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Biblical Justice and Participation in Injustice: Coal Dust Anyone?

You and I are part of systems that support an unjust world. It doesn’t need to stay that way. Biblical justice calls us to be part of reconciling and restoring the world. If the world couldn’t be restored then The Creator wouldn’t have bothered coming into the world as a human. Change can happen, but…

The story that came to mind after I wrote the first sentence about injustice is about a city in Manila called Tondo. Tondo is one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Inside a residential area there is a business with open coal storage. What I mean is, there are huge piles of coal that come in from the harbor and are stored right next to a residential area. This wouldn’t happen if it was the mayor’s back yard.

I was at a friend’s house in Tondo a few months back and he told me by the end of the day their window sills have a visible layer of coal dust on them. Imagine how much of it they breathe then. Plus, coal dust is a carcinogen, it causes cancer. Sick. It’s gross and it’s gonna kill the children that live in the area early due to sickness and health hazards. This is avoidable if city leaders have a plan and care about their citizens. Clearly in this case they have other priorities besides what is good for humans in that neighbourhood. That’s why I’m writing about biblical justice this week.

This story is and example of and unjust system. This is against the way life should be according to the creator. Watch this 5 min clip below and see what I mean.

Why don’t people living near coal storage move then?

I’m glad you asked.

Many of our neighbours there have lived there for generations. All of their survival and mental health mechanisms (real supportive community) is there. The benefit of moving is outweighed by abandoning all their support networks.

Secondly, many of our neighbours there don’t have the financial resources to move to a better place. They’re living on weekly wages and the capacity to save up and move to a healthier spot is not an option or top priority.

But couldn’t the national or local government help them relocate?

Good question… Let me tell you another story.

There was recently another fire in Tondo. 500+ families lost their homes and those homes were temporary. They’ve been living in that temporary housing for 7 years. Temporary? Not so much.

I was told by a local organization that there is a government budget to help people in these situations “relocate” outside of Metro Manila and receive a better house in a more dignified environment. At least that’s what I was told. I’ve never seen a relocation site in the Philippines. What’s stopping these 500 families from relocating with government help if there is a budget to move them? Votes. The 500+ families could have moved a long time ago but the local politicians appreciate their votes and use their vulnerability to bait them to stay. The politicians don’t send them away from the city and our vulnerable neighbours want all of the help they can get. This is political selfishness at it’s worst. People die because of selfishness like this. We, Jesus body on earth, the church, need to figure out how to journey with people in this kind of situation to create biblical justice like the video outlined.

The people i described in the paragraph above are vulnerable. Very vulnerable. They are dependant on many forms of help. Many don’t have access to education. For example, after the big fire I described above, many elementary and high school kids weren’t allowed back into their classroom until they could buy new uniforms. But, they had no money or possessions. And, if they missed more than 2 weeks of classes they would need to repeat the semester or even the school year! That’s insane. That’s how vulnerable some people are. That’s unjust.

How Does Biblical Justice Instruct Us?

Biblical justice is when people who have access to more power than our neighbours use our voice on their behalf and journey with them to challenge and change unjust systems. It’s not charity or donations. It means becoming friends. It doesn’t scale quickly, but it multiplies exponentially over time. It means entering a journey as co-dependent neighbours.

For many wealthy or middle class people in the world our problem isn’t that we don’t care about the vulnerable, it’s that many of us don’t know the vulnerable.

Guys like me and families like ours need to invest time imagining and creating space t0 generate real friendships between wealthy people in Manila and vulnerable friends. We have a lot to learn about the unjust realities that we are ignorant about.

Once we have friendships, then we can start to challenge systems that oppress the vulnerable. Stupid systems like open coal storage in poor residential areas. Why is this kind of health hazard acceptable? It wouldn’t be if it was in the mayor’s back yard.

Jesus Christ was the Word made flesh. He did exactly what I’m talking about. He left his position of power and became vulnerable to journey with his creation (Philippians 2:5-11).  Jesus did this with his 12 disciples. And the sick, the blind, the social outcasts and the women. These different people were marginalized and vulnerable and God entered their world as Jesus and walked with them for years as their friend (look at the video’s posted below to see what I mean).

Jesus was even killed embodying the more just world I’m talking about. The political and religious rulers killed him because he was pioneering a new society, a “Kingdom” that reinstated the dignity and full humanity of the vulnerable outside of national politics and economics. That’s intimidating for powerful people.

Jesus’ resurrection proved that Jesus was starting something real and he wasn’t just an idealistic dreamer. I can vouch for him too. I’ve meet Jesus many times in dreams, prayer, visions through scripture. God is making this world new. More just. 2000 years ago Jesus was God as a man walking on this earth. He still is the living God breaking into the evil and violence of the world with signs of hope every day. We need to learn to see them and take note.

Watch the few video’s below if these idea’s about Jesus are new for you. Biblical Justice in central to the message and life of Jesus and his disciples.

It’s shameful that Jesus followers today have a reputation for being just as much a part of unjust systems as everyone else. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We need to keep pushing the boundaries of how big the good news of Jesus really is. It’s way bigger than Billy Graham and his son have been talking about. Next week I’ll point out ways to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

How have you intentionally chosen to live against simple or complicated systems that oppress? Leave me a comment below and let’s make this a conversation rather than a monologue.