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What is Justice? V | What to Do About Evil

What is Justice? V | What to Do About Evil

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. Pastor of Justice Cedric Lundy has been conducting a blog series aimed at unpacking our understanding of justice and why it’s fundamental to our community. This post is part 5 of that series.

What distinguishes injustice from evil? As discussed in the previous blog post in this series at the root of injustice is the fundamental question of “what is enough?” When we either individually or corporately sense we are less it often results in us taking more, which often leaves others with less, and a crazy cycle ensues often resulting in entire systems and institutions of injustice. Evil then is when shame and or blame has led to a complete dehumanization of an individual or group of people. 

While injustice is often times the slow cooker of evil it doesn’t require institutions or systemic injustice to function. Evil is a direct and often overt action that can be perpetrated against someone whom the evildoer has so fully dehumanized that their actions (in their mind) are completely justified. There is no limit to the amount of shame and blame that can be leveled on their victim. 

I recognize this framing of evil may not line up with the accepted dictionary definition, but for our purposes I’m attempting to place evil within a theological framework that isn’t as simplistic as pointing to sin. I believe this is important because just calling it sin functionally excludes anyone who doesn’t align with a historically Christian or “biblical” worldview, and if we’re really to address the problem of evil in a way that includes everyone then we’ve got to work within a framework that is accessible to all.

The problem of evil has always plagued mankind. At times it seems as though it’s not going anywhere any time soon despite the fact that history would show the world as a whole is becoming less violent and more peaceful than at any time in recorded history. Which is especially hard to believe when the headlines recently have been filled with multiple terrorist attacks (several of them in London alone) in less than a month. Even with the gradual downward trend of violence (not that violence is the only measure of evil in the world), what are we to do about the problem of evil in the world? Many would refer to this gradual downward trend as progress, more specifically human progress. Which is why when something horrifically evil happens many living in first world comfort will declare that they have “lost faith in humanity”. The doctrine of progress has declared certain things unacceptable in modern times due solely to the fact that mankind has progressed past them.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright in his book Evil and the Justice of God points out three characteristics or flaws in the Doctrine of Human Progress approach to dealing with evil. One, we ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face (read: it doesn’t affect us or others like us). Second we are surprised when it does hit us in the face. Lastly we, in large part due to our shock, react in immature and dangerous ways.

We sit in the comfort of our first world privileges insulated from regular exposure to real evil able to not simply ignore it, but orchestrate life rhythms void of any dissonance. Thus not only are we surprised when it does hit us in the face, we are deeply offended. Is it possible that due to our shock and surprise when evil hits us in the face that we take it too personally? I’m not sure, but it would make sense of why our reaction to evil is often immature and dangerous.

Nowhere is that immaturity better seen than when our response to evil is to enact the very acts we condemn on those who wielded it to begin with. When our response to evil is to make evildoers suffer or destroy or eradicate them we’ve fallen into the same trap of dehumanizing them. An eye for eye makes the whole world blind. A bomb for a bomb leaves the whole world a heap of rubble.

Without getting into all the history of the drug war in America, much legislation was passed over a great many years that criminalized drug use and sought to perpetually penalize drug users as felons rather than rehabilitate them. The power of addiction shouldn’t be underestimated, however when one’s ability to re-enter society and become a contributing member of it are severely limited due to the penalties that curtail one’s chances of employment and higher education, the chances that an individual will go back to doing drugs or worse increases.

Perpetually penalizing as a solution to evil just doesn’t work. In fact many attempts to solve evil by punishment not only fails to provide a real solution but actually perpetuates evil. 

And therein lies the great mystery of Jesus dying on the cross.

Often times the question has been asked “why did Jesus have to die?”. However, that question reframes the narrative of Jesus’ death. It is blind to the fact that Jesus didn’t simply die one day, he was killed; Jesus didn’t have to die, he was killed. He was arrested on bogus charges supported by false testimony and then executed. Practically speaking there was no need for Jesus to die. On the other hand Jesus, who had openly criticized the sacrificial system as broken and too often a perpetrator of the cycle of evil it sought to appease, became its target. The sacrificial system was meant to provide a solution to the problem of evil, and it saw Jesus as a threat. 

