a proportionate length of time?

Here’s the thing – while such legal punishment for crimes may help, no legal system of law will ever bring about reconciliation of enemies. In the North, each side pursuing ‘justice’ on its own for past wrongs just perpetuates conflict.

So justice is essential, but it can also be a weapon against the other. So some deeper understanding of justice is needed than mere punishment for wrong.

Rutledge offers a clear-eyed assessment of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While it had many flaws – not least that people who did horrific violence to others benefitted from an amnesty – the profound achievement of the TRC was that Truth was publically spoken. Indeed, such truth would not have emerged without the ‘injustice’ of the amnesty.

Rutledge’s argument is that, however imperfect, the public acknowledgement of truth, compassion and lament for victims and public affirmation of their suffering is a form of justice in and of itself.

Rutledge quotes Michael Ignatieff

We recognise the past can’t be remade through punishment. Instead – since we know that memories will persist for a long time – we aim to acknowledge those memories [that] … something seriously evil happened to you. And the nation believes you. (120)

This sort of justice recognises something true and important

‘the impossibility of administering human justice that is proportionate to the offense.’ (121)

A Christian form of justice recognises this. Relentless pursuit of human justice will disappoint. As someone wisely said to me, in court you get the law, not justice.

Christian justice is not primarily interested in punishment but in new creation. In transforming situations of horror, not by denying that evil, but by acknowledging it while not continuing in the cycle of violence and hatred.

So then, what is the relationship between justice and forgiveness in Christian understanding?

We’ll come back to this in the next post.

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (10) justice and judgement

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we begin chapter 3 on ‘The Question of Justice’.

The issue in view here is the relationship between the righteousness of God (justice, justification) and judgement (condemnation, destruction).

To anticipate a possible objection:

All this talk of judgement and righteousness sounds like a heavy-duty abstract theological discussion – let’s just focus on more spiritually important things like loving one another.

To which I would say at least four things:

i. What could be better than some important theology?! My tongue is not in my cheek here. God himself seems to see fit to give his people plenty to profound theology to wrestle over in the Bible. When it comes to understanding justice and judgement, he has given the book of Romans let alone the whole Old Testament to his people. Dare we say, actually, can we have something else please?

ii. The hypothetical objection above also assumes a disconnect between theology and ‘real life’. Few things are more disheartening to a Bible teacher than this false antithesis. Everything a Christian does and thinks and says is ‘theological’. To say ‘theology’ is optional or for professionals only is to say God’s Word and God’s truth does not matter, we can figure things out ourselves thanks. It’s a form of passive arrogance, not a sign of ‘spirituality’.

iii. Disinterest in theological issues like justice and judgement is actually symptomatic of a faith that is becoming irrelevant, not staying relevant. It will be so shaped by the world and its beliefs and values, that it will have noting distinct to say to ‘real life’. Understanding justice and judgement takes us to the heartbeat of Christianity because it takes us to the cross.

iv. Few things are less ‘abstract’ or ‘theoretical’ than thinking Christianly about issues of justice and judgement.

Are you concerned about injustice?

Do you ask at times ‘Where you are God?

Are you concerned about the mess the world is in?’

How do you respond when someone treats you unfairly?

What do you get angry about when you listen to the news?

These are the sort of everyday issues that a theology of justice addresses.

OK, that mini-rant come introduction over, let’s get back to Rutledge and see where the conversation goes.

It starts off with an important reminder – those that suffer most from injustice are the ones least likely to be reading Rutledge’s book (or a theological blog for that matter).

It is the poor, the marginalised and least educated who suffer most from injustice and have least resources to do something about it. Therefore,

Trying to understand someone else’s predicament lies at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian (107)

How would you describe God? With what adjectives?  What lies at the ‘essence’ of God’s character?

Rutledge suggests this is how the average churchgoing American might answer.

he or she will almost certainly call God “loving”. God is also commonly described as compassionate, merciful, welcoming, accepting, and inclusive. Very few white Americans will volunteer that God is just. (107)

Yet the justice of God dominates the Old Testament. Rutledge unpacks this story in detail and we can only touch on it here.

As God is just – and ‘holy’ and ‘righteous’ are virtually synonyms for just – so Israel is to be a community of justice. Injustice is the powerful or rich exploiting the poor – in Israel there were to be no poor. Where injustice exists, so God’s judgment follows.

Justice on earth is a foretaste of the future Day of the Lord which will usher in a realm of perfect justice.

Take Psalm 146 – look for how realism about the temporary nature of human justice leads to a future-orientated hope in the perfect justice of God.

1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the  Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the  Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them –
he remains faithful for ever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

And so the OT leads to the Messianic hopes of a coming kingdom of justice – we return to this in the next post.