No justice, no peace!
Those words have been shouted consistently by thousands of people in the protests that have roiled the nation over the past few weeks. If you listen to a broadcast of a protest march, you’ll hear a call and response as automatic as when Episcopalians say “And also with you” when some says “The Lord be with you.” Those four words have been spray-painted on walls, crayoned by kids on pieces of cardboard, and printed on t-shirts.
No justice, no peace.
Depending on who you ask, the phrase might have originated with H.L. Mencken, an atheist, or Pope Paul VI, a Christian, or began during the peace marches of the 1970s. It sounds like something that ought to be found in the Bible, perhaps from one of the minor prophets like Hosea, or a major one like Jeremiah. Justice and peace are so intertwined it’s almost impossible to say one without saying the other. They are signs of the presence of God. So the cadences of some verses tend to warm our hearts:
“Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Psalm 85:10)
“Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
But Jeremiah reports something different:
“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
Proclaiming that all is well when there is profound suffering and injustice is exactly what the false prophets did in the past. In the past few weeks many U.S. citizens have come to the end of accepting false assurances from those who walk the hallways of power.
No justice, no peace.
We’re hampered by how difficult it is to talk about issues of justice and peace without using the language of conflict. We’ve had a war on poverty, and we’re fighting hunger, battling injustice, conquering illness and disease, and demolishing racism. The words we use to talk about the works of peace are often the same words we use describing war.
Justice and peace are twins. As a unit they might best be described by the Hebrew word
, which is to be complete, perfect, and full. It is wholeness, health, safety, and harmony.
is where we need to start. If you want justice, work for peace. If you want peace, practice justice.
Real peace is made in government and politics and every possible human endeavor and it always begins with acts of justice. Like the Holy Spirit, there’s no place peace cannot begin, and Christ asks that it begin within our own hearts. That’s where we now find ourselves, talking about racism in ways that perhaps we’ve never done before. It is not a comfortable place. Those of us with white skin have begun to realize that the sin and wound of racism afflicts everyone, perpetrator and victim both. It’s a double-edged sword. Nobody escapes.
In these very challenging times it’s important not to be paralyzed by the massive size of the problems we face, but to be encouraged by every single action that we take towards understanding and transformation. It’s important to have difficult conversations, to speak to our own hearts in all honesty, to let the pain of others enter our consciousness. There are, of course, no easy solutions, there are only people willing to put their energies towards a common goal: justice, and peace.