It has been surmised that Jesus’ willingly allowing himself to be killed was in fact an act of submission to the powers of evil and letting them do their absolute worst. From this his proclaimed resurrection is seen as a victory over evil and the key to solving the problem of evil. It is the theological equivalent of Muhammad Ali’s infamous “rope a dope” tactic. For you non boxing historians, the “rope a dope” was Ali’s tactic of leaning up against the ropes of the ring in a defensive posture using his arms to protect his head and core, allowing his opponent to wail away on him. Ali famously employed this tactic on one of the most powerful hard hitting heavy weights who ever lived for seven rounds just waiting for Foreman to exhaust himself. As Foreman tells it he hit Ali as hard as he could only for Ali to peer out from behind his gloves and say, “Is that all you’ve got?”, to which Foreman said, “Yup that’s it.” He says that he knew at that moment he was going to lose. The difference being that Jesus doesn’t hit back to knock evil out, he rises, and at that sight evil knows it has nothing left. He shows that the way to defeat evil, to really solve the problem of evil is to allow for evil to literally wear itself out. 

It is that approach to solving the problem of evil that was employed by Ghandi and his followers to overcome British imperialism in India. That is the approach to solving the problem of evil that was employed by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with their willingness to allow the angry mobs to do their worst. It is said that the tide was turned in the Civil Rights Movement the day a national audience saw negroes getting beaten to within an inch of their lives on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

And therein lies the true problem of evil. Not that we don’t know how to overcome evil but that it comes at a tremendous cost most of us are not willing to take. Are we truly willing to let evil do its worst? Are willing to let evil take our lives in order to overcome it? Too often the answer is no. We’d rather fight fire with fire. We’d rather have vengeance than peace. We’d rather feel justified than be crucified.

What Is Justice? IV | Restorative Justice Via Blessing

What Is Justice? IV | Restorative Justice Via Blessing

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. 

What’s enough? Abram and Lot both had more than enough wealth in the economy of the ancient world and yet there was seemingly not enough land to support both of them dwelling together. There was strife between the herdsmen of their livestock. Unlike Cain and Abel they come to an agreement that the tension needed to be resolved, but how? They decided to separate.

Rewind a chapter in the book of Genesis and we see the promise that God gives to Abram to bless him, make of him a great nation, and to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and in him all families of the earth shall be blessed.

Blessed is an interesting word. Now-a-days we largely use it to say that we’ve experienced some sort of divinely appointed stroke of good fortune, like an upfront parking spot at the mall on a Saturday, or to shut down a conversation on how we’re really doing. However, in ancient Jewish thought it was much more than simple good fortune accredited to the divine. To be blessed by someone was to be fortunate because someone was present to you. To bless another was to literally be with someone, to be present.

With that in mind, Lot was the first person mentioned to bless or be with Abram after God made the promise to bless or be present with Abram. Abram left behind everything he had known, his country and his kindred, to chase after what probably seemed like foolishness to everyone. Everyone except Lot who decides he is going to remain present with his uncle. Yet here they are about to separate because their herdsmen can’t get along, and it’s about to turn ugly.

In the account we receive in scripture it appears that Lot truly was cursed after separating from Abram. In Genesis 14 Lot and all he possess is taken captive in a war in the region where he settled. In Genesis 19 Lot barely escapes Sodom and Gomorrah before it is destroyed. A widower and completely broken and afraid, Lot, with his daughters, decided to live in a cave in the hills.

A cave… let that sink in for a minute. How scared, how scarred, how broken would you have to be by war and injustice to decide that the best, most safe place would be in a cave in the middle of nowhere? But wait, it gets better, and by better I mean worse.

We are told that, while in the cave in isolation having given up hope of having husbands, Lot’s daughters devise a plan to get their father drunk and have sex with him in order to get pregnant. Regardless of whether or not this is true or really happened, the point the text is making is that one of the sons of this incestuous encounter would be credited as the father of the Moabites who went on to be one of Israel’s enemies for generations to come.

For generations after, the offspring of Lot would be a curse to the offspring of Abram and their very existence considered a curse solely based on their origin via incest. How is it that the very first person to bless Abram in whom “all the families of the earth would be blessed” would come to be the poster child of accursed? It seems rather unjust, plain just not right.

