One of my most vivid first remembrances of witnessing what I considered an injustice was in Grade 6. One of the students who often was in detention tipped so far back in his chair that he fell over hard on his back. The whole class erupted in laughter but the teacher was furious. He made that student sit in the tipped over chair on his back for the entire day. As a 12 year old, too afraid to intervene, I didn’t speak up, although I felt what I had witnessed was very wrong. The first time I remember doing something about an unjust act was also in a classroom with my Grade 10 French teacher. He, who will remain nameless, had cruel ways of dealing with students that he deemed as a “problem”. If someone was talking or disturbing the class he would throw chalk often hitting them in the head with his small guided white missile. On one of those occasions I felt as though I had witnessed enough cruelty so I stood up and said with my small shaky voice, “You are out of control, I’m reporting you to the office.” I then ran out of the class, blinded by angry tears and marched into the Principal’s office. Sadly nothing changed, as I was dealing with a respected teacher and I was just an “emotional” 15 year old. All of us are wired differently and are provoked by different situations but I think I was taught at a young age that you do have a voice and you should use it to speak up when you see something that is cruel or unfair. I spent my first two years in high school “talking to the Principal” because as a young student I didn’t really have an appropriate understanding of how to handle injustice. As I look back now at least I was trying to make a difference.
One of the things I love most about young adults is their passion for social justice. I believe that when that passion is partnered with the Holy Spirit this generation of young adults will be an unstoppable force in our world. Change really can happen! Social Justice has become the hot conversation with everyone inside and outside of the church community. I think congratulations go to the Salvation Army, World Vision, IJM, Childrens’ Homes, NightLight, The Well, Jewels in a Crown, Dtonn Naam, Rahab, Imagine Thailand, and many many other organizations for addressing social injustice LONG before an awareness came to the general population. Several years ago the biggest concern was AIDS, then it was child soldiers and now it’s Human Trafficking. I’m thankful for those who have been on the front lines for a very long time and continue to live, give and serve sacrificially those who have no voice.
Jesus makes it clear that following Him includes caring for the broken and the hurting. The New Testament is full of directives to love, care and serve the poor, abandoned, widow and orphan. Isaiah 58 says it loud and clear.
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Oh how I love that!
Sometimes, however, the passion for social justice can get blinded by the desire to do something good in the world simply making people’s lives temporarily better and yet perhaps falls short of touching the deepest, darkest need – soul pain. I remember one group telling me on a visit to Bangkok that they didn’t really care much about the Thai women in prostitution because they were only exploited and they could leave the sex industry at any time. They felt that victims of Human Trafficking were the only ones truly suffering as human slaves. I so appreciate their desire to fight for justice and they were completely right that we MUST fight human slavery, but that passion can be a little misguided if we don’t look at the deepest part of human slavery.
If you could rescue 100 victims of any injustice you would be hailed as a hero. But there is so much more to helping a hurting life than simple relocation or providing training, income or food. Often women are involved in human trafficking because their lives are full of pain and poverty. Many see the offer of a job in another country as “a way out” without realizing what they are getting into or the full ramifications of their decision. They are mistreated and often kept as slaves by their Trafficker. Most Christian organizations realize that the rescue is only the first small step to truly RESCUING. Soul pain is a far deeper pain than physical pain. Both must be addressed.
Jesus said in Luke 4:18
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The first thing Jesus says He was anointed to do was to preach (speak, proclaim, declare) the GOOD News to the poor, bringing spiritual justice – the core human need. He then says he came to release the oppressed, imprisoned and blind bringing much needed physical justice. When we set out to go about doing good, as followers of Jesus, we MUST alleviate physical pain and suffering as much as is humanly possible. But if we only want to alleviate physical slavery and temporal injustice and don’t proclaim spiritual freedom and justice, they are still behind bars, human slaves, trapped in a prison. And that is the greatest injustice of all.