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Everyday Justice | Who’s Guilty?

What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

‘The parents eat sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child – both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

Ezekiel 18:2–4

 

I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:

‘Lord the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Daniel 9:4–6

 

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

When three young black men missed penalties in the recent Euro Final, the online racial abuse that followed was as inevitable as it was tragic.

We all agree that this sort of racial injustice needs rectifying, and that to do so might require punitive measures.

But who’s to blame? Those who wrote the posts? Social media companies who know how their platforms are used and yet fail to act? How about the wider culture of the UK – of which we’re all a part – which grows division and exacerbates tension?

We mustn’t excuse racially abusive individuals. But neither can we punish them without considering wider societal factors: the communities they grew up in, the rules of right and wrong they’ve been taught.

Instead, Scripture gives us a third way, where the weight of guilt is strongest for the individual who did wrong, but the whole community is also held responsible.

We see this in the prophets. God calls us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, but so often we act unfairly, love judgment, and walk proudly away from our God. In response, in Ezekiel 18, God’s prophet speaks of the consequences for the individual who sins.

However, there’s also corporate punishment for a society that allows such sin to flourish – exile. And from that place of exile, Daniel confesses the rebellion of his people. Daniel is never recorded committing such sins himself – he was barely a teenager when the exile started – yet he still repents, realising his complicity as part of a disobedient community.

Daniel’s confession ends with a plea for God’s restoration. In the social sciences, restorative justice brings the victim, perpetrator, and wider community into communication, so everyone can play a role in repairing harm through repentance and forgiveness. This heals divides, and allows right relationships to be rekindled – much like biblical justice.

Whether we’re culpable on an individual or corporate level, how can we, practically, play our role within God’s restorative purposes in our everyday lives? Like Daniel, one way we can do this is prayer.

We might repent of our willing participation in broken systems of injustice, where our daily habits prioritise our convenience over other people’s welfare. Or we may intercede over unjust frontline situations, where an individual’s actions threaten peace. And as we kneel in prayer, may we find the wisdom and courage to stand as agents of God’s restorative justice, to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him this week.

 

Matt Jolley
Editor, Word for the Week

What role might prayer play in God’s restorative purposes on your frontlines? Join in the conversation in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for these insightful words.

    By Moira Biggins  -  19 Jul 2021
  2. Important balance in this post, Matt … ‘Scripture gives us a third way, where the weight of guilt is strongest for the individual who did wrong, but the whole community is also held responsible.’ Leaving behind the either/or and seeking this third way would help the church be an agent of reconciliation in a time where left/right politics are pulling us apart, and unbiblical framing of ‘justice’ as largely shaming and retaliation rather than restoration are uncritically assumed and pursued by most.

    As for your question, our local church (Latimer, in Bucks) is having a whole evening devoted to ‘lament’ this next week, bringing together our individual sorrow and recognition of corportate sin (of the church and wider UK society), all to the Lord, seeking hope that only comes on the other side of repentance and healing. Praying together is so vital.

    By Dave Benson  -  19 Jul 2021
  3. Very helpful to pull these strands together.

    By Chris Edmonds  -  19 Jul 2021

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