That is until a young widow traveled back to the native land and kin of her mother-in-law.

In the hands of modern readers the story of Ruth as put forth in the sacred scriptures has often been used to promote godly womanhood. It’s been used to encourage and instill hope in those whose lives turned tragic. Yet, it’s not about godly womanhood nor is it really about God redeeming an individual. It’s about redemption and restoration of a family, an uncle and his nephew. It’s about a blessing becoming a curse becoming a blessing all over again.

Ruth is a Moabite, a daughter descended from Lot, and her new husband Boaz is an Israelite, a son descended from Abram. In the small book of Ruth we see what was understood to be, by ancient Jewish scholars, God joining back together two things that had been separated, Abram and Lot, in preparation for the arrival of God’s anointed King David. Ruth ends with a brief genealogy that places David as the great grandson of Boaz and Ruth.

So what is the significance of this story to our understanding of restorative justice?

One, the divine’s mode of operation when it comes to bringing about justice from injustice in our world seems to be through blessing or presence. The divine promises to bless Abram is presented as the catalyst to bless all the families of the earth.

Secondly, as alluded to already, Judaism understood or interpreted the sacred scriptures by looking for patterns that grew into something larger greater more inclusive and all-encompassing. King David is often seen as the archetype for “The Lord’s Anointed” who is most fully realized in the Messiah or Jesus The Christ. Jesus, who announced the poor, the meek, and the hungry, the very people who were most often associated with being cursed by God, were in fact blessed by God.

Taking those things into account could it be that the beginning of practicing restorative justice is as simple and complex as blessing others? Could it be that the beginning of restorative justice is to look for those who are separate and bring them back in? To be present to those who are broken, scared and scarred? To be joined with those who are often seen as a curse?

At Watershed we are energized by seeing people in our community who practice restorative justice by being a blessing to the marginalized, the excluded, the separate, and the other. There are no quick fixes. No fly by rescue missions. Truly restorative justice also restores us one to another so that we can be truly present to each other, fully human.

What is Justice? III | Injustice More or Less

What is Justice? III | Injustice More or Less

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. 

So often when discussing Genesis 3 it is easy to get sidetracked asking questions about the tree and the fruit, why God put it there, and why the punishment for eating from the wrong tree so severe. A very literal reading of Genesis 3 raises all kinds of questions that are difficult to answer. On the other hand, reading Genesis 3 as a story which explains the realities of the way things are may supply us with more epiphanies of understanding about what happened, is happening, and will continue to happen if we repeat their course of action when faced with similar dilemmas.

Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may actually have little to do with good and evil as we’ve come to understand. It may have nothing to do with mankind being exposed to something outside of their person and a battle between good and evil, the light and the dark. Is fruit really about good versus evil? Clearly in the first two chapters God didn’t set up a world of opposing planes of positive and negative. This is best illustrated by the fact that God makes the sun to mark the day and the moon to mark the night. Nowhere in the creation narrative is there an inference that the night is intrinsically bad or the day better than the night. The day and the night are two halves of a whole, a day, and together they are good.

Maybe a better name for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would be "the tree of what’s enough”.

In the story of the fall Adam and Eve aren’t tempted to eat from that which they’ve been instructed until they are deceived into thinking that the tree is offering more. They are led to believe by eating the fruit that they can be more. Prior to being deceived into thinking they were missing out and that there was more, they were happy with what they had. They were satisfied with who they are, their relationship with God, one another and with the rest of creation. They didn’t feel as though they were missing out on something by not eating from that tree because, at the end of the day, it’s just one tree amongst a multitude of trees.

It is the first time in their lives that they are faced with the question of whether or not they had enough. It is the first time in their lives they consider that they aren’t enough. They took the bait, and, as a result, good and evil entered the world in the constant conundrum of more or less. At the heart of ‘what’s enough’ is the moral dilemma of more or less.

