In the song, “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons and Daughters it states that when the poor and powerless, the lost, the hurting, and those who feel unworthy KNOW that He is God – that He is holy – they will sing out “Hallelujah!” Maybe you already know this, but the word “Hallelujah” is made up of 2 Hebrew words – hallel, which means exuberant praise and is used in celebration, and jah, which is short for Yahweh, the Name of God. So literally, hallelujah means to exuberantly praise, or throw a party for God!
Do you know why this will happen? Because when people know God, in all of His holiness, and when His justice is brought to bear in their situations, it brings great rejoicing and God is praised.
But the song goes on to tell us that there is another group of people crying out “Hallelujah!” as well. When we work alongside God to bring justice to bear in the lives of the poor and the powerless, WE TOO get to rejoice and worship Him.
We want to focus on that – the relationship between justice, hope and joy.
I find that understanding justice biblically is often difficult, for anyone, but particularly for people living in America. Perhaps it is because, as flawed as our justice system is, with all of its biases and pitfalls, when compared to the rest of the world, for many of us, our daily interactions with IN-justice are minimal. People often become uncomfortable when speaking about issues of justice. Sometimes I hear people equating justice with the idea of taking revenge – and that just doesn’t seem very “Christian.” And yet justice and being just is mentioned in the Bible over 200 times – usually in reference to God Himself. And that isn’t even counting the times it talks about justification or being justified, which is the same root!
Tim Keller, in his excellent book Generous Justice, says that there are 2 words used in the Bible for justice – mishpat and tzadeqah. Mishpat is the word for what’s known as “rectifying” or “retributive” justice. Tzadeqah is the word for “primary” or “distributive” justice and is sometimes translated as “righteousness.” Rectifying justice, as its name suggests, is interested in the righting of wrongs. It is punishing wrong-doers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. Primary justice, is doing the things that are needed to make rectifying justice unnecessary because everyone is living in right relationship with everyone else.
In the Bible, Job is referred to as a “just and righteous man, ” living out both of these concepts. In chapter 31 he more clearly defines what living a just life looks like. It says that he was “eyes to the blind and feet to the lame,” that he was “father to the needy” (providing their needs as a father would his children), and that he fulfilled “the desires of the poor.” The word “desire” here does not just refer to meeting basic needs, like food and shelter. It implies that you make the poor man’s life into a delight.
Have you ever thought of justice as something that brings delight? Perhaps not. Maybe you see it as harsh, or punitive. But imagine if you were the one against whom the injustice had been done. What about then? To truly understand the delight, the rejoicing, and the praise that might come with the implementation of justice, however, it’s not always helpful to bring to mind the types of injustices that we may commonly face – things like being cut off on the highway, being passed over for a promotion, or having our internet service go down and being told it’ll be tomorrow before the repairman can come out.
But what if we consider some typical injustices in the context of the people affected by disabilities that we serve in Africa? I share these stories with you cautiously. They are real people, people we consider as friends. And we are highly sensitive to idea of them being exploited. But in thinking and praying over how to share this concept, we felt that it is important to connect these concepts with real, living, breathing individuals, not with abstract beings in a far-away place.
So let me introduce you to Adama, who has been deaf from birth. Not long ago she was raped by two men. This was not the first time she had been raped, however. It wasn’t even the second time. Adama has been raped several times, and has a 15 year-old son as a result. She is only in her mid-twenties. None of her rapes have ever been reported to the police. When I asked why, I was told that deaf people can not receive a hearing in court, because they cannot give a testimony anyone can understand. And it just didn’t seem worth it to anyone to report something that would be ignored.
Umu, who is blind, lived with her children in a small room rented in her landlord’s house. The condition of the room was deplorable. The wall was falling in and the roof was nearly non-existent, causing Umu, her children and her few possessions to be completely soaked every time it rained. But Umu had some spunk – and initiative. She begged on the streets and saved and worked to get some money together to fix it herself. As soon as the work was completed, and she settled into her secure, dry room, the landlord evicted her and rented her room to someone else.
Yeabu has two crippled legs and walks with a severe limp and a cane. Her landlord deemed her and her 3 children “dirty” and “worthless” due to her disability. He refused to fix her leaking roof and continuously changed her rent amount. He would take produce off of the small table where she sold food items to her neighbors and refuse to pay for it. When she asked him to pay for the items he took, he told her that if she made a fuss, he would evict her. He refused to let her family use the household latrine, forcing them to use the grass near the house. And when Yeabu’s pre-teen daughter tried to help the landlord’s young son when he fell and wounded himself, the landlord blamed her for the injury and hit, kicked and stomped on her little body until she was permanently crippled.
