We woke up this morning in my country, to the news that four persons were brutally murdered the night before. Apparently reprisal killings resulting from the the shooting death of another man, whom it was theorized, was the relative of a " ranking" Don of a gang. So the waste of human life made in the image of God continues unabated. And when one adds the number of persons killed by the police, who allegedly opened fire on them, or acted suspiciously, then the situation becomes even more acute.
But it is not only that persons are dying but also that lives are being sometimes unalterably changed. This week I came face to face with one such set of persons and the experience affected me profoundly. They were skimpily dressed, which was quite inappropriate for my office. I was about to suggest that they should dress differently the next time around, when the conversation very quickly revealed that they were " exotic " dancers. Perhaps it was a good thing that I held my peace, as maybe the conversation would not have been so free flowing and revealing about the " respectable" men who they encountered . All because of poverty, as when the conversation ended, and I had prayed for them, it was clear that there was significant remorse and a desire to " do better".
For some reason, this same week " provoked" by a meditation I had read, I began praying earnestly for all the inner city communities in my country, where huge numbers of persons live, quite often in subhuman conditions, condemned to a life of squalor, privation and injustice by a largely uncaring society. (Lately, with an admixture of seriousness and jest, one of the chaps who sells newspaper at the corner, has been asking me repeatedly, to write him a letter of recommendation to the US embassy, so that he can get a visa, as life in the ghetto is " rough". We both laugh as he and I know that I have no such connections.) And then I wondered what could the church do, to help, based on the words of the prophet Ezekiel,
" You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the stray or searched for the lost. you have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no Shepherd, and when scattered they became food for all the wild animals". Ezekiel 34:4-5 NIV.
Yes, people " wonderfully and fearfully" made by God, have become " food for all kinds of wild animals" in my country. Pursued by gunmen, enticed by the lure of money, led astray by the promises of a better life, failed by the education system, unexposed in great measure to basic values of forgiveness, repentance, unrequited love and delayed gratification; used and abused by the modern day shepherds - some politicians and if truth be told even some pastors - aided and abetted by " the respectable ", deceived by their own desires, weighed down by the loss of hope and seemingly without any caring Shepherd. This is the context in my country in which I read the following meditation and was greatly moved and knelt down to repent of the fact that we who serve a Mighty God had " tolerated" this evil in our midst for far too long.
PERSONAL LIFE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Henry Emerson Fosdick Isaiah 5:7
" The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed:
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress."
Anyone who cares about character must care about social conditions, for every unfair economic situation, every social evil left to itself to run its course means ruin to character. And the God of the Bible, because he cares supremely for personal life at its best, is zealously in earnest about social justice; his prophets blazed with indignation at all inequity, and his Son made the coming kingdom, when God's will would be done on earth, the center of his message. To fellowship with this earnest purpose of god we are all summoned; God believes in the glorious possibilities of life on earth; he is counting on us to put away the sins that hold the kingdom back and to fight the abuses that crush character in men. To believe in god, therefore - the god who is fighting his way with his children up through ignorance, brutality, and selfishness to a " new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" -- is no weakly comfortable blessing ( see 2 Peter 3:13). it means joining a moral war; it means devotion, sacrifice' its spirit is the Cross and its motive an undiscourageable faith. And our underlying assurance that this war for a better world can be won is not simply our belief that it can be done, but our faith that God is, and that he believes that it can be done. When we pray we say, " your kingdom come," and we are full of hope about the long , sacrificial struggle, for the purpose behind and through it all is first of God's. Our earnestness is but an echo of his.
The problem with confronting the " evil' of the harsh conditions inner city or ghetto life, and how it serves to ruin people's character is that, first of all many Christians are not convicted of this mission. Secondly, those who are so convicted, hold too " small a view" of God and the infinite possibilities associated with the God who, alone " stretched out the heavens and the earth". Thirdly and finally, those who suffer need to be told that there is a God who is just waiting to act if they would only believe, repent and cry out to Him.
Hopefully the meditation above will jolt a few. In respect of the second point perhaps a brief recounting of the situation in England in the early 18th century might help as recoded in a book by the theologian John Stott writing about the Evangelical Revival led by John Wesley, who started the Methodist church, might help
"Bready describes the deep savagery of much of the 18th century, which was characterized by the wanton torture of animals for sport, the bestial drunkenness of the populace, the inhuman traffic in African Negroes, the mortality of the parish children, the universal gambling obsession, the savagery of the prison system and penal code, the welter of immorality, the prostitution of the theater, the growing prevalence of lawlessness,, the political bribery and corruption, the ecclesiastical arrogance and truculence( church gone bad)....such manifestations suggested that the British people were then deeply degraded and debauched as any people in Christendom.
But then things began to change. And the 19th century slavery and slave trade was abolished, the prison system was humanized, conditions in the factory and mines improved, education became available to the poor, trade unions began.......
Whence, then, this pronounced humanity? ..this passion for social justice and sensitivity to human wrongs. there is but one answer commensurate with stubborn historical truth. It derived from a new social conscience. And if that social conscience, admittedly was the offspring of more than one progenitor, it nonetheless was mothered and nurtured by the Evangelical Revival of vital practical Christianity -- a revival which illumined the central postulates of the new testament ethic, which made real the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of men, which pointed the priority of of personality over property, and which directed heart, soul and mind, toward the establishment of the Kingdom of Righteousness on earth.
The Evangelical Revival did more to transfigure the moral character of the general populace, than any other movement British history can record. For Wesley was both a preacher of the gospel and a prophet of social righteousness. He was the man who restored to a nation its soul."
In respect of the final point, repentance and crying to God. All of us should take note of the following Word from the Lord. A Word which has greatly helped me to understand what the Lord requires of me at this time in my life. As it is all about God's mercy.
"This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, No, we will flee on horses.
Therefore you will flee!
You said we will ride off on swift horses.
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a wall.
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice,
Blessed are all who wait n him"
Isaiah 30:15-18 NIV
I pray God that we will appreciate how deeply the Holy One of Israel cares for personal character and how injustice, and poverty and ignorance helps to ruin it. I pray God that there would arise, through a renewed church, a renewed " social conscience" in my country, and that a nation may have its soul renewed. I pray God that, He who did a " new thing" in Palestine in and through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in England through John Wesley, and in Jamaica in the past, through our national heroes Sam Sharpe, Marcus Garvey and others, will do a new thing again as we repent of our sinful ways, of what we have done and left undone, and cry out to Him for help. Amen.