Is Anyone Competent to Take It On?

Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. (2 Cor 2,16b, The Message)

Ok, I got it. I will do it all. The whole quarter, all of the lessons. From now on I will heed all of the exhortations: increase my parenting skills, enroll for prison visitations, give a dime to anyone who looks in need, cheer on my church’s soup kitchen, abhor plastic bags, enroll in a social ethics class, be an ADRA-activist, study the OT prophets with vigor, vote (again) for equal rights and the ordination of women, praise louder in church, get educated on LGBT and the other letters, rest harder, donate brutally, and just be just.

I was sick and tired of injustice anyway. As I grew up in the ’70’s and ’80’s, they showed us all of the holocaust videos. Injustice and even world-class cruelties, we learned, are not only part of the human condition, but they have their capital in my country. City-dweller as I was, I decided for farming after school. It so happened that the very end of the field I was sinking my plough into was in fact the inner-German border, that landmark of injustice. I had to watch closely not to bump against the border-markers, constantly under the observation of the watchtower-guys (the real ones) with their binoculars peeping from the other side. It tempted me to raise my fist (or just one finger of my hand) against this injustice. Then I quit farming and, as the French saying goes, hooked my plough on a star. I ended up studying theology in South-Africa, of all places, in the year 1992, when the referendum that ended the apartheid regime was taken, and graduating in ’94, when the first free elections had people of all colors peacefully lining up to cast their vote and ushered in a new era, hoped to be less unjust.

It seems we all have an innate sense for justice, be that by nature or nurture. Even animals appear to display that sense of justice.[1] Justice seems intuitive until we have to exercise it as parent, leader, or counsellor, or worse yet, until we start to study the different theories of justice.[2]

The ecumenical theological study commission of my city-state Hamburg devoted two years to the study of justice: social justice, justice in the OT and in the NT, and so forth.[3] Dr. Thomas Spiegler, dean of social studies at Friedensau University, in an excellent presentation he gave us, started out with the fictional story of a parent about to distribute a pizza to three kids. The first kid’s “name” is “justice of merit.” That kid will claim the bigger part because it helped in the errands for the ingredients of the pizza, kneading the dough and its production. The more effort, the bigger your part, which seems just. But it is interrupted by the second kid, whose name is “justice of need.” That kid, for some health reason, is underweight. It needs calories, especially pizza. It will claim a bigger part and it would be just to dish out according to need. But then the last sibling, “justice of entitlement.” makes its voice heard, saying: “but shouldn’t I get the bigger part? After all, it’s my birthday we are celebrating.” The parent, in near desperation, will finally resort to “distributive justice” and whip out equal parts to everyone. But has justice been done?

This week’s lesson throws us back on a passage of the apostle Paul, invoking a scene of a Roman triumphal entry (triambos, hence the Latin triumphus), not exactly the picture I would resort to when it comes to talking about justice, nor mercy, for that matter. Apparently, so we are taught by the lesson and by the historian Josephus, a Roman triumphal entry was a great display of the heroic victors and the subdued and humiliated defeated. It is unclear, however, whether Paul reckons believers or himself to be the former or latter group.[4] One would rashly wish it to be the former (using Col. 2:15), but Paul is here defending his apostleship and it is more likely that he is referring to the hardships that faithfulness to the gospel entails (it looks like constantly being humiliated and shown around). Hence the olfactory metaphor that cuts two ways, either being a fragrance or a stench, depending on one’s soteriological status. He closes off by asking the question: Who is sufficient/apt/competent/qualified for these things?

And that is where I am stuck with my zeal to become a zadiq, a righteous one. If (social) justice is a natural emanation of the gospel, then there is no place for me on the triumphal pedestal (I can’t even get it right with my two kids). Then Paul’s question of who would qualify for these things bodes rhetorical, coercing a humble “no one” out of my justice-yearning soul. But is this the right reading? Is this the right reaction, helplessly throwing our arms in the air? If we are all sinners, how is justice possible?

If we carry on reading, Paul may help us out. This is not a rhetorical question for Paul and he will not stop talking. In Chapter 3, he will answer his seemingly rhetorical question. He will defend his apostleship and explain why indeed he is hikanos (apt, competent, sufficient, qualified) for the job as an apostle. He will not leave the Corinthian doubters with a mere “well, we are all sinners and insufficient, aren’t we?”

In the Verse 17, he lashes back at those who misuse the word of God for “wheeling and dealing,” in contrast to being constantly and sincerely before God and speaking in Christ (en christus).

There is no direct segue from exhortations to be just, be they prophetic, politic or pastoral, to its exercise. Neither the hard-wrenching appeal of the evangelist nor the grim whipping of the social activist has turned me into a more just person. A just community is not ushered in by more imperatives or trying harder. If social and gospel are not only twins, but two names for the same thing, then experiencing grace and showing compassion are, too.

