Most people love those who love them, yet God loves and seeks the good even of people who are his enemies. But because God is good and loving, he cannot tolerate evil. The opposite of love is not anger, but indifference. ‘The more you love your son, the more you hate in him the liar, the drunkard, the traitor,’ (E. Gifford). To imagine God’s situation, imagine a judge who also is a father, who sits at the trial of his guilty son. A judge knows he cannot let his son go, for without justice no society can survive. How much less can a loving God merely ignore or suspend justice for us – who are loved, yet guilty of rebellion against his loving authority?
- Tim Keller
Many people believe that ‘justice’ is strictly the punishment of wrongdoing, period. They don’t think we should be indifferent to the poor, but when we help them they would call such aid charity, not justice. But Job says that if he had failed to share his food or his fleece—his assets—with the needy, that would have been a sin against God and by definition a violation of God’s justice. Of course, we can call such aid mercy or charity because it should be motivated by compassion, but a failure to live a lifestyle of radical generosity is considered injustice in the Bible.
Our culture gives us a mixed message. It says: make lots of money and spend it on yourself; get an identity by the kind of clothes you wear and the places you travel to and live. But also do some volunteer work, care about social justice, because you don’t want to be just a selfish pig. However, Christians’ attitudes toward our time and our money should not be shaped by our society; they should be shaped by the gospel of Christ, who became poor so that we could become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Why should we be concerned about the vulnerable ones? It is because God is concerned about them. It is striking to see how often God is introduced as the defender of these vulnerable groups.
Don’t miss the significance of this. When people ask me, ‘How do you want to be introduced?’ I usually propose they say, ‘This is Tim Keller, minister at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.’ Of course, I am many other things, but that is the main thing I spend my time doing in public life.
Realize, then, how significant it is that the biblical writers introduce God as ‘a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows’ (Psalm 68:4-5). This is one of the main things He does in the world. He identifies with the powerless. He takes up their cause.
- Tim Keller
Objection: The angry God.
Christianity seems to be built around the concept of a condemning, judgmental deity. For example, there’s the cross – the teaching that the murder of one man (Jesus) leads to the forgiveness of others. But why can’t God just forgive us? The God of Christianity seems a left-over from primitive religions where peevish gods demanded blood in order to assuage their wrath.
Response: On the cross God does not demand our blood but offers his own. 1) All forgiveness of any deep wrong and injustice entails suffering on the forgiver’s part. If someone truly wrongs you, because of our deep sense of justice, we can’t just shrug it off. We sense there’s a ‘debt.’ We can then either a) make the perpetrator pay down the debt you feel (as you take it out of his hide in vengeance!) in which case evil spreads into us and hardens us b) or you can forgive – but that is enormously difficult. But that is the only way to stop the evil from hardening us as well. 2) If we can’t forgive without suffering (because of our sense of justice) its not surprising to learn that God couldn’t forgive us without suffering – coming in the person of Christ and dying on the cross.
- Tim Keller
Objection: The record of Christians.
Every religion will have its hypocrites of course. But it seems that the most fervent Christians are the most condemning, exclusive, and intolerant. The church has a history of supporting injustices, of destroying culture, of oppression. And there are so many people who are not Christian (or not religious at all) who appear to be much more kind, caring, and indeed moral than so many Christians. If Christianity is the true religion – then why can this be? Why would so much oppression have been carried out over the centuries in the name of Christ and with the support of the church?
Response: The solution to injustices is not less but deeper Christianity. 1) There have been terrible abuses. 2) But in the prophets and the gospels we are given tools for a devastating critique of moralistic religion. Scholars have shown that Marx and Nietzsche’s critique of religion relied on the ideas of the prophets. So despite its abuses, Christianity provides perhaps greater tools than the other religions do for its own critique. 3) When Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted terrible abuses by the white church he did not call them to loosen their Christian commitments. He used the Bible’s provision for church self-critique and called them to truer, firmer, deeper Christianity.
- Tim Keller
The Jewish chief priests, teachers of the law, and, of course, the Roman rulers should have been standing up for justice but instead conspired to commit an act of injustice by condemning Jesus to death. The cross reveals the systems of the world to be corrupt, serving power and oppression instead of justice and truth. In condemning Jesus, the world was condemning itself. Jesus’s death demonstrates not only the bankruptcy of the world but it also reveals the character of God and of his kingdom. Jesus’s death was not a failure. By submitting to death as penalty, he broke its hold on him and on us.
When Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins, he won through losing; he achieved our forgiveness on the cross by turning the values of the world on their head. He did not ‘fight fire with fire.’ He didn’t come and raise an army in order to put down the latest corrupt regime. He didn’t take power; he gave it up – and yet he triumphed. On the cross, then, the world’s misuse and glorification of power was exposed for what it is and defeated. The spell of the world’s systems was broken.
The corrupt powers of this world have many tools to make people afraid, the worst one being death. When you know that a civil power or some other power can kill you, you’re scared, and they can use your fear to control you. But since Jesus died and rose again from the dead, if you can find a way to approach Jesus and cling to him, you know that death, the worst thing that can possibly happen to you, is now the best thing. Honey, get up. Death will put you in God’s arms and make you all you hoped to be. And when death loses its sting, when death no longer has power over you because of what Jesus did on the cross, then you will be living a life of love and not a life of fear.
- Tim Keller
The Bible describes the making of the world not only as the building of a house, but also as the weaving of a garment. God turned a chaos into a cosmos, and also turned a tangle into a tapestry. Woven garments were long in the making and valuable in ancient times, and therefore they were an apt metaphor for the wonder and character of the material world. The sea (Psalms 104:6), the clouds (Job 38:9), the lights of the sky (Psalms 104:1), and all the forces of nature (Psalms 102:26) are called garments that God has woven and now wears.
As a result, the world is not like a lava cone, the product of powerful random eruptions, but rather like a fabric. Woven cloth consists of innumerable threads interlaced with one another. Even more than the architectural image, the fabric metaphor conveys the importance of relationship. If you throw thousands of pieces of thread onto a table, no fabric results. The threads must be rightly and intimately related to one another in literally a million ways. Each thread must go over, under, around, and through the others at thousands of points. Only then do you get a fabric that is beautiful and strong, that covers, fits, holds, shelters, and delights.
God created all things to be in a beautiful, harmonious, interdependent, knitted, webbed relationship to one another. Just as rightly related physical elements form a cosmos or a tapestry, so rightly related human being form a community. This interwovenness is what the Bible calls shalom, or harmonious peace.
- Tim Keller