Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Moral arc of the Universe is long but it bends towards justice - tempered by mercy

A number of things were on my mind this week. Police reportedly caught one of their own, a Superintendent ( a very senior cop ), on tape accepting marked bills from a woman in a "sting" operation. Thus confirming what many Jamaicans have been talking about - the pervasiveness of corruption in the police force and indeed, in the minds of many, the level of corruption in many of our institutions. The allegations are that this senior cop is involved in a extortion ring operating in a major city in the nation. This is a very serious issue as extortion is now almost a way of life in my country with taxi drivers, mini-bus drivers, market vendors, businessman and women, even locals going to the river to wash clothes, having to pay " tax" in order to make a living. All of us are hoping that this will mark the beginning of something new in our country where justice and decency will prevail rather than badness and wickedness, which unfortunately is far too common in Jamaica land we love.

All of this taking place ironically, as a nation, we take time out to celebrate jointly another anniversary of our Independence from the colonial masters, and that of our release from the terrible bondage of slavery. Which leads me to ponder on a quote which Obama has been using and attributing to Martin Luther King Jnr, but which is in fact from Rev. Theodore Parker an abolitionist who died in 1860 - "The Moral arc of the Universe is long but it bends towards justice." So, like the top cop whose evil ways, have apparently caught up with him, so too have many others in history " met their Waterloo" -eventually. Hitler, Idi Amin, Sadam Hussein just to mention a few. And so too will Robert Mugabe, and the perpetrators of the genocide in Darfur and others agents of evil, in due course . On the other hand, though it took a long time, Nelson Mandela was eventually freed, Martin Luther King's " We shall overcome" is now closer to being fulfilled than any other time in American history.

This is the kind of hope, based on a proper reading of history, that we in Jamaica ought to have, as at this time of celebration of our Independence we continue to struggle with the high murder rate, the virtual institutionalization of extortion in our society, high levels of HIV/Aids, corruption in some aspects of the political system and similarly so in the business class. A hope, based on the fact that though the moral arc of the universe is long, it bends towards justice. So one day the " shottas" will come to an end. One day those politicians who shield them and the

" dons" will be exposed and imprisoned. One day the businessmen, and other policemen who are in league with these criminals, and who have caused so much pain in our country, they too will

" have their four o'clock" ( every dog has his day and every puss his four o'clock is a popular Jamaican saying)

And as in the secular world so too in the more important spiritual world, where the ( an extended) reading from the Old Testament for this Sunday in my church bears witness to the fact, that God's plan for all Creation, though seemingly long and far removed from reality, bends towards justice. But an additional component is introduced - justice tempered by mercy born out of His great love for us.

" Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessings and praise. You are alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry hosts, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you......You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites...... You have kept your promise because you are righteous.....You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt.....You send miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh....You made a name for yourself which remains to this day. You divided the sea before them so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depth....You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to then from the heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and commands and decrees which are good....But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused to listed and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them...........But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them......

Nehemiah 9:5-6 & 13-18 NIV

The one thing which has kept Christians faithful to God over the centuries is the certain knowledge of our complete dependence on Him - for grace and mercy as sinners; for His wisdom and discernment to navigate the challenges of this world; for His protection from evil and temptations; for His provision and deliverance in times of need. All of which flow from a proper understanding of what took place on the Cross of Calvary, where the Moral Arc of God bent towards Justice - the wages of sins had to be paid for- but Justice tempered by Mercy, as Jesus died in our place, died for our sins.

And so the words from Augustus Toplady's great hymn " Rock of Ages came into my mind this week.

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to your Cross I cling;

Naked, come to you for dress;

Helpless, look to you for grace;

Foul I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

This is the hope that must sustain us as Christianity faces the challenges of Same Sex Marriage and calls for the unconditional acceptance of unrepentant practicing homosexuals; the challenges of a culture which seeks to downplay the seriousness of sex before and outside of marriage; a culture which promotes comfort and prosperity as part of the Christian ethos rather than suffering and persecution; and a culture that is impatient of a God who allows suffering and evil to play out itself according His will and purpose. We must base our hope in how God treated with the rebellion of the children of Israel, the children of His promises as revealed in the book of Nehemiah. That though He blessed them and protected them from evil in Egypt, they rebelled against Him and even then , though His justice demanded punishment, His mercy shone through all of that. As we too having been set free from sin by the blood of Christ, shed on the Cross of Calvary, we too as a nation, as a people, and as individuals have rebelled against God of our forefathers, who loved "Puppa Jesus" and "Massa God", and set up for ourselves other gods - Politicians, Journalists, money, sex, philosophies, human wisdom, and technology. And yet God is still gracious and compassionate slow to anger and full of mercy - to those who would repent and believe in His Son Jesus.

I don't know all the words of the song, but this week, in the middle of contemplating all of this reflections and revelations the words " My God can do the impossible" came into my mind.

Therefore the God who can do the impossible will heal our soured relationships one day. Will calm all our anxieties and grant us peace. Will provide for all our needs in His time and in His way. Will heal all our illnesses and troubles in His time and for His glory in this world or the next. We just need to trust in His proven - on the Cross - grace and mercy.

So let us heed well the words from Timothy.

" All Scripture is is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct rebuke and encourage --with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up sound doctrine. Instead they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

2 Timothy 3: 16-4:4 NIV

Finally the Lord led me through the following meditation - among many others - to contemplate further this issue of trusting Him, in spite what is taking place around us.


July 27 " If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine......John 7:17

The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark, I may be sure that there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to do..........

So as we celebrate independence let us recall the fortunes of our forefathers and those of evil men. Let us not lose hope but take comfort in that fact justice will in fact ring out in Jamaica one day. As we cheer on Barack Obama, who represents the hope for something new in the world, not just the USA, let us not lose hope because McCain's attack ads are gaining some traction for him, as the moral arc of the universe is very patient. And as we give thanks this day and every day for life and for death, let us celebrate the fact that:

" Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers , neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus."