Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christians in the Holy Land

Our fourth in a series of Just Lectures that take a look at how justice and the Christian faith can and do intersect. Please join us on Tuesday, December 7th, to listen to Marlin and Sally Vis discuss their work in Palestine. For more information on them and what they are up to these days visit

Join the Justice Conversation.

On Tuesday, December 7th, join other Christians as we continue paging through the Scriptures to see what they have to say about justice. Our conversation will begin at 8:15pm in the lounge of Hope Reformed Church. To catch up, page through this blog. Our Bible Study will follow the Just Lecture, "Christians in the Holy Land" by Marlin and Sally Vis.

Finding Justice in the Bible - Part 7

They have also been referred to as retributive justice and distributive justice. The first deals with the punishment of crimes and holding people accountable for their sins. The second deals with the ordering of society in a way that provides for the needs of the people. Both types of justice are covered in God’s law.


Witness Requirements – A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. – Deuteronomy 19:15

Cities of Refuge – “You shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. – Numbers 35:9-12

Tempered Response – “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Exodus 21:23-25


Tithe – “Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites…resident aliens, orphans and widows…may come and eat their fill.” Deut. 14:28-29

Gleaning – When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest…you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:9-10, Deut. 24:21-22

Sabbath – If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free…you shall not send him out empty-handed. – Deut: 15:12-18, see Exodus 20:8-11

Jubilee – And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. – Lev. 25:10

“Vengence is mine,” says the Lord. God knew that his people were prone to violence; a violence that desecrated the image in which humanity was made (remember Genesis 6:11, 9:6). So, God instituted laws of justice that could temper humanity’s natural, violent response so that justice could be done. Comparatively, Israel’s laws were merciful than many of the surrounding cultures. Again, the reason is that each human being is made in the image of God and it would be unjust to dismiss that life based on false witness or in the heat of revenge.

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” God new that his people were prone to be hard-hearted and tight-fisted (see Deut. 15:7ff). So, God instituted laws of justice that would call for regular and generous distribution of grain and land. No man or woman, because they were made in God’s image, was to be deserted to a life of slavery. They had been called to co-create with God, to bring order and beauty to the world. It was not a vocation that could be carried out in slavery. God’s laws of economic justice ensured that no one would be stuck in a cycle of poverty and no generation would suffer injustice without relief.

The Lord would set up judges over the land to maintain these rituals. Israel would be unique in this way as well, but not for long. Their insecurity, hard-heartedness, and tight-fistedness would lead them down a different path. Instead of pursuing justice and only justice, they would pursue the path of the other nations. God would not be happy about it.

Finding Justice in the Bible - Part 6

Walter Brueggemann writes in his book THE PROPHETIC IMAGINATION, “Israel can only be understood in terms of the new call of God and his assertion of an alternative social reality.” The key word in that sentence is alternative. In Biblical terms we are talking about being holy, set apart, or different. The whole story revolves around that idea. If we forget that Israel was meant to be an alternative social reality we are also in danger of forgetting that God is alternative divine reality. It goes, almost without saying, that the way the people viewed their God affected they way they lived with one another. Another way to say this is that idolatry often led to injustice. The prophets were sent by God to address both. Their common theme placed worship and sacrifice as a secondary notion to justice.

Has the Lord as great delight in brunt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of the rams. – I Samuel 15:22

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?...I have had enough of burnt offerings or rams and the fat of fed beasts…even though you make many prayers I will not listen for your hands are full of blood…learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. – Isaiah 1:10-17

Why do we fast, but you do not see?...Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? – Isaiah 58

Add you burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. – Jeremiah 7:21-22

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:6

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs…But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. – Amos 5:21-24

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? He has told you, O mortal, what is good: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:6-8

These are not all the verses in which you will find the prophets reminding Israel of their alternative-ness, but they are enough to make the point. That is, when the prophets looked at the surrounding cultures and countries, they saw a worship that led to society that was oppressive and exploitative. The king prospered while the rest of the citizens slaved away. Because the view of the gods rooted this social reality in created order there was little recourse to rebel or critique. Worship was only a means of appeasing the gods and maintaining the established order. Chaos, even a revolt by the overworked masses, would have been seen as punishment by the gods. Israel’s prophets would not tolerate such an order.

