Inklings of Truth


Truth, Justice, and the American Naysayers

By Audrey Stallsmith

Looking for large-print reading for my father at the library, I ran across Timothy Keller’s Generous Justice.  I discovered that the book made more than the typeface clear about problems that we conservative Christians sometimes have with social justice, which is defined as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”

To our credit, we definitely do our part in contributing to charities.  Studies have proven that the Americans who give the largest percent of their income away are lower class, rural, conservative evangelicals. 

Our attitudes often are begrudging, though, as if we feel that people with access to the American dream should be able to do better than those in famine-stricken or violence-torn third world countries.  We simply don’t realize how famine-stricken and violence-torn some areas of our own nation are.  As Keller points out, sometimes the only businesses willing to set up shop in such places are the type which charge exorbitant interest on loans rather than the ones which supply residents with food and/or jobs. 

And--as I detailed in my earlier article “What Are You Anyway?”--race still does affect how people are treated.  So, no, the American dream never did offer an equal start to everyone.  Apparently our earlier immigrants always have been suspicious of those who came later.  We only need recall the “No Irish Need Apply” ads and attitudes from the mid-1900s to be sure of that. 

Though we should have learned from such past mistakes, the current prejudice against immigration seems to prove that we haven’t  Except for native Americans, all of us are descendants of immigrants.  We would do well to remember that and treat the current ones as we would have wanted our ancestors to be treated. 

As for our charity, even if we genuinely all were on equal footing, Jesus never specified that we should give just to people who deserve our help. We, after all, didn’t deserve His paying the price for our sins. 

My  father wanted to pay off my credit card bill once, perhaps because he abhorred the idea of the interest accruing, or perhaps because I’ve been doing most of the housekeeping for him since my mother’s death.  I didn’t allow him to make that payment, because it didn’t seem fair that he should have to foot the bill for my debts.  Besides, I already owe him for my college education and my upbringing—for my very life, in fact!  My doing a little cooking and laundry never will begin to recompense him for all of that.        

We recoil even more from the idea of God in Christ having to foot the bill for our sins, since we already owe Him for our world and our very lives also.  Due to that huge debt we never can repay, we had better think twice about adopting the attitude that people only should get what they deserve.   

Besides, social justice is about more than giving.  It’s about creating an even playing field, so that other people won’t require our charity.  God provided for that in the Old Testament by specifying that, once every 50 years, debts would be forgiven, slaves freed, and all land returned to its original owners, so that everyone could have a fresh start. 

Those of us in the lower classes find the Jubilee concept appealing since we are the ones who would be on the receiving end of it.  But I suspect that most of the wealthy would consider God’s idea of justice extremely unjust, and people in the Old Testament upper crust probably found ways of evading that too literal form of  “giving back.”.

What they and we forget, when we cling too tightly to all we have accrued, is that none of it really belongs to us anyway.  All of it, including even our bodies and souls, is God’s.  We just are stewards who eventually will have to report to him about what we did with what he gave us. 

The parables teach us that our reports had better not include anything about hiding or hoarding that wealth.
In fact, it seems that God prefers we give people more than they deserve rather than less.  That’s His idea of justice!