December 4, 2012

Do you like this?

Isaiah 1:10-20 is a sobering prophetic passage in which God reams out the Israelites for thinking that they can honor Him while mistreating the most vulnerable of His people. We play the same game the ancient Israelites did. So many Christians today abstract their vertical relationship with God from their horizontal relationships with their neighbors and even pit the vertical against the horizontal. This is why I’m very suspicious of people who make a big fuss over glorifying God in the abstract as an act of zealous piety without exhibiting the generosity and mercy towards others that shows their genuine deliverance from the self-justification that Adam brought into the world. The abstraction of God from the creation He loves is the root of a particular immorality that afflicts God’s most zealous cheerleaders.

It’s important to point out that the injustice which offends God in this passage is not active abuse but neglect — the failure to “seek justice” by “relieving the oppressed, vindicating the orphan, [and] pleading for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). These are not things that fall under justice according to the iustitia of blind-folds and scales that Western civilization inherited from the Roman Empire. Nobody broke any laws or showed favoritism. But the Biblical justice of משפט (mishpat) is not impartial; it is rather maximally partial to the welfare of each individual. God is saying that our Western bourgeois morality of staying out of other people’s space and keeping ourselves from posing a burden to others is inadequate and is in fact an utter failure of our humanity when we use it to justify our lack of compassion as many Christians today do.

The Bible recognizes in a way that our Greco-Roman juridical ethos doesn’t that injustice happens even when no one person can be “legitimately” held responsible. When society is structured in a way that people are impoverished and disempowered, sin has occurred even if no single individual can be blamed. Latin American theologian Jon Sobrino talks about the need for Jesus’ cross to accomplish the “perdón de la realidad” (the forgiveness of and deliverance from sins without identifiable agents). A lot of sin happens in our world right now through abstraction, when the decisions that harm others are separated by enough degrees of causation that the decision-maker can genuinely profess ignorance. This is often caused by utilitarianism, when we settle for what is beneficial to the majority rather than advocating for the one sheep out of one hundred who will be hurt.

I understand that decision-makers would never get anything done if they waited until they came up with the perfect system that would maximize benefit to all people. But Isaiah makes it pretty explicit that we “have blood on our hands” (v. 15) if we are not “relieving the oppressed, vindicating the orphan, and pleading for the widow.” What might seem like a radical, unreasonable standard for justice on the part of Isaiah is corroborated by Jesus whose most vivid accounts of damnation come in parables about people privilege neglecting (and not actively abusing) the oppressed: the rich man who ignores Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 and the goats who never love Christ in “the least of these” in Matthew 25. We have acclimated to an account of justice in which “charity” is a bonus, when what God has to say in Isaiah 1 is that we are mocking Him to sing “Worthy is the lamb” if it does not compel us to seek out the welfare of those who are being crucified today.


December 4, 2012

Comments (3)

Comment Feed

Vertical and horizontal thinking

I enjoyed readings your comments, and it teaches that Gods law never diminishes His Love, nor does His love diminish His law. It's impossible to accept grace/forgiveness for a sin that we deny is a sin. God, being the authority of His created beings, is the One Who defines sin. Jesus said in John 8:46, "who convinceth me of sin"? Mans problem is that He refuses to
submit himself to the Creator, therefore he will die in his sins. Sin is still the transgression of God's law, and the wages of sin is still death. When we refuse to obey God's commandments, actually what we are saying is His death doesn't matter. If His death matters to us, the sin He died for should, too. Mankind wants a God of love that has no justice or standard of righteousness, and the One Who died on the cross has both. This way of wicked thinking disgraces grace. If Jesus died for a sin that we refuse to acknowledge and repent, how can we expect to receive forgiveness?
"Let no man deceive you"Mt 24:4. If transgressing God's Sabbath day is not a sin, what will God tell the man in Numbers 15 on Judgment Day? And it "is" the 7th day, not the first. Why? Because God said so. If mankind wishes to observe another day by taking Paul's writings out of context, well Peter knew they would! 11 Peter 3:16 Only God can sanctify a day, man cannot; he can just hear God or refuse to hear. After all, that was the problem with the Israelites all along--they would not HEAR. Jesus said this was the fist commandment given to them--I guess when we won't hear one, we won't hear the rest, huh? Mark 12:29 James 2:10
"He that hath an ear, let him hear"
Blessings to all who are willing to hear, believe, and obey. And it can only happen through Gods Holy Spirit, and man's repentance.

Patty Graham more than 1 years ago

Why Worship without Justice Dishonors God

Your socialism both economic and social--is what infiltrated the Protestant faith. And as a consequence Western piety is popularly at a loss.

S. Wesley Mcgranor more than 1 years ago

Worship Without Justice

And it will grow your congregation, too!

Anne Ewing more than 1 years ago


How can we discern God's will for the future of The United Methodist Church? Through United Methodist Insight, leaders and influencers gain a broad vision of the news and views that are shaping the global denomination. Your financial support helps prepare United Methodist leaders for 21st century challenges of faith. Click on the donate button above for online giving. Or make checks payable to St. Stephen UMC and write "UM Insight" on the memo line. Then mail to United Methodist Insight, c/o St. Stephen United Methodist Church, 2520 Oates Drive, Mesquite, TX 75150. Thank you!

Sign up for the weekly compilation of UM Insight original content and articles from multiple sources of interest to the future of The United Methodist Church.
  • Court Decisions

    UMC Trial Courts Have Options

    United Methodist "jurors" have many more options available to them than "not guilty" or "revoke credentials" in a pastor's church trial, writes the Rev. Jerry Eckert.

  • Dallas Wedding

    Supervisory Response Under Way for Rev. McElvaney

    Dallas Area Bishop Michael McKee has confirmed that a "supervisory response" is under way in the complaint against the Rev. Bill McElvaney for officiating at the religious wedding of a gay couple.

  • Washington Mudslide

    United Methodists Ready to Assist After Washington Mudslide

    The Pacific Northwest Conference's emergency response team stands poised to help a devastated community recovery from a massive mudslide, once critical rescue-and-recovery efforts conclude over the widespread and still dangerous debris field.

Built with Metro Publisher™