When Israel laid out many sacrifices or weighed themselves down in fasting or ashes, but did not maintain justice they imagine their God to be like the others. It is a seductive notion, after all. Why should God be concerned with my social dealings as long as I continue to offer what is due him; the fat of the calf, the blood offering, a chorus of music, or fervent prayer? Shouldn’t God be happy to look the other way as long as I flood his nose with the sweet fragrance of sacrifice? “No!” say the prophets, “You have turned the Lord into an idol.” The Israelites may not have been bowing down before the other gods (though often they were), but they had been assuming their God offered no alternative to the other gods. Their idolatry led to injustice.

The prophets make clear that God set Israel apart not so that there would be a people to call his own, but so that there would be a people who could show the world an alternative social reality, a holy way of life. Central to that way of life is not pious worship, but justice. In contrast to exploitation and oppression, Israel would be a land off order and beauty as all people, male and female, joined with God in creating. The prophets did not tolerate idolatry because they knew all too well that false worship led to injustice. They knew that their God was the God of justice and worshipping that God in heaven led to an alternative, social reality on earth. While the prophets articulated this message, it was the law that made it plain.

Finding Justice in the Bible - Part 5

What I’ve been trying to do in the first few posts is form a Biblical notion of justice that is rooted in the image of God. Justice, so far, is rooted in what it means for us to be human and how we honor that humanity. First and foremost, justice acknowledges that everyone, male and female, is made in the image of God. Second, the image of God is a vocation; it is a calling to join with God in creating order and beauty in the world. Justice makes room for everyone to express their creative talents and desires freely in the world because God has invited us into that freedom. To be clear, injustice is anything that denies someone is made in God’s image. That denial often takes on various forms of slavery (chains, debt, addiction, etc.) or fails to draw out of people the creative abilities that God has given them (poor education, lack of basic needs, etc.). If this tree of justice is rooted in humanity, we also find that it reaches to the heavens.

Psalm 82 begins like this: God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

This is a powerful picture and a clarion call for justice. Like the surrounding cultures, this Psalm pictures the gods of the various nations convening for one reason or another. Like the surrounding cultures, the Hebrew Bible imagines its God to be the leader of the rest. Unlike the surrounding cultures, the concern is not with the failure of humanity to serve the gods. Rather, God bemoans the failure of the gods to serve humanity; to honor the image in which they have been made. In particular, the weak, the orphan, the lowly, the destitute, and the needy have been slighted by the gods. The gods have failed to judge justly, to give justice, to maintain rights, to rescue, and to deliver those who have been dishonored. As a result, God has been dishonored.

The picture is vivid for us now. When humans fall into desperate or lowly situations, justice demands that they not be allowed to stay there. As today, the world can be cruel especially to those who have fallen on hard times. Whether because of poor decisions or bad luck, there are always those who will have labels piled on top of them to add to their burdens. The gods see no reason to ease their needs because there seems to be little value with them and little that they can offer in return. “Not so!” says God, “Buried underneath all those labels and all those burdens is an image, my image. Do not withhold justice. Do not deny them their freedom to create with me.”

Once again, God is not like the other gods. The gods have no use for those who have fallen into poverty, who come to the table without great intellect or affluence. They have no honor in the gods’ eyes. In fact, the gods would rather honor the wicked because at least they are able to offer great sacrifices and wealth. God shows great concern at this state of affairs. His concern is for justice. That concern stems from the fact that some people are being denied their vocation to create freely in God’s world. God has gathered the gods to condemn their cold-heartedness and stir up their compassion. This would not be the last time that God calls for justice.

Echoing this heavenly scene of the Psalms, are the earthly voices of the prophets crying out before the kings and priests of the day. We will listen to their common refrain in the next post. It is my hope that you will see justice, not as a secondary notion, but as the primary desire of God’s suffering heart. God will not tolerate injustice and no ritual of worship is going to appease him. This is a crucial point to grasp and the prophets make it abundantly clear.

