On the morning of 23 rd September 2019, I was in the office kitchen, making my usual early morning coffee, and casually catching up with colleagues when the news of the horrific Precious Talent School collapse in Ng’ando came in, and the terror of having lost initially seven, and later, eight young lives. I should say wasted, not lost. Or perhaps stolen. Stolen by injustice. Not stolen by an individual, or a single act of injustice. Stolen by an unjust system. A system crafted to maintain the exploitation of the city’s poorest and most marginalized. Systems replicated the world over with similar design.
As I type, I’m told the owners of Precious Talent School are in prison, but I don’t believe that to be justice. At least not in its entirety. Perhaps it is an illusion of justice. And so we begin to unpack the complexities of seeking justice in a broken system.
As opposed to the broken systems we see so prevalent in the world around us, the God-ordained systems of scripture (such as Jubilee) were crafted to protect the vulnerable, to serve the poor and the marginalized, to see the acceptance of the foreigner, and to give priority to widows and orphans. The systems of our world today too often exploit the poor and elevate the rich, going against so much of what God intends.
I have always loved diving into the meaning of Shalom. In the Old Testament, we begin to see the unveiling of Jehovah Shalom. Shalom is commonly translated as ‘Peace’ but it has a much richer meaning when studied in context, and considered in the original Hebrew. Shalom really translates as ‘wholeness’. Fast forward to the New Testament, and we witness the birth of Christ as our promised Prince of Peace (Prince of Wholeness). With the incarnation of God in Christ as Prince of Peace, we witness perhaps the most significant piece of God’s redemptive jigsaw, as Christ lives and dies to bring wholeness (peace/shalom) to each one of us. God’s desire is for us to experience the Shalom of God, the wholeness of God, and the peace that this brings is at the core of his plan for salvation.
It has been my experience that injustice is a critical barrier to wholeness, a barrier to our fullest experience of the Prince of Peace. Injustice comes in many forms – poor quality healthcare, lack of access to education, exploitation by an employer, extrajudicial beatings and shootings, child trafficking, insufficient public services, corrupt government officials, selfish leaders…the list goes on. What does ‘wholeness’ mean for the average individual, for families, for communities? Wholeness means the freedom to overcome these injustices and to live with dignity, with hope, with joy, and with peace. I am in no way suggesting that life should be consistently happy and carefree, but that Shalom peace, the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), the peace that goes beyond circumstance, is part of the wholeness that God desires each of his children to experience. God offers that shalom, that
wholeness, in the person of Christ. And so, in bringing Christ to our neighbours, our friends, our families and our communities, we must crave to be channels of the same wholeness. Channels of God’s shalom. Channels of peace. Channels of dignity. Channels of hope. Channels of justice. What does that mean in the context of injustice? How does this look in the midst of the darkness of broken systems that perpetuate injustice and darkness; systems that should protect, but instead exploit?
“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and oppressors free.” (Shane Claibourne)
In a recent discussion with a (dearly loved) friend, he pointed to my ‘justice bias’ – suggesting that my habit of seeing everything with a ‘(in)justice lens’ was simply a bias that reflected a personal passion. I wholeheartedly disagree, and I feel that this speaks to a deeply rooted problem within the church, where justice is often seen as an ‘optional extra’. I believe that what we see throughout scripture –in the Old Testament, through the New Testament, and modelled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ- is that justice is God’s, very heart. We need to revolutionize our limited view of justice. It is not simply one thing on God’s to-do list. It is part of the very character of God. Jehovah Shalom. As we experience
God, as we seek Him, as we desire to share God with others, we cannot do so without embracing this. We must not undersell the importance of justice as part of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.
If the Church (both universal body of Christ and local institution), is to be a reflection, embodiment, and representation of God’s eternal Kingdom, we must embrace and pursue justice, bringing peace and wholeness to broken systems of injustice.
If the Church is to ‘seek and save the lost’, is to disciple; we must embrace and pursue justice, bringing peace and wholeness to broken systems of injustice. We must actively seek justice that breaks down barriers to wholeness, barriers to dignity, barriers to hope, barriers to peace. By actively seeking justice we create space for each and every individual to experience the fullness of Christ as the Prince of Peace, Prince of Shalom.
‘The prophetic tasks of the church are, to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.” (Walter Brueggeman)
Back to Precious Talent, the school in Ng’ando. Only 37% of children living within Nairobi’s informal settlements are able to access government schooling (APHRC). The remaining 63% are catered for in schools like Precious Talent – schools birthed by the communities in which they live to meet the needs of those communities, typically poorly resourced, and lacking everything from qualified teachers to sufficient textbooks. What does a just system look like? A just system, at least in the context of education, is one in which the government provides every child access to a quality education that enables them to thrive, and reach their full, God-given potential. If the system was just, parents would not be forced to compromise, communities would not be forced to offer services to children in poor,
cramped infrastructure that cannot protect them.
May we, as individuals, as families, and as the church, be part of the system that offers justice and dignity, not the system that takes those things away. There is Hope in the Prince of Peace, may we be bringers of Hope.