“Most of my life was spent living as a privileged person in an unjust society. Last time I did nothing to help change. At 76, I am not about to repeat the mistake. This time I march. I shout. I scream.” Robin Binckles, author, historian, columnist.
The words above penned by Robin Binkles above capture much of our collective sentiment towards the current political situation in South Africa. Following the news this morning my heart again is heavy – not because of the nationwide protests, but because of the blatant presidential corruption and political injustice which provokes the marches. My heart breaks for the poor and the vulnerable in our nation who keep on suffering because of this persistent corruption and prevailing apathy. God save us!
Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly aware of the suffering within our beautiful nation, more specifically the poverty within Cape Town. As the info-graphic below could explain, privileged people are not commonly confronted with the pervasiveness of poverty, because that is how our social tapestry is woven. We generally work, live and move within our own economic spheres. One can only appreciate the impact of poverty when one crosses over into the world of the poor – even if it is only 5km away.
Looking at this map one can’t ignore the fact that 25 years after Apartheid was abolished a city like Cape Town still lives in racial segregation – primarily due to economic inequality cultivated by a racist regime: according to the latest figures from Statistics SA the average annual household income for white South Africans are still five times more than that of black households. We are still segregated by the sins of our past.
Secondly, we might be unaware of the suffering and poverty around us because our generation is fixated on fun. People preoccupied with pleasure train themselves to preserve happiness by overlooking pain. Suffering steals our serenity, so we have mastered mindless indifference – we have become blinded to the surrounding suffering. Indeed, ignorance is bliss.
What does justice demand in this unjust society?
Essentially, Biblical justice demands three things: firstly, that each person is created in the image of God and therefore all people should be treated equal, allowing for equal opportunity. In this case, the abolishment of Apartheid was a celebration of justice in South Africa, but as the map above shows, economic equality is not a reality and therefore justice has not yet been established. Secondly, Biblical justice calls for special care of the vulnerable in society – those most severely affected by fallen creation (the “orphan, the widow and the foreigner”). This “care” for the weak and poor requires charity to provide in needs, but also necessitates advocacy to call for an end injustice and intervention and liberation to free from oppression. Thirdly, justice demands a generous sharing of livelihood with those in need. The motive for this neighborly kindness is rooted in compassion – the compelling love that emanates from a deep sense of identification with another suffering individual.
God frequently dismissed corporate worship whenever social justice was not practiced in Israel. The care for the weak, poor and marginalized is essential for a living relationship with God because God personally identifies with the lowly, weak and oppressed.
Injustice and oppression in society therefore require deliberate social intervention programs to ensure justice for the weak and the marginalized. Since injustice is the result of the inherent corruption of man (i.e. sin), true and lasting social reformation requires the renewal of the human heart. And that is exactly what the gospel of justification by grace does, as Yale theologian Miroslav Volf discovered when he reflected while walked through the dispirited inner city of Baltimore.
“Could the hope for inner cities lie in part in the retrieval of the doctrine of justification by grace? How could the dead streets receive life from a dead doctrine? Imagine that you have no job, no money; you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence; you are pre-judged for the color of your skin—and you have no hope that any of this will change.
Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievement… But the gospel tells us that we are not defined by outside forces. It tells us that we count; even more, that we are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve. Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed, but embodied in a community. Justified by sheer grace, the community seeks to “justify” by grace those declared “unjust” by a society’s implacable law of achievement…. A dead doctrine? Hardly!”
Thus the Biblical justice happens when God’s Kingdom manifests to liberate individuals and a community at large from the corruption of sin resulting in societal regeneration and reconciliation as he “make(s) all things new.”
What does justice for the poor demand from me?
It is important to note that Biblical justice demands the care for the poor, weak and marginalized not primarily from the state or the temple, but from the neighbors. This is evident in the legislated Year of Jubilee and its principled application in the early church. Jesus made that exact point with his parables of the Good Samaritan and the King’s rewards to the righteous. Yes God does command justice in the judicial system and government but primarily God expects it from his people to ensure justice for their neighbors.
The overwhelming need and violence within our country is intimidating, but justice simply asks “how shall you love your neighbor as yourself.” So how could you respond?
Firstly, open your eyes and your heart to see the need and meet the needy. It is often lamented that the biggest accusation against the church in the West is not that we don’t care for the poor, but rather that we do not know the poor. And this is certainly true for our economically divided society. We honestly do not see the needs of the needy nor do we hear their cries, therefore we don’t feel or respond. Therefore, make a friend who is vulnerable and poor – and listen in order to hear and understand their struggle. Don’t give from a distance – build a lasting relationship first.
Secondly, don’t be pacified by the enormity of the need out there. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” Do what you can, share what you have. But “do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” Work towards dignifying a person and his or her legacy by empowering him or her out of oppression. And remember, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Lastly, don’t become cynical, thinking that this is the way it will always be on earth. The Gospel truly changes societies and nations for the good – not just secure people for eternity. For that reason trust in God as you keep on praying “let Your Kingdom come, let Your will be done! On earth as it is in heaven!” Imagine what could your city look like when the Kingdom of God manifests, and pray for that! Strive to let heaven invade earth.
Like Robin Binkles I must admit that “most of my life was spent living as a privileged person in an unjust society… [and] I did nothing to help change… [but] I am not about to repeat the mistake.” So Lord, let your Kingdom come! In me and through me.
 Pitjeng, R., 28 January 2017, Stats SA: Black households continue to be excluded from the economy, Eye Witness News online: Johannesburg. Available at http://ewn.co.za/2017/01/28/stats-sa-black-households-continue-to-be-excluded-from-the-economy. Last viewed 18 March 2017.
 Keller, T. 2012, What is Biblical Justice? Relevant Magazine, 23 August.
 Genesis 1:27; cf Acts 17:29.
 Exodus 22:1; cf James 2:1.
 Deuteronomy 10:18.
 Deuteronomy 14:19, 24:19-20; James 1:27.
 Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 31:8-9.
 Psalm 82:3-4.
 Deuteronomy 15:1-14; 1 John 3:17-19.
 Luke 10:26-37; cf 1 Corinthians 13:3.
 Amos 5:23-24; Isaiah 58:1-14; Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23.
 Matthew 25:34-40.
 e.g. Acts 6:1-6.
 Volf, M. 1997. Shopkeeper’s Gold, The Christian Century, 12 November, p. 1045.
 Psalm 76:9; Romans 8:20-22; 3:23.
1 Corinthians 5:17-20; Revelations 21:5; cf Colossians 1:20.
 Deuteronomy 15:1-14.
 Acts 4:34-35.
 Luke 10:26-37.
 Matthew 25:34-40.
 Proverbs 16:11-14.
 Matthew 22:39.
 Proverbs 3:25, Deuteronomy 15:4-5; cf. 1 John 3:17-18.
 Matthew 25:40.
 Matthew 6:10.