Finding Justice in the Bible - Part 4

As a way to conclude the previous post and to begin this one, I’d like to clarify the role of the earth in all of this. Again, when compared to surrounding creation stories the creation receives a much more prominent role. It is not an afterthought. In fact, with such detail through every day of creation it’s almost as if a celebration is going on. Of course, God’s creative work culminates in the creation of humanity after which God looks at the whole thing and considers it “very good.” God loves the world we might say at this point. So, while the sun and stars, fields and mountains, fish and cattle are all creatures, they are very good creatures whom God cherishes all of which God has given to humanity. The question is, for what?

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” That’s a phrase we understand well. But we find other references to the earth as the foundations of a building and as a footstool for God’s throne. In Isaiah 24:18 we read, “For the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble.” In this passage, the earth serves as the foundation for God’s creation and built on top of that foundation is heaven. In a sense, the Hebrew Bible views creation as a building with heaven and earth serving as a house for God. In Isaiah 66:1 we find the Lord saying, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.” From there God goes on to describe the kind of worship that is to take place in his “house.” We often think of God’s house as a building, but the Hebrew Bible looks at the whole of the heavens and the earth as God’s sanctuary. What does that mean for how we worship the Lord?

When God placed humanity on the earth he told them to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “have dominion.” In other words, it might mean that we worship the Lord by filling and decorating his house. These days most people think of worship as a set of rituals that take place within a special building. I’m suggesting that we consider worship to be more earthy, that building the building is worship, that paving roads, doing art, making music, is worship. I’m suggesting that anything we do in the sanctuary of the earth is meant to be worship. God has invited us into his house and asked us to make it our home, to honor him by creating things for ourselves. What’s most striking about this is that God is the ultimate in hospitality. At this point in the story God has not yet prescribed anything for humans (aside from the fruit) except to create. We find examples of this in the next chapters.

In chapter 4, Able keeps sheep and Cain tills the ground. Later in that same chapter Cain builds a city. Later still, Jabal and his ancestors live in tents and keep livestock, Jubal makes music with the lyre and pipe (apparently creating the instruments as well), and Tubal-Cain makes all kinds of bronze and iron tools. Later in Genesis 9, we find that Noah was a man of the soil and was the first to plant a vineyard. Then, in Genesis 10, vv. 8-11, highlight Nimrod who was a mighty warrior and hunter who founded kingdoms in Babel and founded the great city of Ninevah in Assyria. All of this work done by these various humans is good and creative work, faithful to the reason that God put us here. It is not something done in addition to worship. These trades are the very acts of worship in the world. There is a problem, however.

Eventually Cain kills Abel. In Genesis 6, we find that violence has erupted on the earth. Noah will get drunk on his own wine. Nimrod’s Babel will build a tower to make a name for themselves, Ninevah will be threatened by Jonah, and eventually Babylon and Assyria will over take the tribes of Israel. The picture is quite clear already in the first few chapters of the Hebrew Bible. For all of the good that humans are doing, they cannot escape the fall. All of their creative work is tarnished by destruction. Humans have corrupted the earth with violence. The warning of Genesis 9 is not meant to be a justification for capital punishment, but a statement against violence in the first place. To be clear, Genesis 9:6 is a response to Genesis 6:11. God is looking for co-creators, not co-destroyers. While the gods of other cultures were violent in their creation and toward one another, to live in the image of God means to be non-violent creators as God was when he created the heavens and the earth. God helps us to that end.

This is where the Spirit of God enters the equation. That phrase, “Spirit of God,” is found only twice in the first 5 book of the Bible. The first is right before God creates the earth. The second is just before the creation of the tent of meeting in Exodus 31. This creation could not be corrupted by the fall, it could not be tarnished by violence. So God fills two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, with the Spirit of God, “with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft.” Notice how “earthy” the work of God’s Spirit is here. The Spirit of God is filling these two men so that they might build and craft. The Spirit of God is equipping them to do work. This will be important when we begin discussing justice from a New Testament perspective.