Joseph was a boy around 13 years old that we found on the side of the highway in February this year, intellectually disabled (either from accidental injury or abuse), half-starved with many obvious scars from abuse – stumbling under the 110 degree heat. He was non-verbal, so we couldn’t determine who he was, or where he came from. A visit to the office of Social Welfare resulted in being emphatically told that they didn’t have the resources to care for a boy like him, and we should return him to where we found him on the side of the road. A visit to the Family Support Unit at the police station resulted in officers and staff yelling at us “Keep that demon out of this office!” His family didn’t want to be found and even orphanages wouldn’t take him because of his disability.
Now can you imagine finding delight in justice? If you were Adama, and the perpetrators of your rape were caught and tried and convicted, causing others to know that deaf girls were no longer easy targets because they can’t turn you in – aiding in greater safety in the future; and if God’s people came around you following the trauma with love and counsel and protection in the aftermath – would you not feel delight, and praise God in that working of justice?
What if you were Umu, and you had legal services available to overturn your eviction, or at least get your money back from the repair so that you could rent somewhere else? Or better yet, the idea of being entitled to safe shelter was common knowledge and landlords knew that they could not evict you without cause and would repair your walls and roof to start with – would there not be great joy in that?
Or if you were Yeabu, and you could report your landlord’s stealing to the police, and know that he could not bribe them to take his side and would be brought up on charges of theft – and that the people in your community valued the disabled and their children enough to step in when he began to abuse your daughter, preventing her from permanent injury, and he would be arrested for assault and child endangerment. What relief and joy would that bring?
Or Joseph – if government offices designed to protect the vulnerable did just that, providing a place of healing and restoration – getting him medical care and food and shelter; or if the people who had abused him in the first place, causing such severe physical and mental scars had been stopped – that would be a glad justice. Perhaps that is why this nonverbal, wounded, gentle giant-of-a-boy reserved his only smiles in the near future for when he saw the big black car that had rescued him from the side of the road, fed him, bathed him, clothed him and advocated for his safety, and gave him a name of hope from despair. That was Joseph’s delight in justice.
So what does that mean for us – for those of us sitting in America today? What can we do about Adama, or Umu, or Yeabu, or Joseph?
To quote Tim Keller again, “to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it.” He says, every situation is unique, but in every time and culture, the principle holds true that “the strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks.”
Justice, in its purest form, is the restoration of shalom. Shalom is another Hebrew word, often inadequately translated as “peace.” But shalom is so much more than that. It is a complete reconciliation of all relationships, resulting in a state of human flourishing at every level – physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and economic. It is brokenness restored and healed. It is what existed before the Fall.
We will never see complete shalom in this life, not until our King comes and restores all things. While there is sin, injustice will persist, but it is God’s call to us, His people, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. It is what He requires of us! We work constantly toward the day of true justice. Isaiah paints a picture of that day –
“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book,
And out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
And the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
For the ruthless shall come to nothing
And the scoffer cease,
And all who watch to do evil shall be cut off.”
But until that day, we press on, following in the footsteps of the God of Justice that we serve. And Isaiah gives us a promise,
“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places.”
Most of you reading this will never have the privilege of meeting Adama, Umu, Yeabu or Joseph. But this does not mean that you cannot be part of restoring shalom in their world. You can have an active and meaningful part in making their lives, and the lives of so many others like them – a delight. In each of these cases I have mentioned, our staff came around these individuals to actively demonstrate the love of Christ and to advocate for justice in their horrible situations. Sometimes justice was won. Sometimes it was not, but just the attempt itself to bring justice sparks a flame of hope in the darkness of despair.
At Women of Hope, we are ever cognizant that we do not stand alone in these issues of injustice. We stand shoulder to shoulder with people just like you, who have chosen to disadvantage themselves to repair the torn fabric of shalom.
Again Tim Keller says, “The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. Human beings are like threads thrown together onto a table. If we keep our money, time and power to ourselves, for ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbors’ lives, then we may be literally on top of one another, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others.”
I invite you to do just that – to weave yourself into the broken fabric of shalom for those with disability around the world, and begin to repair it. You have the opportunity to bring delight and rejoicing to those without hope. The need is great. But our God is so much greater!