Caught In The Middle

I read a lot of books by people who are proponents of social justice [1]. I myself tend to have a strong social justice streak that is surely born out of my own intense longings for justice, longings which have been heightened (and perhaps even created in the first place) by a life that has been spent caught in the vortex of different experiences of injustice. As a native-born American citizen, I have been the recipient of undeserved societal grace, a grace that has allowed me to travel the world and live a life that is fantastically privileged by the status of the world at large at present, and even more so compared to the general state of mankind throughout the melancholy course of human history. As a result of my God-given intellect and reason, as well as certain gifts that result from the context of my life (including education and a certain interest in developing networks of friends and acquaintances) I feel free giving my thoughts and opinions and know that they will be taken seriously by others (at times, perhaps they are taken too seriously, but one who seeks attention should realize that not all attention is good and adjust one’s ability to cope accordingly). The injustices I have suffered in life are of a personal nature and have resulted from my own personal experience, and have fired in me a deep passion for justice and righteousness.

In reading these books on social justice (one of which I am reading right now) I am struck by an irony that often seems to escape the authors. Many of these authors spring from the Pacific Northwest, particularly the Portland region and its outlying areas in Oregon and Washington. Portland has probably the highest number of writers that I have seen who claim to be ministers involved in social justice, and yet it is among the lowest ranking cities in terms of people actually assembling together to worship as God commands, which means that all that concern for justice among ministers has not brought people to a practical worship of God. Likewise, there are plenty of places in the United States I have visited where church attendance is nearly universal but where social justice is terribly lacking. These are tragic ironies, ironies born out in our heavily divided contemporary political system where personal righteousness and social justice are pitted against enough. Yet without either personal righteousness or a concern for larger questions of justice, we are unrighteous in one of the two great commandments, by which we are enjoined to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our being and to love our neighbor (namely, everyone) as ourselves.

Being caught in the middle is a normal state of affairs, and if it is not a comfortable one, it is a place where we find growth. I suppose I have always spent my life caught in the middle of complicated matters too great for me to understand. It is natural in such a state to wish for a release of tension, and yet it is in that tension that we wrestle with the ethical demands of life and become (God willing) better people for that wrestling. On a dark night almost four thousand years ago, the patriarch Jacob wrestled the One who became Jesus Christ all night, refusing to let go until he received a blessing, receiving that blessing with a dislocated hip that he limped on for the rest of his days. Yet he received his blessing, and a new name, which reflected the fact that he strove with God and with men and refused to give up. Godly men like Job, Heman, and Asaph wrestled with God and had that wrestling written in scripture, as they sought to understand God’s working in their lives and in the greater society around them.

Part of being caught in the middle is recognizing that God does not want one thing, but wants everything. So too, we do not want one thing, but we want everything. For me, among the most frustrating of those tensions is that between the divine discontent that drives me to seek after justice and wholeness so passionately and the command to be content in all things, to be patient while God works out His good work in my life. In realizing what I dislike so much about many of the books I read about social justice, given the lack of obedience that is often urged by people who after justice delayed and denied in our society is a problem that we all have to wrestle with ourselves as well. It is easy for us to consider the affairs we are about as so important that we do not pay attention to the little rules or the little people or the little matters that get in the way. Or we can be so good at paying attention to those little matters that we forget the larger matters of which life is made. Yet in neither of those ways do we build righteousness. What is little gains significance as part of a larger whole, and paying attention to larger matters in turn means understanding that larger matters spring from smaller ones, and to do justice, mercy, and faith requires obedience in our own personal lives as well.

At the core of the matter, God desires both our head and our heart, desires our mind to work out the ways of God and to order our lives according to His ways, and wishes for our hearts to be devoted to Him and to being gracious and loving to others. God desires both that we should be people of right thinking and right beliefs as well as right practices that serve others and that help bind up the wounded and lift the burden from the oppressed who seek Him. God desires that we be both people of justice with a heart that burns against the corruption and exploitation we witness, and also people of order and dignity whose passion does not lead us to disrupt society but rather to be examples of godliness in unpopular and often difficult ways that reject violent revolution and so maintain the tension inherent so much in our existence. God does not promise to make our lives easy—by keeping us caught in the middle, He wishes us to be like Him, to understand that the only way out of our problems is through Him, working according to His will. Sometimes all we can do is trust in that will until its outworking becomes sufficiently obvious that our faith can be rewarded with gratitude and appreciation.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Caught In The Middle

  1. Pingback: Turnabout Is Fair Play, Or The Lament Of The Social Justice Warrior | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Both Ends Against The Middle | Edge Induced Cohesion

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