For now we can say that all people, male and female, are made in the image of God. That image has a lot to do with joining the creative process that God began when he laid the foundation of the earth. In other words, God has called all of us to use our talents to bring order and beauty to the world. A just world is one in which everyone is afforded that dignity. When some people are made to be slaves, exploited for cheap labor, or denied the right to work then the image of God has been denied in them. This is the way of the pagan gods who only want to be fed, but it not the way of the Hebrew God who has given us freedom to build as we see fit. Injustice is anything that prevents someone from joining in the creative process that God began in the beginning. Injustice is something that God and the Hebrew prophets railed against. We’ll listen to them next.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finding Justice in the Bible - Part 3

Let me preface what follows by acknowledging that the uniqueness of the Hebrew creation story is not everywhere agreed upon. There are those who see very little that is truly unique when compared to the surrounding creation stories. Some of this is covered in THE LIBERATING IMAGE and I don’t feel the need to cover it here. It’s my impression that even a simple reading of the stories offers some obvious differences that reveal a different view of God, humanity and the world. Walter Brueggeman has written in his book THE PROPHETIC IMAGINATION that “we are indeed made in the image of some God. And perhaps we have no more important theological investigation than to discern in whose image we have been made.” Again, it seems clear to me that the Hebrew creation story offers a unique perspective on the character of God, the vocation of humanity, and the place of creation.

First, there are obvious differences in the character of God as we explore Genesis 1 and even the following chapters. The first thing to note is that, while God does order the chaos, God creates out of nothing. There is no violent combat, no spilling of blood that results in the formations of humanity. It seems that God is enjoying this task of creation and its result, commenting again and again how good it seems to be. Perhaps one way to say this is that the God of the Hebrew story seems self-giving, while the gods of competing stories come across very self-centered. Drawing the story out a little further illustrates the point.

In Genesis 6, humanity is making their fair share of noise. In fact, they are violent and corrupt in all their ways. As opposed to the other creation stories in which the gods become annoyed, the God of the Hebrew Bible is grieved; sorry that he had made creation in the first place. In other words, God’s motivation for sending the flood is different. In the Hebrew Bible, God is a suffering god verses the vindictive gods of the other stories. The method of creation (out of nothing) and the reason for flooding it (eruption of violence) portray God as one who is opposed to death and destruction and resorts to the flood only out of deep pain and loss; grieving the corruption of humanity whom he has invited to join him creating the world. That point brings us to the next unique aspect of the Hebrew story.

Humanity is seen in a much greater light and, therefore, held to a much higher standard in the Hebrew story. Rather than being made after the lesser gods to slave over the structures of civilization, they are made a little lower than the gods and invited to join in creating the structures of civilization. This is true of male and female alike. While it may be valid to point to Genesis as a model for relationships, when comparing it with surrounding cultures, the main point seems to be to emphasize the equal place of the female gender. Any distinction or subservience seems to be the result of the fall that doesn’t come until chapter 3. The Hebrew creation story begins with a much more democratic and gender-equal perspective. That is, the image of God is found, not just in the king nor simply in men, but in all people, male and female. That same story moves forward with humanity playing a much more prominent role relative to the other myths.

In the creation stories of surrounding cultures, civilization is passed down to humanity by the gods and through the king. It is a way of keeping the humans in check and making sure they follow through on their task of keeping the gods fed. In contrast, civilization in the Hebrew story is never prescribed and always attributed to different individuals. The first city, arts and crafts, agriculture and animals, music, the first vineyard are all “discovered” in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. None of them are commanded by God. All of them come across as an expression of the creative work of those creatures whom God has set apart to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “subdue the earth.” In other words, the civilizations that humans build on top of the foundation that is the earth are actually a faithful response to God’s invitation and concrete expressions of what it means to live in the image of God. This final idea will be especially helpful in forming a definition of justice. We can pursue this further in the next post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Health Care for All

Next Tuesday, November 2nd, Dr. John Cavacece and Dr. David Van Dyke, will lead the conversation on "the Christian thing to do" when it comes to health care. This event is free and open to the public. It will begin at 7pm.

Following the event, Pastor Peter TeWinkle will continue a conversation on "Finding Justice in the Bible" from 8:15-9:00pm.

