This post is going to be about the Casey Anthony trial only insofar as it got me thinking about justice; or rather, the sometimes frustratingly futile pursuit of justice. (For a thorough and nuanced take on Casey Anthony, I heartily recommend Caryn Rivadeneira’s wonderful piece for Relevant). When Casey’s “not guilty” verdict was read, many of us felt that deep, familiar pang of unfinished justice that so marks any human’s existence in this world. It’s moments like these which remind us just how much “not yet” there is in the whole “already / not yet” scheme of the kingdom of God. Complete justice and the fullness of truth are indeed far off. And we feel it keenly, every day.
But what does this mean for us, on a day-to-day basis? Should our acknowledgment that full justice is never completely attainable deter us from seeking after it? Should the chronic incompleteness and stubborn imperfections of life cause us to accept incompleteness and imperfection as givens, things to simply accept and live with? I don’t think so.
I often despair at the amount of cynicism, skepticism, doubt, and distrust I see around me–even among those in my community who mark their lives by belief in a gospel that is supposedly about hope. Sometimes it seems like we’ve given up on the “causes” that used to motivate us, or resigned ourselves to the onslaught of history and its accompanying peril and disintegration. Where hope remains, it’s usually in momentary pleasures (baseball games, reality T.V., whiskey) or some abstract eschatological expectation that all will be made right in the end.
Certainly there’s ample reason for such pervasive cynicism. We were born into a world of lies, war, modernism, postmodernism, technocracy, Watergate, divorce, televangelism, Wall Street, Wal-Mart, Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, O.J., JonBenet, Timothy McVeigh, Marilyn Manson, Rod Blagojevich, live-tweeted-trials, Tea Partiers, cameras-in-the-courtroom, sexting scandals, and Rupert Murdoch. So of course the existence of hope, or the belief in truth progress, is a bit naive and silly… Right?
Yes, probably. But for Christians, I believe we have to get past the silliness of it and embrace hope in spite of the evidence of its folly. But not only hope in the sense of trusting that God will fix things in the end–but hope in the sense that, as resident aliens of that justice-filled future, we are to embody an active hope in the here and now. In the New Testament Paul sometimes described Christians as colonists–citizens of heaven who were nevertheless occupying foreign lands, for a reason. The job of a colonist settler is to bring the life and culture of the homeland to the foreign land in which they live, and likewise as Christians we are to bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth. We can’t throw in the towel and sit idly by as the world does its own chaotic, self-destructive thing. Christianity is to be a force of action–an attempt to order things, suppress evil, meet destruction with construction and disharmony with reconciliation.
In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright says this:
“…left to ourselves we lapse into a kind of collusion with entrophy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them. And we are wrong. Our task in the present…is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”
Rather than being mired in despair and characterized by everyday cynicism, Christians of all people must live as if the World That Ought to Be isn’t just some fanciful hope of a far-off-future, but rather an ideal that informs the work we do here and now, a “Reality behind the reality we know,” as Makoto Fujimura recently put it in his commencement address at Belhaven University:
“The World That Ought to Be is that which is already imbedded in our senses. God’s hand touches us, even through the cold earth of death and despair, even though we are being washed away in the sea of Liquid Modernity. The gospel is an aroma, the aroma of the New. And the aroma will reach us, even in the darkest despair.”
And so I guess I just want to challenge myself, and my fellow Christians struggling with cynicism, to take in that aroma and let it fill the homes in which the we live, the workplaces in which we work, and the endeavors we pursue. Let it cause us to be galvanized and inspired to act, to work, to not give up or despair, even when the world seems so foreign, distant, and hellbent on chaos.
Hope is not a future-minded reverie or escapist dream, but rather a call to action to order the disordered, right the wrongs, and fix what we can in the here-and-now, even if it’s always just scratching the surface. As Jurgen Moltmann says in Theology of Hope,
“Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the good of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. If we had before our eyes only what we see, then we should cheerfully or reluctantly reconcile ourselves with things as they happen to be. That we do not reconcile ourselves, that there is no pleasant harmony between us and reality, is due to our unquenchable hope.”