“The good news about injustice is that God abhors it” (Haugen, 2009).
This is the assurance of humankind that God is against the very inhumane conditions that plague our society and the anarchy we create. Growing up, I heard about our history and how Ghana became an independent nation. I read books and listened to stories about how our ancestors were maltreated and made to work in deplorable conditions—places where no human being could survive. For over two centuries, West Africa was colonized and made subservient to mostly British and French rule, but today we are responsible for our own injustice.
The focus of this week’s discussion is neither about history nor colonialism. It espouses the intersection between law or justice and faith, and my perception of how the law should work or be made to work.
As a Christian, I grew up in a home with strong values and ethics. In my extended family, one of my grandfathers was a pastor in a tiny village where he not only preached but also served as the family head. My other grandfather was a village chief who served as a ruler of the township, making him effectively both lawmaker and enforcer. So my perception of how the law should work was partly shaped by these men—that law was meant to guide people and teach them to do the right thing otherwise there would be chaos. In my immediate family, I grew up learning not to bicker or fight with my siblings although quarrelling was inevitable. Older siblings were expected to lead by example, teaching the younger ones to show respect to the elderly even if they were not biological parents. Obedience to school teachers, the performance of household chores and occasionally giving alms to the poor, were taught at the home and reinforced by teaching in school. I remember very well that my mother would ask me to sort out old clothes, which I could no longer wear to donate to an orphanage.
When I think about how my faith and personal ethics have shaped my worldview of the legal system, I tend to consider the implications of seeking justice for the oppressed in a fallen world. When there is justice in the family, church, and government, it means each member would treat others with respect and dignity. No member would take advantage of the other and when someone goes wrong, you correct him or her. It conveys the idea of doing things together as a community. In the church, justice means that members are in harmony with one another, support and pray for the cause. It means living out the message or sermons heard every Sunday and going to help the sick and feed the poor and hungry. Justice in government means having leaders who serve. The perception of leadership is from top to bottom—people expecting to be served rather than serving selflessly.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:14-16, New International Version). The important word in this passage to me is “one another.” This is the spirit of community. It conveys the idea of living life with others in mind, not being selfish but giving a helping hand in times of joy or pain. It means if your neighbour is celebrating, you rejoice with him and if he is in despair, you cheer him up and offer a shoulder to cry on. “Community is the essential form of reality” because that is how God made it and that is how society should operate. We were made in God’s image to work hand in hand and support each other not to rebel and take advantage of people who are not in a position of power. When justice prevails, there is friendliness, trust, calm and empathy. In the absence of justice, there is suspicion, hostility, anger, distrust, apathy, and cynicism. To be in community with one another to stop injustice, we must realize that, “it is a community that holds the individual in a framework of values”. A disintegrated community lives in peril and loses its sense of purpose. In the next verse, the Bible says, “Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.”
Unfortunately, we do not live out this charge in society. What we see in our world are lawbreakers, dictators, cheats, power-hungry politicians and liars who always want to exploit others and rob people of their rights. It is sad that “more slaves are trafficked in the twenty-first century—more than the number of slaves during the colonial era.” We should not repay evil with evil but seek justice and do what is right. We should speak up and make our voices heard on certain issues. We should not sit back and expect justice to happen; we must work for it by influencing lawmakers to ensure the proper enforcement of certain laws.
Every society has rules and regulations that govern it (laws), and I believe God established them. The Bible says, “Obey your government rulers and respect authority (Romans 13:1-2).” When we give positions of authority to our government, we expect them to make certain laws that are binding and should be respected to ensure the justice we seek. Therefore, when a person breaks the law, he or she is saying, “I refuse to obey authority and the God who through these people have established that authority.” Disrespecting the law and authority includes some of the things we often overlook and refuse to voice out. For example, motor riders crossing a red light, throwing refuse at a lorry station just because someone else will sweep, disrespect for ambulance, police and national security personnel, and so on. Romans 14:6 commands us to, “pay our taxes for these same reasons for government workers need to be paid and that people serve God by doing so.” Therefore, paying one’s taxes over one’s earnings is service to God and it helps put food on the table of those public officials we have given that authority to.
Whenever I read that scripture, I interpret it in two ways. For ordinary citizens, we are expected to honour God by showing respect to our government rulers. However, this passage also specifically addresses leaders too. They should also treat those whom they lead with fairness and justice. They should not take advantage of their position to exploit citizens and deny them their human rights. Unfortunately, some power-hungry chief executives want to hold power for as long as possible, thus breaking the very law that established their authority. Civil servants want to take bribes before hiring an employee to fill a vacant position regardless of whether that employee is qualified. Countries with a long history of wars and racial hate and discrimination refuse to simply let go and find peace with each other. As Mother Teresa once said, “Forgiveness will set you free.” This is so true.
Love fulfills God’s requirements. “Love one another; love never fails; love your neighbour as yourself…” These truths are the requirements to fulfilling God’s law on earth. In order to promote the justice we seek, I believe we should find a cause we are passionate about and just pursue it. “We have been given gifts by God, and we are expected to put them to use.” I believe there are several already established organizations that seek volunteers and encourage mostly college students to get involved. Otherwise, in whatever career path, one must find a way to influence the life of another person.
Haugen, Gary. A. (2009). Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World. InterVarsity Press.
Article by Kwame Twumasi-Ankrah, a siro360 contributor