Finding Justice in the Bible - Part 2

The creation story in the Hebrew Bible is not the only creation story that history has passed down to us. That fact is often overlooked or merely goes unnoticed. A simple search shows that Israel wasn’t the only nation to consider how the world began and their distinctive place in that world. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and others all recorded their own views about the foundation of the earth. Many of them served to solidify current social practices in the creation of the world. It was done as if to say, “We are the way we are because this is the way our god created things to be.” If you’re a slave, it’s because that’s the way the gods intended it to be. If you’re the king, it’s because that’s the way the gods intended it to be. If my nations overtakes yours, it’s because my god is superior to yours and has ordained that we should be superior to you. Many of the creation stories of surrounding nations offer a decidedly different view of things than does the Hebrew creation story.

In reading THE LIBERATING IMAGE by J. Richard Middleton, competing stories such as the “Atrahasis Epic,” “Enki,” and “Ninmah,” were mentioned as some of the more well-known of the day. These three share a similar plot. A brief and simplified summary would go something like this: The greater gods exist together in various ways. Feeling the need to have someone else serve their needs, they create lesser gods to do the manual labor of maintain irrigation, cultivating crops, and building on the earth. Much of this labor is meant to satisfy the needs of the greater gods for food. Eventually, the lesser gods go on strike. Out of the conflict, the blood of one of the lesser gods is spilled resulting in the creation of humanity. However, it’s not long after their creation that the gods are annoyed at the prevalence and noise of the humans. They decide to do away with them.

Much can be said about the character of the gods in this story and the reason for being that is ascribed to humanity. Undoubtedly, the small nation of Israel would have been aware of these surrounding stories to one degree or another. It could be that that myth with which they were most familiar was the “Enuma Elish.” This was the creation story of Babylon, the nation in which some of the tribes of Israel would find themselves in exile. Some scholars suggest that the Hebrew people would have become very familiar with this creation story and would have found it to be a story that justified their exile and Babylon’s right to rule over them. It is also suggested that the Hebrew creation story was finalized in direct protest to those very ideas. Babylon’s creation story can be summarized as follows.

Apsu and Tiamat, order and chaos, male and female, are present together in the beginning. Together they create a new generation of gods; children so to speak. In this case, it is these younger gods who become rambunctious and annoy their “parents.” Apsu and Tiamat plan to do away with their offspring, but word gets back to one of the younger gods. They go on the offensive and kill their father before he can carry out his plan. This leave Tiamat to exact revenge for the slaying. Out of the ranks comes Marduk (god of Babylon) to say that if the other gods will make him supreme over the rest, he will certainly slay Tiamat. They agree. He does. Ruling over Tiamat (chaos), the female god, Marduk slices her open and stretches out her skin to make the earth. Humanity is born out of the blood of another slain god on the opposing side of the conflict. So, the world begins with divine violence.

Clearly, these stories are meant to assert one nation’s prominence over the rest and they are meant to root that superiority in the foundation of the world. Other implications include that creation is the result of violent conflict and that women are to be associated with chaos and brought to order by men. It is also true that we can see how surrounding nations also viewed humanity as made in the image of the gods. In these instances, humanity serves as a replacement for the lesser gods. In other words, humanity exists as laborers for the gods and the satisfaction of their pleasures. Or, as in the latter story, are created out of the opposition and can be viewed as rebellious.

Alongside these stories, we find examples in art and other aspects of civilization that reveal how the image of God was used. In its simplest form, to be made in the image of a god means to be a copy of that god. That could mean lesser gods of labor or the supreme god who rules heaven and earth. Many of the surrounding nations attributed that latter privilege solely to their kings. To be made in the image of a god would solidify the kings right to rule and the necessity to obey his every word and move. He, and it was always he, spoke the very words of god. An affront to the king was seen as an affront to the gods or, more specifically, to the supreme god. When we consider these competing myths and the illustrations from civilization, we find the Hebrew creation story to be a very compelling alternative to the surrounding myths. It is decidedly different. To read how, you’ll have to go to the next post.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Advocacy Groups meet Tuesday, October 19th.

