“God is a craftsman, an artisan,” says Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice (p.172).
The story of creation told in the Bible is different from other ancient creation stories, Keller says. The biblical account does not have the world coming into being out of a battle or struggle; the God of the Bible is depicted as an artist or sculptor. Keller focuses on the biblical metaphor of creation as a fabric.
“… [T]he world is not like a lava cone, the product of powerful random eruptions, but rather like a fabric. Woven cloth consists of innumerable threads interlaced with one another. … [T]he fabric metaphor conveys the importance of relationship. … The threads must be rightly and intimately related to one another in literally a million ways. Each thread must go over, under, around, and through the others at thousands of points. Only then do you get a fabric that is beautiful and strong, that covers, fits, holds, shelters, and delights.” (p.173)
But the fabric of this creation has been torn by sin. It has removed shalom. We tend to translate shalom as “peace,” Keller says, but it “means far more” and is better captured by “complete reconciliation” in all relationships
“Because our relationship with God has broken down, shalom is gone–spiritually, psychologically, socially, and physically.” (p.177)
So, how does this relate to justice?
“In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor.
“… The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it.” (p.177)
“The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks. (p.180)
Keller then turns to beauty and its relation to justice–a connection I had never seen and I wrote about it recently.
“It takes an experience of beauty to knock us out of our self-centeredness and induce us to become just.” (p.183)
As Keller begins to bring the book to a close, he has a great section titled “God in the Face of the Poor.”
“… [I]n the incarnation and death of Jesus we see God identifying with the poor and marginal liberally. Jesus was born in a feed trough. When his parents had him circumcised the offering they made–two pigeons–was that prescribed for the poorest class of people in the society. He lived among the poor and the marginalized, who were drawn to him even as the respectable were repulsed by him. We see the kind of life he led when he said, ‘Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his lead’ (Luke 9:58). At the end of his life he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, spent his last evening in a borrowed room, and when he died he was laid in a borrowed tomb. They cast lots for his only possession, his robe, for there on the cross he was stripped of everything. He died naked and penniless. he had little the world valued and the little he had was taken. He was discarded–thrown away. But only because of Him do we have any hope.
“In Jesus Christ God identified not only with the poor, but also with those who are denied justice. … Jesus identifies with the millions of nameless people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, robbed of their possessions, tortured, and slaughtered.” (pp.185-186)
“He not only became one of the actually poor and marginalized, he stood in the place of all those of us in spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.
“Now that is a thing of beauty. To take that into the center of your life and heart will make you one of the just.” (p.188)
Referring to Proverbs 14:31, Keller concludes the book by saying, “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” (p.189)
Thank you, Timothy Keller, for enriching our lives through this book. May we better know Jesus and do justice.
(This is my ninth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)