Justice and Righteousness in Society
For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
1 Corinthians 15:27–28
Society was an acephalous [headless] organism, driven by unconscious forces from within, an object of study and, to the skillful, of manipulation, but in no sense a subject of responsible action. With this conception late-modernity, as it has been thought about in capitalist economic theory and in revolutionary socialism; it is liberal technological society, which functions like a computer constantly to extend the scope of its own operations in obedience to no rational purpose.
The Desire of the Nations, Oliver O’Donavan
The lies [of the world] are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They tell us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Discipleship in an Instant Society, Eugene Peterson
Governor Walz on May 30th tweeted and spoke these words, ‘We are bringing the full force of goodness and righteousness to restore order on our streets tonight.’ I’ve mentioned this a few times, but it is an astonishing phrase for a basically secular politician in the 21st century to say. I hope he had inklings as to the truth behind what he said, that is, what is goodness and righteousness. But if there is one thing that our current cultural moment is highlighting, it is this: our society is headless, it is without a leader. Now in saying this, I don’t mean to denigrate the current leadership that God has installed in our city, state, or country. What I mean by this is that I am convinced that our (un)-civil discourse lacks the proper foundation, it lacks the proper principle, and it lacks the proper fountain. I suppose the American experiment is now revealing its weaknesses, reminding us that the way current political theory interprets the US Constitution the theory does not acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Which is to say that it is without a proper head. Although there is much to commend the constitution given its reliance on Roman jurisprudence and experience and the history that developed out of it, it is mostly a pragmatic document, unable to enforce goodness and righteousness.
And this is perhaps our broader culture’s problem as well. When there are cries for justice, there is an assumption of a transcendent ideal, justice, but in reality justice’s transcendence is derived, it is a reflection of the perfections of our triune God. Doxxing is considered justice, overreactive violence and destruction is felt to be justice. All in all, this is quite problematic because there is no culturally agreed upon standard for justice. There is a patchwork of personally derived definitions of what justice accomplished looks like.
The church is able to define justice and everything else because we understand the Lordship of Christ. In fact, there is a peculiar opportunity for the church to define justice, goodness, righteousness, and the like, in light of divine revelation. If society is a headless organization, many of its experiments will prove to be problematic, and even worse, sinful and deadly. Although we are resigned to the truth that much of what we say will not be heard, we can speak truth about these destructive forces. For instance, killing unborn infants is murderous of humans made in God’s image; or the state should wield its sword not simply with power but with mercy just as God rules the world in his kindness, mercy, and justice. Not only can we speak these truths, we also pray that God might place Christians who can articulate these truths in every part of our society.
Yet, at the end of the day, we may not be heard, we will probably not be heard. Our end is not the transformation of our society, but fellowship with God. He is the one who will establish His Kingdom. And so we make it our aim to not be known by any one of these issues, but to be known for Christ. We want to be carrying the aroma of Christ to the world, which may include some communication about God’s justice, but it is no less than the gospel of Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us. We must take care to distinguish between the church and everything else. ‘Society is not the church,’ and even if our Governor was a Christian and a member of a Christian church, he wouldn’t be called Governor in our church but brother, and fellow church member. He is no ruler in the house of God.
And so we must take care so that in our discourse with others we understand both what the world is defining things as and how that definition falls short of one that begins with Christ’s lordship. But we must also take care not to disfigure the importance of the work of Christ while we engage in this civil discourse, and pray that our labor would ultimately be to God’s glory for the salvation of the lost.