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Quote form the Mennonite Statement of Faith, Article 22

Nov 23 2021

"According to Greek and Roman ideas of justice, people should get what they deserve. According to the Bible, justice involves healing and restoring relationships. That is a reason for the special concern for the poor and the oppressed evident in the Bible (Deut. 24:10-22; Matt. 20:1-16; James 2:5)."

The more I learn about ancient Israel compared to other ancient cultures, the more I understand why Judeo-Christian thinking is unique. This, in turn, opens my eyes to the impact the expansion of the Christian church has had on the world (This is not intended to minimalize Judaism's influence, but for most of history, Judaism's influence was relatively 'local', whereas Christianity started immediately as an evangelistic movement, spreading throughout the known world with amazing speed.)  The quote above,  a footnote in the Mennomnite statement of faith, is a case in point.

Besides being the only monotheistic faith in the ancient world, Judaism was unique in the ancient world in its focus on redemption. One purpose the Old Testament Law served was to reconcile man with his neighbor; another to reconcile man with God.  Certainly there are some examples of God's justice coming like a consuming fire: the destructions of Sodom and Gomaorrah, the Canaanites, and Jericho.  But in each of these cases, some were spared. And while these accounts get a lot of attention in Sunday school classes, passages like these are a very small part of what is contained in the Old Testament as a whole.  So much more time is spent on laws meant to bring restoration for sins, Psalms that often emphasized repentance and forgiveness, Proverbs addressing how to avoid conflict in the first place, and accounts of individuals, friendships, families, and the entire nation of Israel being restored and redeemed.

This was, for the most part, not the Greek, Norse, Egyptian or Roman mindset.  And it was certainly not the mindsets of their gods.  Their so-called gods were gods of vengence, conquest, and warring - even among themselves.  The question that strikes me as worth considering further is, "How did this once 'normal' concept of justice become antiquated, obsolete?" It is because of the spread of the God od the Bible and His influence throughout the world.

I believe humans are a vengeful species.  Again, the foundational beliefs of the pre-Christian world are indicators that this is a fair assumption.  It has been, if not only, certainly primarily, when the Gospel reaches a culture that the mindset shifts to one of grace-bent restorationn  rather than the mindset of enraged vengence.  After all, if Jesus died to forgive me and restore me to the God I once rebelled against (to say nothing of the people I offended, and those who offended me) how can I do otherwise.

This merciful forgiveness was beautifully displayed in a Charleston, SC coourt house a few years back when Nadine Collier, the daughter of a murder victim in a racist mass killing, spoke to white supremicist Dylann Roof and told him she forgave him.  He was unpenitant, but she forgave him anyway.  She knew that restoration is the ultimate desired outcome when offended, even in such a heinous way.  As far as it was up to Ms. Colloier, she would be at peace even with Mr. Roof. This is why I believe the death penalty is not something I can support.  In fact, even in puritanical, colonial New Englan, those found guilty of a capital charge were given adequate time and spiritual counsel to hopefully come to a place of repentance (albeit, without actually dismissing the sentnece of capital punishment.)  In an unbelievable example, Son of Sam, alias of the serial killer David Berkowitz, is now a chaplain in the prison where he is serving a life sentence without parole.  There are many accounts of how Berkowitz's spiritual counsel has helped not just prison inmates, but staff as well.  It was the redemption found in Jesus that changed not just one life, but many others whom the redeemed inmate ministered to.

A religion made by man will have the reason and heart of mankind, which makes it no religion at all.  But the Christian Gospel is so counterintuitive that it's hard to believe it is NOT devinely inspired.  The grace and mercy of the Gospel is foreign to humankind's very essence, and can only be imparted by God's very Spirit through faith.  And that is Who makes justice and restoration not only a possibility but a promise






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