At the end of a much-needed quarter of reflecting upon good deeds of compassion and the kind of community we are called to exemplify, versus the despicable bunch of “remnants” that we too often are, we are reminded that our speaking, be it with hands or words, when done before and in accordance with God, does happen in Christ. It’s a real possibility. We may feel humiliated like Roman POW’s facing the needs of our community and churches, but it will be in Christ that we hear the answer to Paul’s question of who is competent for these things: in Christ? We all are.

Dennis Meier has served the churches of Hamburg as a pastor since 1995. Since 2013, he has been the president of the Hansa Conference, covering the most northern territory of Germany.

Photo by Palo Cech from Pexels

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[1] Find an example here.

[2] For instance, John Rawls‘ landmark text: A Theory of Justice, 1971.

[3] Read its final paper here (only German).

[4] The Anchor Bible, II Corinthians, 173ff.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9890
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Very great article that attempts to dive into the nuance of justice. I think that we tend to take language for granted in this case, since we understand this loaded term rather intuitively as we associate it with broader range of concepts. The vagueness of these terms can be easily hijacked by various ideologies and political and religious narratives, so we have to be able to spell it out down to the axiomatic bones of our personal views.

Lately I insist on definition, and it tends to catch people off-guard, because many assume that we all understand it to mean the same thing, so explanation isn’t necessary. For example, I typically get answers like “Justice means fairness”. Then I have to ask them how do you define fairness, and that definition would unsurprisingly would align with their broader ideological semantics, be it equality or merit-based reward/punishment, etc. But neither definition really captures the nuance. It tends to only capture a narrow portion of the broader moral spectrum.

So, the irony is that someone’s very definition of justice may be unjust when it comes to applying it broadly and without nuance. There’s a very good reason why the legal code is stored in millions of pages of elaboration and discussion of these nuances when it comes to determining legal justice.

I would argue that in Biblical narrative, justice is equivalent with righteousness, or the ideal behavior, relationships, or structure, and as such it’s contextual and not absolute, because ideal behavior in one context may not be in other. Nuance and context is important. Justice can’t be about strict and absolute “equality”, because equality isn’t desirable in every context. Likewise, justice isn’t about absolute and narrow “merit/punishment”, because it’s likewise isn’t desirable with every context.

And that’s precisely why we have societies with varying hierarchy of values and rules, and why we have varying structures with specialized goals and expectations relevant to these goals.

Justice is a much broader discussion, even in the narrower context of the “social justice”. These two-word slogans need to be unpacked, and … justified.

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Justice is not taking from others what belongs to them.
(Just the short version of my opinion)

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I would agree. However, your aphorism only has meaning in the presence of an agreed upon detailed corpus of property law defining what belongs to whom. Much of the civil litigation before the courts of most jurisdictions involves disputes over what belongs to whom. In most cases, the bible is of little to no use in determining what belongs to whom.

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Civil litigations are a great example of ongoing injustice, starting with the huge majority of attorneys’ practices and behavior.
(I am not aware if you are/not an attorney, but if you are don’t take this comment personally because I don’t even know you. But I have seen enough to trigger/justify my comment).

So you don’t think that we should have tort law?

[quote=“Arkdrey, post:6, topic:19030, full:true”]
So you don’t think that we should have tort law?
[/quote]

Hmmm, why would I think that? Every person is responsible for their acts, this I certainly believe.
Maybe I didn’t understand your question.

You seem to think that Civil litigation breeds injustice, as opposed to it merely being an arbitration process that delegates decisions about fairness to (hopefully) objective third party.

[quote=“Arkdrey, post:8, topic:19030”]
You seem to think that Civil litigation breeds injustice,
[/quote]'s
It’s not what I think, it’s what I have seen. As long as there is money to be taken from the clients, cases are not finished. I have seen many cases when the lawyers for both parties keep “negotiating” until all oney is extracted from the clients (aka victims).

I never served as a juror, was always dismissed when summoned. But last time it was interesting. I finally made it to the 24 selected in the first selection. The Honorable Judge explained the case: A guy stole a car and wrecked it. He was drunk.

The Judge “comforted” us saying that it was a short trial, only 3 days!.. Well, I told him right away that I was a therapist who worked with Domestic Violence and Anger Management for 12 years treating Court ordered perpetrators. And also that I don’t drink, and I am against drinking. So, noticing that I was about to pronounce the guy GUILTY, the Honorable quickly dismissed me. I bet he was relieved when I left, and his buddies (the Lawyers) as well so that they could have their 3 days running a trial like that - and collect. That’s legal fraud!

Then there is what I saw during my daughter’s divorce, now running for three and a half years. One day she HAD to leave a marriage of 18 years - no option. Things were getting dangerous, so she left with her two kids. Then I understood in full why my Dad always told us that his biggest disappointment would be if any of us ever became either a politician or a lawyer. He was a really wise man… :+1: :+1:

Just sayin’ … :wink:

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I am not a lawyer but I work with lawyers: magistrates, prosecutors and defense attorneys. You got a point there George. Sometimes the application/interpretation of the law depends on who is going to make or not make money. When corruption is thrown in the mix, eish!