Shalom is not simply the absence of evil because everything is good and everything is good because God didn’t create anything intrinsically evil. Shalom is the idea that there is harmony between the creator and his creation and the creation with itself because the creator has given and supplied all of his creation with enough. The Fall, or disordering of Shalom, began as soon as Adam and Eve acted on the belief that they were no longer enough and desired more by taking and eating. In that moment they had to choose between taking more, believing they weren’t enough, or choosing less believing they were enough. The irony being that they opted for more and in return they had less. Immediately upon eating the fruit they felt like less, ashamed of their nakedness. Feeling like less led them to take more. The clothes served the purpose of covering what they were now ashamed of, their bodies. Not that making clothes is an inherently bad thing, however how much more has our feeling like less cost creation?

It’s worth noting there is no indication of them being ashamed of what they did. They were ashamed of what they were. Who they were was no longer enough. They felt less about themselves and in response they took something because their shame required more. Ultimately the common thread of the curses God pronounces to Adam and Eve is a lack of trust that has resulted from them believing they didn’t have enough and taking more. Mankind doesn’t trust God, mankind doesn’t trust one another, and the rest of creation doesn’t trust mankind. There’s enmity between the man and the woman, the plants grow thorns, and with great pain and anguish we multiply and provide for ourselves.

Unfortunately the struggle with what’s enough and for more or less continued immediately. In the following narratives of scripture Cain kills Abel, angry that it seems what he offers to the divine is not enough (ironically, in an agricultural civilization, God’s favor was perceived through the lens of receiving more or less of what ever was offered). In the days of Noah prior to the flood men are described as taking “as their wives any they chose.” The tower of babel just builds up on top of itself instead of expanding outward away from it self to include the world beyond its walls. 

How many injustices can we observe in our world today and in the annals of history that were sparked by the question, “what is enough?” How much blood has been spilled and stomachs stayed hollow due to the endless cycle of some having more, some having less, but neither one having enough? Some have more but feel like they can never have enough and so they take more. Others have less. They literally don’t have enough food, clothing, education, resources, etc. Countless wars have been started simply because someone wanted more, and countless revolutions were sparked because others were tired of less.

How many injustices can we observe in our world persist because of the cycle of shame and blame? We feel ashamed of who we are and we blame or scapegoat others for the things we feel ashamed of instead of dealing with the real problem which is resolving the question of what is enough.  

So whether or not we read Genesis 3 as an actual historical event or a metaphor, I’m sure we can all agree that it happened and is happening. We consider what’s enough, and we more or less decide it’s not.

99th Percentile

99th Percentile

Catapult is Watershed's local justice initiative committed to building supportive and encouraging partnerships with nearby schools. 

The 2016-2017 school year has begun and tutoring is fully underway at both of Watershed's CMS partner schools, Walter G. Byers and Shamrock Gardens Elementary. We're convinced that the 30-45 minutes our tutors spend with students each week is a worthwhile investment... but don't just take our word for it! We invited Shamrock Gardens Principal Sarah Reeves back to the Watershed stage last month, and she had some encouraging things to share about the impact of Catapult tutors on her Shamrock scholars last year (video below). 

Principal Reeves highlighted one success story about an English as a Second Language (ESL) scholar. This particular student and his tutor struggled to connect initially due to a challenging language barrier, but with consistency and effort a special relationship was formed. By the end of the school year, that young scholar's reading level had surpassed the 99th percentile in the state, and this year he's been placed in an advanced academic class. His reading level grew four years in the short time he was paired with his Catapult tutor! Principal Reeves attributed part of his growth and success to having a caring adult who showed up each week to invest in his education. 

If you aren't already involved with Catapult, it isn't too late to play a part! Here are some ways you can join Watershed's efforts to support students and educators in our city's schools:

  • Tutoring: Spend 30-45 minutes each week tutoring an elementary-aged student and building a special friendship! No education experience required, schools provide the tutoring material. We’ll work with you to set up a day and time that fits your schedule. Click here to express interest. Byers and Shamrock
  • Mentoring: Help out with Girls on the Run or Right Moves for Youth. Click here to learn more about each program and express interest. Byers Only
  • Staff Support: Become a Staff Pal to an educator, or join an email list to receive information about helping out at staff appreciation events throughout the year. Click here to learn more and get involved. Byers Only

If you have further questions, email Cedric, Watershed's Pastor of Justice & Leadership: