Jonah House logo

Faith  and  Justice
(notes for a presentation)
Philip Berrigan

I  Faith -  reflection on the nature of Biblical faith: i.e., a fierce refusal to be turned away, a cry for intervention, for justice, a questioning faith.

   Faith = hope (roughly) but faith has its other side - justice. There is no faith without justice.  Faith/justice = hope.  Faith is justice in the Bible, co-relatives of one another.  Faith, if it's faith, causes justice.  And justice sparks hope. 

   A.  cf. Mt. 9:22: the woman who had the issue of blood.  He turned around and saw her:  "Courage, my daughter.  Your faith made you well."  He turns attention to the grandeur of the faith of this woman - center of attention of faith is not himself.

   B.  Then there is the curing of the epileptic after the transfiguration.  Jesus healed the lad because he, Jesus, had faith and the disciples did not.  But, if this is a faith that Jesus himself had, it cannot be to believe in Jesus Christ.  Faith here is not trust in the miraculous power of Jesus.

   C.  Some help might be offered by John who says in his Gospel and first Epistle that faith is belief that Jesus is the Messiah, that with him the Messianic Kingdom has arrived.   So it is with Paul also:  "Thus to believe that God raised him from the dead is to confess that Jesus is the Lord." (Rom. 10:10)

   D.  With him, the resurrection of the dead has begun, and this is unequivocal proof that the kingdom has arrived.  Because it means that Jesus had conquered death, and the cause of death which is sin.

   E.  But to return to faith in its substance.  There is the cure of the paralytic in Mark 2:5.  There were these four friends bearing the paralytic -  and Jesus, "seeing their faith."  That means effective conviction that  the kingdom had arrived, the kingdom that would respond to all  needless suffering (caused by injustice), the kingdom that would help all the needy of the earth. 

   F.  So Paul in Rom. 9: 30 speaks of the "justice that stems from faith."  And that justice is the justice of God.

   G.  Isaiah speaks of this (28: 16:17):  "That is why the Lord Yahweh says this: 'Behold that I lay as a foundation in Zion a chosen stone, a precious cornerstone, a foundation stone; he who has faith in it will not waver.  I will make right the measure, and justice the plumb line.'"

     Right and justice are synonyms.  The passage means that the justice and right which God establishes is the foundation of the new civilization, the new society.  Except that we are the agents of it; there are no other.

   H.   To sum up: faith causes justice and the two equal hope.  Faith is certainty (like Abraham who "against all hope believed in hope") that the kingdom has arrived in Jesus and that we must live the kingdom's faith, justice, hope, or deny Jesus and the kingdom in unfaith.

     1.  Every now and then, we think this person or that is not "serious" about their lives, about resistance, about survival, about justice, about a future for the kids.  We are in substance reflecting on their faith, or lack of it, and their justice, or lack of it.

     2.  This applies to our lifestyle, our indulgences.  Smoking is a threat to our health.  And we won't cut down or stop.  There are tinges of masochism and despair in that - serious compromises of faith, justice, and hope.

     3.  Most of us play checkers with resistance;  we calculate the next move so as to reduce inconvenience or eliminate it altogether from our lives.  We have our own agenda and it doesn't include going to jail too often.  We want to say that we were there; we don't want to say how far we went in.

II.  The law as obstacle to justice

 A.  I'm speaking here of human law, secular law, civil law.

 B.  There are two salient historical instances which prove the proposition that the law is an obstacle to justice.

     1.  The law murdered Christ.  The Jewish leaders said, "We have a law and according to that law he must die."

     2.  The Bomb is legal, and the immanence of global destruction is legal.  True, there are elements of international law that say is is illegal, but the preponderant weight of law favors the arms race and the prospect of global incineration.  Four minutes to midnight is legal.  The U.S.S. Ohio is legal.  MX is legal; Pershing II and cruise legal.  Reagan and Haig, who are war criminals, are legal.  Ladon and Larry and Carol and John and Elmer and George and Peter and Louie are illegal.

         So Paul says:  "If justice comes by means of the law, Christ died in vain." (Gal. 2:21) OR: "You have broken with Christ if you look for justice in the law; you have fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4)  OR: "Those who rely on the works of the law are under a curse." (Gal. 3:10)

         Paul believes that justice will not be achieved in the world as long as the law exists.

     C.  Faith tells us that God entered the human family in Jesus, creating the new creation, the new family and race of sisters/brothers.  That people, that race, that royal priesthood is now threatened by the Bomb and the Bombmongers.  Christ in the members of this new person faces murder under the law again.

     D.  Under faith, a calculating and ambiguous attitude towards the law is impossible. The law is the main obstacle to justice, to disarmament, to peace.  When we break the law it is not just breaking the law; it is upholding the one law, the law of God "that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves;"  it is freeing the truth, which God will use for justice and peace; it is protecting the weak and particularly the children; it is the main appeal for God's mercy that we be granted more time to firm up our act; it is challenging and weakening the empire, which is the sea beast of Rev.; it is enervating the counter-kingdom of Satan.

III.  Read Ps. 82 - The substance of justice

     A.  "gods" are false gods (idols); they are unjust judges; they are Jew or Christian.  But  vs. 3,4 contain the essence of faith/justice equals hope. "Defend the lowly and the orphan; render justice to the afflicted and destitute.  Rescue the lowly and the poor; from the hand of the wicked deliver them."

   B.  Both O.T. and N.T. abound with passages like this one.  God is the God, not like our gods, who intervenes to protect and defend, to deliver and rescue.  God did this through Moses to bring about the Exodus.  God did this by raising up Cyrus and his army to break the Babylonian captivity.  God did this through the prophets, who were in essence defenders of the victims of injustice.  God did this especially through his Son who was the Good Shepherd.  And now God has abased the divinity to intervene and deliver the victims through us.  This is one of the implications of the Incarnation.

     C.  To defend a victim one must resist the victimizer - that's elemental.  One must also go to the core of injustice; one must reduce the injustice; one must limit the destruction, expose the lies and limit the destruction, as Revelation implies.

     D.  The lowly and the orphan, the afflicted and destitute, the helpless and the poor are everyone under the Bomb.  And the pharaohs qualify here.  In fact, their spiritual deprivation places them in the category of the criminally insane - far more vicious than criminal psychotics.  They, too, then must be regarded as the "poor."

     E.  Thoreau, in his Essay on the Duty of Civil Disobedience' writes that "dissent without civil disobedience is consent."  Leafleting, letters to editors, legal rallies, even vigils outside of the context of civil (dis)obedience is consent.  We can be tolerant of sisters and brothers who do these things  because their consciences and lives are emerging; we can be tolerant of ourselves, too, for reasons of conscience, other more important commitments, etc.  But we most cling to the substance of faith.  We must declare the Lordship of Christ over the Beast - and that can be done only by breaking the law.  We must perceive the law as the main obstacle to justice, land that means breaking its hold over ourselves and others.  And we must deliver and rescue the poor, chained by a law that would legalize the destruction of everyone.