We're looking forward to another gathering of The Micah Center's Advocacy Groups. Remember that there is a light meal beginning at 5:40pm. A video on restorative justice will be shown at 6pm and the groups will be meeting at 7pm.

One note: Finding Justice in the Bible will not be meeting because the leader has an incredibly long, incredibly boring church meeting to attend. Our apologies for the inconvenience.

Finding Justice in the Bible

Recently, we began a conversation at Hope Reformed Church regarding justice. Turning through the pages of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, we sought to find a definition of justice that was theological rather ideological; a definition that was faithful to God's hope for the world. As a pastor I learned a lot in the time it took to study and put the outlines together. These posts will serve not only as a reference for the congregation, but as a reference for me. I hope to summarize over various posts what was covered in the class. The Bible was my main source, but here are some others that were especially helpful:

Old Testament - THE LIBERATING IMAGE, by J. Richard Middleton; THE PROPHETS, by Abraham J. Heschel; THE PROPHETIC IMAGINATION, by Walter Brueggemann.

New Testament - ENGAGING THE POWERS, by Walter Wink; THE WORD ON THE STREET, by Stanley Saunders & Charles Campbell; CALVIN'S FIRST CATECHISM, by I. John Hesselink; THE UNAFFORDABLE NATION, by Jeffrey D. Jones

It's always helpful to begin any conversation about "what the Bible says about..." at the beginning of the Bible. The conversation concerning justice is no different. In fact, much of what the Bible means about justice is rooted in creation and, more specifically, in the image of God. At Genesis 1:26-28, we find God saying, "‘Let us make humankind in our image…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion.’ Whatever the image of God is, it is applied only to human beings in a way that sets them apart from the rest of creation. There are very few references in the rest of the Hebrew Bible that offer much more help to understanding what God means and how it informs justice.

The next reference is in Genesis 5:1-2 where the descendants of Adam are being introduced. “When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them.” We find repeated here a connection of the image to “male and female.” It could be said that the image has something to do with the interaction of both genders (more on this later). A further reference is found in Genesis 9:6-7, “Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.” As in Genesis 1, this passage highlights God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply,” offering further clues as to what it might mean to say that humans are made in the image of God. The context of this verse is important in understanding more of its meaning, but we’ll return to that later as well.

Another reference in the Hebrew Bible is found in Psalm 8 where the Psalmists speaks of God making humanity “a little lower than the gods,” crowning them with “glory and honor,” and giving them “dominion.” We find here a very high view of humanity and, as in Genesis 1, the notion that God has given humans dominion over the animals of the land and sea. So, from these few references we have some clues as to what it means to be made in the image of God. First, it is somehow connected to “male and female.” Second, the image of God is related to the command “be fruitful and multiply.” Finally, the image of God sets humanity apart from creation and gives them “dominion.” The Christian tradition has done much with the image of God, but not all of it has been helpful.

More often than not, the image of God has been taken to mean that we share some sort of substance or inner quality with God. Whether it be conscience, reason, immortality, or a soul, many Christians have offered this possibility. St. Augustine, for example, considered God in Trinitarian form and related the human capacities for memory, intellect, and will to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Helpful as these ideas are, many of them are overly influenced by philosophy and take little consideration of the Bible itself. Many of them also neglect the role that our bodies play in the image of God. Beginning with the Reformation, some theologians began considering the image as human behavior or as our capacity for relationship. Still, while more faithful to our bodies, they still lack connection to the creation story itself.

In his book THE LIBERATING IMAGE, J. Richard Middleton, defines the image of God as designating “the royal office or calling of human beings as God’s representatives and agents in the world, granted authorized power to share in God’s rule or administration of the earth’s resources and creatures.” In other words, the image of God has to do with our function here on earth, the reason that God has placed us in this creation. If God created the world by ordering the chaos and bringing forth beauty on the earth, we are called to join him by continuing that creation. It turns out that God has put us here, “male and female”, to act as his representatives by “being fruitful and multiplying” in the earth, to have “dominion” by bringing order and beauty to the earth. When compared with competing notions of humanity’s place in the world it turns out to be a revolutionary revelation of justice. But that’s for another post.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Finding Justice in the Bible

Some members of The Micah Center have requested that this series on justice and the Bible be moved to a time that allows more people to attend. So, we're going to try to oblige this next month.

