From inception Watershed has sought to put justice at the forefront of our mission. Whether embedded into the themes of pop culture artifacts or real life events in our city, nation, and world, justice has become a hot topic. Over the course of the next few weeks Pastor of Justice Cedric Lundy is going to conduct a blog series aimed at unpacking our understanding of justice and why it’s fundamental to our community.
The dictionary definition of justice is as follows…
“The maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. The principle or ideal of just dealing or right action.”
Undoubtedly pop culture has shaped our understanding of justice. We have a plethora of television shows movies and comic book heroes who administer justice by pursuing evildoers and holding them accountable for their misdeeds. However, they most often present an incomplete picture of justice. The collateral damage in the form of property damage created during the heroine’s pursuit is usually glossed over. There are some exceptions.
Pixar’s The Incredibles builds a story where the collateral damage develops a major plot point. It leads to a flood of lawsuits that eventually leads to legislation forcing the supers to go into hiding. The movie Hancock starring Will Smith picks up a similar theme. Ever since watching those movies I find myself thinking about the millions dollars in property damage caused by the Avengers, Superman’s final battle with Zod in Man of Steel and not to be out done the Transformers franchise. Point being, we often have an incomplete understanding of what justice truly is evidenced by the popular stories we tell and consume.
On the other hand the Christian scriptures present a complete picture of justice one often easily missed. Many are familiar with Christian traditions where the climactic point in the story is when God banishes evildoers and the unrighteous to eternal punishment and suffering for their crimes.
However it has often left a huge unresolved issue, “What about Earth and all of creation?”
Many of the same Christian traditions would reply by indicating that Earth is destroyed after the saints are relocated to heaven, which only causes people to balk even further. Imagine a story where the heroines only save the inhabitants of Earth and not Earth itself?
You needn’t think too hard if you’ve seen the movie Interstellar. I absolutely love that movie, but I can’t help but wonder if I’d feel slightly different about it if the lasting image or scene from that movie was a dead and desolate Earth with no signs of life instead of a father who has literally crossed space and time to be reunited with his daughter. We get so lost in the image of Cooper boarding a ship to go find Brand all alone on her planet that we’ve all but forgotten that while the remaining humans have managed to escape there is no justice for planet Earth (as I’m writing this it's suddenly occurred to me that it appears they left all the animals there to die as well).
On the contrary, that depiction of the biblical narrative is an incomplete one. The story doesn’t end with Earth destroyed. It ends, or, better put, re-begins, with Earth being renewed. The saints don’t go up to heaven, heaven comes down to Earth. The original vision of heavens and Earth joined together without separation is recast.
In the same way something is missing when super heroes can ride off into the sunset satisfied that they’ve brought the villain to account while the city crumbles literally and financially, there is something missing when we paint the Divine as only concerned with saving souls... and matter does not matter. Assuming we all agree that all matter matters, Christians who promote this incomplete story need to be reminded that the Earth Matters (too!).
The end of the Bible in Revelation is not the only place where we see this picture of Earth being restored and renewed. It is mentioned in the similar language in the prophesies of Isaiah.
All that being said, a complete yet simple definition of justice is “putting the wrongs to rights”. In the super hero movies it would look like the Avengers working to help restore and rebuild the cities that were laid waste in their epic battles to defeat their adversaries. In Harry Potter it would be Harry using the Elder Wand quickly to rebuild and restore Hogwarts before snapping it half and tossing it into the Black Lake (that always bothers me when I watch it).
With the exception of Potter, where it’s as simple as a waving of his wand and everything magically coming back together like new, a scene where we see the process of justice come to completion isn’t a climatic high point. Justice, the real substantial justice that we long for, is long and slow. It doesn’t happen over night. The pains and wrongs of this world didn’t happen over night, so it only makes sense for the real work of justice to be long and slow as well.
When we talk about justice at Watershed, it is with this understanding of justice.
When we look at the Christian scriptures we can’t help but be drawn to this over-arching theme of the Divine creating an entire world worth saving, not just its inhabitants. We see a God who is deeply invested in putting the world to rights. We see a God who is about long, and sometimes painfully slow, justice as He communes with mankind and equips us, the vulnerable ones in this equation, to be a part of bringing justice to His good creation.
Sure, Harry Potter could have used the Elder Wand to repair and restore Hogwarts in an instant, but I have to admit that there is something beautifully communal and healing for all who considered Hogwarts home to pocket their wands and get their hands dirty. There is a new level of ownership they’d all have by forgoing the quick, easy, sanitary way of rebuilding.
In the process, maybe they’d find some semblance of healing themselves as well.