Thursday, August 8, 2013

“Ye Are Gods”: the Biblical Call to do Social Justice

God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the gods: "How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed…" I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.’" – Psalm 82.1-3, 6

In the Bible, we are called “gods” in Psalm 82. To do social justice is a god-like activity. To imitate God, we should strive for justice. Another Psalm tell us that when we pursue and work for justice, we are imitating the ways of our God:

The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. – Psalm 103.6,7

Returning to Psalm 82, God reproaches humanity for a failure to observe social justice, the failure to “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” He calls them "gods," but says they will "die like men," because of their failure to do justice. 

Social Justice, far from being a partisan, political concern, is central to living the Way. It is a central theme in Holy Scripture. There is no separation between the Gospel and social justice; “There is no holiness but social holiness (John Wesley, Anglican Priest, and founder of the Methodists).” The Gospel IS a social gospel.

Some people think that religion is just about individual morality or piety, but this is not true. Isaiah the prophet rebuked the Israelites for relying on their religiosity in lieu of social justice:

Hear the word of the Lord,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the law of our God,
You people of Gomorrah:
11 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.

12 “When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
13 Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”

 - Isaiah 1:10-17, NKJV.

Notice that the prophet indicts the rulers. The call for social justice has political implications, the gospel has political implications. God is not pleased with their sacrifices, he is not pleased with their liturgy or religiosity; God, rather, is seeking justice.

To become God-like, to be deified, is the same as to become sanctified. 2 Peter 1:4 says that we have become “partakers in the divine nature.” Those who will be god-like must seek justice. St. Basil says that the baptized person has received a command to become God. If we receive that command, we should seek to imitate God and work for social justice. When we do so, we know that the Holy Spirit is at work within us, sanctifying us, deifying us.

I leave you with a quote from Anglican writer C.S. Lewis:

"The command 'Be ye perfect' is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command...He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to Him perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less."

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