"Finding Justice in the Bible" will meet on Tuesday, October 5th at 8pm. The topic will be "Justice and Creation."

That's AFTER the lecture by Kim Bobo entitled, "Wage Theft in America," which will begin at 7pm.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wolterstorff Lecture Online.

If you missed Nicholas Wolterstorff's lecture, "The Moral Significance of Poverty" or would like to hear it again. You can find it on Hope Reformed Church's website.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Advocacy Groups meet Tuesday, September 21st.

5:40pm - Light Meal
6:00pm - Advocacy Group Introductions
7:00pm - First Meeting

International Justice

1. Learn about international justice issues in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa, with a special
focus on Honduras and the work of the Association for a more Just Society (AJS). AJS works
include land rights, labor rights, gang violence, methodology, etc. . .
2. Educate others about international injustice and the role of Christians in addressing these issues.
3. Advocate for international social justice and get connected to other advocacy networks.
(Goal: three campaigns a year)
4. Participate in events like: Just Ride or Just Run which supports justice ministries internationally. (Goal: two events a year)

Finding Justice in the Bible
1. Give Christians a basic understanding
of the role that justice plays in the Bible.
2. Provide Christians with the tools they
need to justify justice as a mandatory
practice of the Christian life.

Money and Democracy
1. Study the issue of corporate influence in politics and
disseminate the study results.
2. Promote ways to reduce the lobbyist influence over laws.
3. Join an organized effort to pass laws limiting corporate
influence in the elections.
The Micah Center Advocacy Groups
Tentative Objectives for 2010-2011

Restorative Justice
1. Promote understanding of restorative
justice concepts and developments
through presentations to churches and
other institutions.
2. Join Campaign For Justice in promoting
public defense reform.
3. Work for legislative approval of bills to
compensate those wrongly incarcerated.
4. Join Partners In Crisis as they seek
mechanisms that reduce over-reliance
on the criminal justice system as a
response to mental illness and
emotional disorders while preserving the
well-being and safety of the public.

1. Promote Bread For the World annual
Offering of Letters campaign among area
2. Contact local congregations to determine
their involvement in social justice and invite
them to participate in the Micah Center.
3. Visit local agencies identify their needs and
learn what the Micah Centerʼs advocacy
efforts could do to help them.
4.Sponsor at least one poverty simulation.

Health Care
1. Study the recently passed national
health care bill.
2. Identify changes/additions/deletions that
should be made to the health care bill.
3. Print the health care advocacy groupʼs
4. Make presentations in churches and
other institutions.

1. Host the “Cool Congregations” workshop led by
Michigan Interfaith Power and Light.
2. Join and attend monthly meetings of WMEACʼs
Religion, Spirituality, and Ecology Work group.
3. Seek signatures on petitions acquired from 350
organizations to cap carbon dioxide at 350ppm.
4. Hold one joint meeting with the Dominican
Sisters Care of Earth Committee.
5. Facilitate and encourage church groups to tour
a water treatment plant, recycling center, and
wind farm.
6. Write, print and distribute meditations on
Psalms which speak to creation care.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Justice and Women

I saw this in a Sojourners newsletter.

by Julie Clawson 09-15-2010

We live in a world full of pain and injustice; there is no getting around that fact. We can hide from the truth or try to protect ourselves from reality, but just because we don’t want to know about it, doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist. Our world does its best to hide its dark side from consumer’s eyes, and our school boards do their best to hide most of history from our children. It takes work to keep our eyes open wide enough to see reality. Thankfully, there are people out there who do try to be informed, who try to end injustice, to heal past wounds, and to make amends. Yet recently, as I was reading Eduardo Galeano’s classic book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent, I came across an almost casually mentioned atrocity that jolted me with the reminder that, even for the people who are out there actively seeking to fight injustice, there remains one injustice that many would prefer to continue to ignore — the oppression of women. Across the world it is women who often face the worst injustices and yet are often brushed aside as not important enough to seek justice for.

