August 1, 2011 Volume 25, Number 07
Don't discredit the miracle of justice
Resist temptation to reduce justice to showmanship
By Jamie Arpin-Ricci | missional.ca
Years ago, I found myself at a Christian event that featured a faith healer. With stunning showmanship, he whipped the crowd into a passionate time of prayer and worship. Then, to the cheers and awe of everyone around, he began to heal people of all kinds of ailments. No lame walked or blind given sight, mind you, but several sore backs felt better and apparently a few people didn't need their glasses (until later that day).
He went on to ask if anyone wanted to be taller, proceeding to lengthen peoples legs so much that the recipients were sure they were taller...kind of...maybe. I left saddened, frustrated and a little wiser.
Granted, this is an extreme example, but it reveals what often drives peoples' curiosity for miraculous healing - a good show. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the ability for God to miraculously heal the sick and have seen it done on a few occasions (one even verified by a doctor). And I don't even question the sincerity of the faith of those who attend such events or even the faith of some of the healers.
However, the showmanship of so many of these events seems to be about the glory of the healer and the satisfaction (or entertainment) of the onlookers. There are times when I wonder if this is why we see so few genuine miracles in our day and age.
In many ways, I feel a similar dynamic developing around the increasing interest of Christians in issues of justice. As an inner-city missionary who is deeply passionate about the place justice has at the heart of the gospel, I am encouraged by this trend. However, it is not uncommon for people to get drawn into justice issues for reasons similar to those named above (if more subtly expressed).
There is a great deal of “credibility" that comes with being identified as someone who “stands with the poor" or “fights for justice." For many young Christians, it is a badge of honour to be about “more than just saving souls." Again, while the heart of their (our) convictions is admirable, there is the temptation for our pursuit of justice to be about self-image and identity. It becomes its own form of showmanship.
When Jesus healed people, He was motivated first and foremost by love. Some might argue that when Jesus healed the man who was born blind (stating that it had “happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him"), He was using miracles to prove God's power. In other words, Jesus was using showmanship here too.
Rather, I believe that the works of God in this case is the restoration of a person devastated by sin born out of love. Matthew 9 reveals that Jesus saw the inherent connection between miraculous healing and the forgiveness of sin. And it was because God so loves all creation that His Son died for those sins.
In the same way, we must be careful not to forget that our commitment to “doing justice" must be a response of love, the product of the redemptive work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, it is not enough for us to simply be engaged in justice issues just like anyone else. It must be motivated by the over-arching mission of God to bring redemption to the whole person and the whole of creation. This might make our approach to justice issues less “popular" to some people in the world around us, but that should not be our concern, for it is God's glory, not ours, that should concern us.
True justice is a miracle because it is always and only the product of God's love working through us. And what could be impossible and miraculous than the grace of God for the forgiveness of sin?
Jamie Arpin-Ricci is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg's inner-city West End neighbourhood. He is the author of The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom (forthcoming from InterVarsity Press).