Peace and Justice

Pastor Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, gave me some fresh insights on the topics highlighted in the title of this post. In fact, this topic of the relationship between justice and peace will be a subject frequently discussed in this blog. Keller brought in a third dimension and I want to share his insights with you.

Keller’s discussion is set in the context of the creation story and how radically different the Jewish Scriptures are from every other ancient account of the beginning of the world. Except for the Bible, most ancient cultures depict creation as the result of a battle or a struggle between warring cosmic forces. But the people of Israel, unlike any of their neighbors, did not believe any other divine power was on par with God. They believed that creation was the work of God without a rival, and that God created the world like an artist paints a picture or shapes a sculpture. God is a craftsman, an artist.

The Old Testament uses two kinds of imagery to describe the creation of the world. One image is architectural – God built the world like a person constructs a home or a royal dwelling. But the Bible also describes the creation of the world as the weaving of a garment. The fabric metaphor conveys the importance of relationships. If you throw lots of pieces of thread onto a table, no fabric results. The threads must be carefully woven together, one thread over and around many others.

This, in Keller’s judgment, is what God did at creation. He created “all things to be in a beautiful, harmonious, interdependent, knitted, webbed relationship to one another. . . . This interwovenness is what the Bible calls shalom, or harmonious peace” (p. 173). Keller is in agreement with the argument I made when I began this blog — the English word “peace” simply does not adequately convey the true biblical meaning of this word shalom. Keller defines shalom as “complete reconciliation, a state of fullest flourishing in every dimension – physical, emotional, social and spiritual – because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy” (p. 174). I think this is a great definition!

When sin entered the world, it defaced and marred everything that God had made and ripped apart the harmonious relationship between God and human beings. The whole world stopped “working right.” Because our relationship with God has broken down, shalom is gone.

Keller argues that if we desire to “do justice” as God commands us, we need to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. To “do justice” means to go places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of society are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. Keller stresses that “the only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it” (p. 177).

This is a powerful metaphor and it accurately describes how Jesus lived his life. He spent his time and energy repairing the broken and torn “fabric” of first-century Palestine. If we choose to follow Jesus, we need to learn how to repair torn fabric and re-weave the broken strands in our society.

So What?
  • To be a peacemaker, we need a vision of God’s shalom and an ability to articulate what it is that we are working for in the context where God had placed us. Making “right relationships” so everyone can flourish is a big vision — but we can participate in this venture.
  • Buy Keller’s Generous Justice – it has helpful insights and you will be blessed by this short book! Keller’s strength is highlighting biblical truths and then giving them practical application. Let me know if this book was helpful to you.