So if we shouldn’t celebrate because of Osama bin Laden’s death, what should we celebrate? The answer, in a sentence, is that we should celebrate that justice, our best understanding of justice, happened and, in happening, brought the world closer to full justice being done.
Christians live from a specific view of the world, believing and practicing life under the words of Jesus who claimed all things as his own because he was the Son God loved. This Jesus claimed things about the present and the future. He made many claims, gave a lot of sermons. Most students of scripture will tell you that the central theme of his ministry was the kingdom of God (or of heaven in Matthew’s biography). Jesus claimed that God’s kingdom was both here and to come, what theologians have talked about as “already and not yet.” The reality of God’s kingdom had both come and been delayed.
Jesus said the kingdom (the realm, sphere, or sovereign “area” of God) was “among” his disciples. But God’s kingdom was not finished; it is not. Christians know that. People who aren’t Christian know that too. We all watch the news. We all have damage in our lives, pain that we see and experience daily.
A scan or survey of the first testament’s treatment of what happens when the Kingdom comes will leave you unsatisfied when you consider things. The kingdom pushed you to see ahead, to see a world when wrong ceased. Talk of it opened the imaginations of believers’ hearts to all things being possible, to peace and real, deep relational and social contentment being possible. That essential rightness, that contentment, is in us and, at the same time, escapes us.
The Prince of Peace, as scripture called the Messiah, must have work to complete since the world is torn by war, terror, and violence. Jesus’s life and ministry accomplished much, but usually we turn toward issues of justice because of the gap full of things left undone. Undone is a good word. Much was done because of Jesus and his followers, including justice in powerful ways throughout the history of the early Christians. But a lot is undone.
I am biting, chewing, and re-offering something I’ve read from N.T. Wright former Bishop of Durham, and heard from Peter Hong, pastor of New Community. Incidentally, the best book I’ve read that captures the teaching of the kingdom in accessible, helpful, and plain language is by Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom. I always start from the things Kraybill has explained when I approach this stuff. Pastor Hong’s talked for a while in my ears about the language of Matthew’s gospel (in 19:28) where the writer quotes Jesus as the Savior looks forward to the renewal of all things.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
A part of the renewal of all things is God “righting” all the wrongs of the world in N.T. Wright’s language. When God renews what was broken–and this happens in our individual lives, does it not?–it looks like healing beginning to sprout in the same places where once nothing lived. Renewal is repair. Renewal is resurrecting deadness. Renewal is bringing life to shattered people and hope to structures full of darkness. It’s when institutions and cultures are overwhelmed by the glory of God.
I’ve been meditating on God’s overwhelming character and behavior. When I think of justice as an expression of God’s kingdom coming, I get overwhelmed. I can’t wait for it frankly.
Justice is worth waiting for, and when we experience glimpses of what we’re awaiting, we celebrate. We can’t help but to celebrate. We live in a world where we’re reminded daily that life is hopeless, even, for many, meaningless. Because the Christian faith is a faith that addresses hopelessness and meaninglessness–cosmic and personal meaninglessness–we are sensitive to moments where renewal happens.
We are attuned to those times when justice happens. It is unfortunate that those moments of justice are also moments of deep sadness for people who feel differently than we do. It is unfortunate that justice for us–and this has always been a complex problem of justice as people understand it–somehow leaves other people wounded. Wasn’t that Osama bin Laden’s view of his brand of faith? Still, those moments are the times we rejoice, because, they communicate to us that God is at work, pulling a world that’s stretched apart back together. Moments where hope happens are moments when Christians celebrate because we do so in anticipation of a greater celebration. We celebrate, waiting for the day when true justice, full justice will not only be defined but seen, felt, and experienced. We hope for that. In a sense, we are only a hopeful people. We have to be.