I’ve had some time to reflect on this, and it has come to me what was bothering me about Tim Keller’s book “Generous Justice”. Don’t get me wrong, I like the book, and I don’t mean to disrespect pastor Keller at all. I am a guy with no ministry and no following and no published book, just a tiny blog. Think of this as having a beer with Tim Keller to go over a few things in a genial manner; I don’t now what he would say but this is what I would say in response to his wonderful book.
The problem is that mercy and grace offend justice. The gospel is scandalous precisely because of this, and we cannot sweep it under the rug. That is the essential nature of the gospel; unless you believe in Christ’s propitiation, forgiveness is an affront to justice. If the church or anyone dispensed justice, then actually everyone would die. This is why, when you get down to it, homeless people have truly earned their homelessness. There is no justice in helping them. They will misuse the help. It is unjust to keep helping them. If we give someone money on the street, they will possibly use it on the addiction that led them to beg for it. Justice demands we withhold help, that what they reaped they have sown.
It won’t quite work to try to couch help for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the addict, as justice, because there may be a niggling suspicion, perhaps a justified suspicion, that they deserve their plight. We feel it, we draw back from helping. It is dangerous to get involved; we feel how it offends the justice we know should prevail.
Our motivation for helping the poor must reach beyond justice, and on to grace. It must seek favor and prosperity which justice alone would withhold. It must seek love which goes justice and on to grace.
What this teaches us is that grace must first and most profoundly apply personally to me. It must not demand that I give mercy, that I extend grace; I am not the source of this fountain. I am leading others to a great fountain of help and provision that I just as undeservedly drink from. We want to see grace flourish in community, we want to share the joy because it really is so wonderful TO ME. We cannot go around wondering if blessing ought to be given, whether or not it is just. We have entered a gift culture, we have received an abundance. We receive blessing, not because we deserve it, but as a free gift. So we ought to love others.
The same heart which operates under grace to speak spiritual blessing, also sees teh plight of the whole person and seeks to bless. There is no division or stopping of blessing by dividing it into spiritual and non-spiritual categories. The same man who needs release from shame and regret needs food and physical healing. Grace and love want it all for him, no holds barred.
The circle of this kind of love which transcends justice on a personal level can then extend to family, to friends, to church members, and to society. Why should we help? Because we have been helped. As redeemed Christians, as believers, we have entered into a gift culture, and we extend a strong kindness to others, not because they deserve it, but because of love. The message is this: we need grace to prevail, on a deep personal level first, on an interpersonal level, and on a societal level. This is the kingdom of God come to earth.