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And in a dream God comes to Solomon and says: “Solomon, ask for anything you want, and I will give it to you”… and Solomon asked for “wisdom”. Was this divine justice? Who was Solomon? The son of David with a woman who belonged to another man. We know the story and we know the outcome. Back to Solomon who was granted a wish that not only made him “wise” but came with the “wealthiest man on earth” bonus. Justice is a peculiar divine term. I don’t understand it. Solomon was given a chance to demonstrate it and failed. Did God play a joke on him or did God teach humans a lesson that even when He grants us what we want we simply don’t know how to use it.

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Paul Takes on the issue in his letter to the church at Rome. He first establishes our need. He then outlines Christ solution. He closes with our response. Adventism assertion is we ain’t like Rome. We accept Jesus as our model now we will work on that until we achieve His likeness and just vindicate God.
Paul says in effect given our justification how shall we then act.? Rawls has a very complex struggle with being truly just.

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In an occasion there was trial in my daughter’s case. Her lawyer at that time charged 6 hours “preparing for the trial.” Then, two days on trial, in which he said basically nothing, as if had no idea of what was going on… Of course he was fired immediately.

I certainly understand where you are coming from, but the system is generally as accountable as we collectively make it so. I think the systemic accountability would be the better side of the social justice movement, and that would apply to a a typical “exploitive occupation” just as much as it does to any other.

I work in advertising, and I have to send a lot of wide-eyed client away who come to me with their perceived need to break into social media space or think that a couple runs on TV will bring them results. But, I can do so because I’m not an agency, and development and automation is my bread and butter. So, I don’t need to invent reasons to make someone’s life potentially better, and convince them that there’s a broader range of unseen value if it doesn’t get results.

On the other hand, I’ve had a negative experience with psychotherapy, and it doesn’t make you a quack. Hence, broad brushes don’t really help, especially when there are benefits like safer products, businesses, hospitals and workspaces, on top of the broader range of the benefits that lawyers bring. Fortunately, and rather ironically, my experiences have been positive … even in cases where I lost out. But I generally select my providers via personal reference and not from a phone book.

But, it’s really the issue of the lack of proper oversight that wasn’t introduced into the system as some objective agency that’s responsible for doing just that (I don’t consider Bar or Board associations to be objective ).

I am actually in favor of AI driven legal system in the future, since it would cut through all of the delay and clutter of the bogus formality, and would zip through the standard “opening chess moves” of the procedure fairly fast, perhaps leaving more nuanced issues to human decision. There are fewer good reasons why we shouldn’t automate this procedure, and bypass broader range of human factors that derail the it.

Of course, you may want to count your current blessings, because the only thing that stops a massive amount of people suing more would be that deterrent headache of the present day legal system.

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So people must be deterred from suing by the delays and frustrations? Wow

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The people described below…

Absolutely!

There’s a floodgates principle that comes to play as far as the balance between the ease of the process and potential rewards one may get, and if it’s simple enough and cost little, then some people can spin that wheel in hope for eventual payout to no end.

On the other hand, the delays do factor into the potential frequency of something. Consider what high frequency trading done to the stock market recently, and imagine that effect on the legal system.

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It happens all the time, Lizwi. For example, Insurance companies know that the average person has trouble waiting for a year or two to receive any compensation… even if they know that it will be coming! There are a lot of people that will be induced to settling out of court for less money because of all the cost and time it takes. I am sure that there some of us who could relate more stories that we know (or have been involved in).

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All Christians should support social justice.
Social justice is part of the last 6 commandments.
But when the last six commandment are placed in order of importance above the first 4, it is a bogus application.

The Catholic church uses social justice to advance their agenda to take away the first four and put themselves as the final authority over the word of God.

That the SDA church in general don’t seem to comprehend this agenda is evident by the constant advocacy for social justice while ignoring some greater issues that confront the Christian community in today’s world.

Maria, before Solomon went “off the rails”, we have the famous case of he two mothers and two babies. In passing judgement Solomon was able to very deftly determine the true mother of each baby. Perhaps justice is the application of divine wisdom. As such we cannot have true justice on earth without the inclusion of God in the equation.

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Yeah , yeah…more of the same bullying, abuse of lazy, lousy lukewarm Laodicean losers… and the use of the ambiguous “in Christ”

Then the mention of Jesus is coming soon as some sweet talk peace & safety hint of hope without the reminder that what falls before 2nd coming is the death decree, close of probation, SUNday law,mark of the Beast, time of trouble.

One of these years I might think about visiting an SDA church to see if any pastor has gotten a reality check from the Holy Spirit.