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Agents of Hope in Unjust Structures

Created in God’s image, human beings were made with a unique capacity for developing structure and accentuating the beauty of God’s world. God’s intention was that we would be like his signet ring (see Haggai 2:23), representing and ushering in his justice and righteousness as the caretakers of this world, and of each other. We are meant to make his glory known.

God’s intention was that we would be like his signet ring.

And yet, with our fallen nature and the preponderance of unconverted hearts, we have more often become responsible for multiplying chaos, adding ugliness, and causing evil to flourish. Throughout human history, systems that were developed to avoid and overcome injustice and disorder often end up promoting corruption.

According to God’s Word, this disgraceful state began not long after God first breathed his life-giving spirit into us, when we willfully fell from our original state of innocence. Ever since that day, despite our best efforts to curb it, this fault-line between us and God, and between ourselves, has been growing. We grieve so many of the most deeply-rooted and seemingly insurmountable problems which our world faces.

And yet, for us who are salt and light in the world, shouldn’t there be a way forward? Where does the grace and the ministry of reconciliation and love that the Church has received fit within those systems that reflect both God-given order and our human fallenness? Will it take a re-examination and perhaps even unravelling of some of the systems that previous generations put in place? What should the role of the Church be in all of this? How do we become agents of transformation?

Systems that were developed to avoid and overcome injustice and disorder often end up promoting corruption.

A first step in this process is to be alert and to acknowledge where sin rears its ugly head. Take a moment to question the status quo of our institutions: what if certain rules, laws, and even socialized norms that we have grown accustomed to actually favor only specific classes of people, and what if there is a “loop-hole” of self-serving present at their cores, intentionally placed there from their beginnings, so that these systems and institutions could reward some and penalize or exclude others? Or, if we would rather give the benefit of the doubt to our systems, then consider how often people are denied what they are entitled to, simply by virtue of a loophole or an authority’s misinterpretation of a rule. You know it. I know it. It’s a fact of life. Even when systems are intended to operate well, they can and do fail to guarantee justice.

Let me throw out three scenarios to prime the pump:

Although college admission standards aim to be fair, it doesn’t always work out that way. While the world may need more ambitious people to use their access to training and education for a common good, those who have been coached in navigating the system, who know the right people, and who can jump through the hoops of higher academia end up earning the qualifications to become our public servants. And meanwhile, others who are naturally talented to serve—perhaps not to be academics—may deserve to be further equipped, but can be excluded by the systems of university enrollment. The result can be that those who benefit most from the current system and have the least motivation to change it get access to promotions, and who are most content to maintain the status quo get access to promotions and maintain unjust systems.

Let me throw out three scenarios to prime the pump.

Or think of the academically gifted child whose parents struggle to provide 3 healthy meals per day, work various jobs to provide for their kids, and don’t live in a district with a good school. What are the chances that this latch-key youth will be identified as a leader when compared to those with more advantages? We may applaud the exceptions, whose stories are heralded on the big-screen, but should such people really be unusual by God’s standard? Didn’t he create them in their mothers’ wombs too?

Or take the situation of certain countries in the Middle East, where the numbers of refugees continue to balloon. We all know that we live in a time of unprecedented numbers of displaced peoples. How well are governments and the international community stewarding money and resources to care for refugees? Is pushing them to the countries which are already stretched thin on resources, like Lebanon or Egypt a workable solution? The reality for refugees in Egypt is that the UN Refugee Agency’s rules on financial aid limit eligibility to families who have only one parent and more than six children. Think about that! This results in many desperately needy families and thousands of unaccompanied minors. Does this seem just?

How can our systems better reflect God’s compassion and justice?

How can our systems better reflect God’s compassion and justice? When we are paying attention, the picture before us is grim. And yet, there is hope. After all, Christ is King.

John Calvin, describing our role as conveyers of God’s grace, faith, hope, and Christ’s love, writes:

“The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits…”

It is the evidences of hope that the Church holds that can cause our neighbors to grow curious and to ask those questions that will lead families and communities to eternal life. The Church has an important role to play in the world today. We need to consider how our systems can be redesigned for good. How can we turn those structures which are preventing people from experiencing grace into structures which reflect the grace of God in Christ? We need to do this as the Church, revealing Christ.

It will take intentionality and advocacy to make an impact that is felt by the world.  

The good news is that the Church is doing this. Examples abound. I recently came across three wonderful examples as I was travelling and observing healthy Christian organizations at work in the U.S., Egypt, and Australia. As a testimony to what God is doing through the Church, allowing systems and institutions to challenge the status quo and reflect Christ’s goodness and justice, in my next couple of articles I'll be sharing what I've seen. Here are some questions I’m posing, which I see the Church responding to…

  • How is the Church finding ways to empower and equip refugees in the process of addressing their own people’s needs?
  • How is the Church involved in adapting educational structures in order to welcome students who are ready to make a difference in the world?
  • How is the Church bringing about urban transformation by identifying, inviting, and developing the least and the lowest to become a new generation of leaders?

In the meantime, take a moment to look around yourself. What do you see in the Church’s institutional posture? What questions are you asking of the institutional injustices of our societies? Is the church in your area showing God’s creativity, patience, and courage? It will take intentionality and advocacy to make an impact that is felt by the world...but the results can be extraordinary—and that is our calling!

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