In writing about how the sugar cane industry has destroyed the land and economies of many Latin American countries and led to numerous human rights abuses, Galeano mentioned that in certain plantations in Brazil (at least as of his writing) it was common practice for the plantation owners to claim jus primae noctis, or, right of the first night, with the daughters of their workers. Most commonly known to us from the movie, Braveheart, this is a medieval custom given to the Lord of an area — the right to the virgin night of all the women whom he ruled. Although in Medieval times the actual consummation was rarely if ever practiced, as many families chose the option of “giving” the Lord the bride’s dowry instead (what the Lord was after anyway), Galeano reports that on the plantations, the owners would demand the right to have their way with their workers’ 11 to 12-year-old daughters, in exchange for the worker remaining in their employment.

Reading this affected me in a visceral way. In the midst of a litany of oppression, I was reminded that women truly bear the brunt of injustice worldwide. Their bodies are chattel, they aren’t deemed worthy of education, and, if they get any food at all, they are fed leftovers. Because they are women, their oppression is magnified. Not only must they endure the poverty and the colonialism, but also the objectification of their bodies and the required subjugation of their wills. When voices for liberation or revolution arise, the women are called upon to endure hardships and make sacrifices, but it is never their liberation that is fought for. The few that call out for women’s needs to be addressed and for liberation to come to women are told that, in light of the greater injustices and oppression, their cause is just a selfish distraction. I hear it all the time in the church — there are just too many more important things to spend energy on than trying to bring justice to women. We aren’t even worth the effort of those that make it a point to care about injustice and the oppressed.

Feminist post-colonial theologians are quick to point out this imbalance. They ask: How can we say that we truly desire liberation if, in achieving that liberation, women still remain oppressed? They repeatedly insist that equality and respect for women should never be an afterthought, to be sought sometime after the real work of combating injustice is done, but instead it should be at the very foundation of what it means to seek liberation itself. Nations and races cannot ever fully work for reconciliation and mutual respect if those nations are built upon oppression from within. But sadly, theirs are not the voices that are commonly heard.

In recently reading non-Western theologies (both post-colonial and evangelical), I have in fact encountered the very opposite. Men, who write on combating injustice and prejudice by calling the church to learn from say Korean or First Nation theologies and church practices, insist upon, as part of that process, an affirmation of the gender roles that give men a strong (and sole) leadership role in the home, the community, and the church. They see a firm affirmation of this hierarchy of men over women to be integral to ending race divisions in the church itself. So not only are the needs of women ignored, but healing and justice are also proposed through the continued oppression and sacrifice of women.

Injustice and oppression make me sick and prompt feelings of rage inside of me. But reading about these young girls being raped as pawns in the never-ending cycle of colonial and commercial oppression left me feeling raw. This isn’t just about greed and economics. It isn’t just about racism and power-plays. It’s rooted in a subjugation of women that denies our worth and turns us into mere objects for men to use as they see fit. Most of the Western world hides behind their ignorance of history and injustice (often willfully sought) as an excuse to uphold the status quo. But when even those who claim to care about justice say that speaking out of behalf of women isn’t worth the effort, I can barely respond. How can justice be justice if it is only for men?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Great Kick-off!!

We welcomed over 200 people to The Micah Center at Hope Reformed Church this last Tuesday. It was inspiring to see so many advocates for justice in one room. It was enlightening to hear Nicholas Wolterstorff give us new categories with which to think about those who are poor. Speaking of that...

We'd be happy to have a nice conversation of the idea that withholding help from people who are poor is the same as theft. Very provocative.

If you're not sure where that's coming from or would like to know more, check in soon. We'll have some information on how you can listen to the whole of "The Moral Significance of Poverty."

Thank you to everyone who was able to make it!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just Lecture Begins.

Nicholas Wolterstorff will be speaking at Hope Reformed Church for The Micah Center. His lecture is entitled, "The Moral Significance of Poverty."

Come join other Christians passionate about justice on Tuesday, September 7th at 7pm. This evening is free and open to the public.