It was one of those incidental conversations that happen at the back of an airplane. Old(er) men walking and stretching; a camaraderie in avoiding thrombosis. We struck up a conversa-tion and it wasn’t too long before I was in a world of international development aid, capacity building, human rights, and justice. It was all quite fascinating. He was retired and certainly had views from his decades of experience. He knew about Lutherans – which was a little un-usual I would have thought on a flight out of Australia – but hadn’t talked to one in a long time. In the course of the conversation I was asked a number of ‘scenario’ and ‘position’ questions which might have an overall ‘theme’ about how should we respond to injustice? What does one do when the state – the government – is evil? Do people have rights? I replied to the questions in various contexts and was simply shocked when judged as being almost amoral – largely due, I think, to my recognition that all authority has its origins with God. I didn’t accept the judgement!
In the conversation I asked for his views and predic-tions on various world situations and he drew on his experience to answer. I listened to the predictions – very interesting – but was shocked to hear his assess-ment and support for actions that produce suffering and injustice for individuals. I questioned further and in the real-politick of limited resources, human selfishness, one has to make judge-ments between the many and the few. That’s tough going for the few!
In truth however I wasn’t too sure that we were that far apart. My talk of ‘assessing and serving one’s neighbour’ I felt was akin to his ‘analysing and implementing capacity’. I had a more indi-vidual view and he had a more structural view. But I felt that where we were most different was in the source of our approach and the ‘who says?’ something is right or wrong, just or unjust, compassionate or evil. He went to declarations, legislation, and anthropology about an inher-ent goodness in humanity. I went to the Bible and its message of sin and grace. Both ap-proaches for a foundation of life – a way of seeing things – are open to varied interpretations!
What this brought home to me was that for Jesus the Kingdom of God wasn’t a theocracy on Earth. The salt and light he talked about always exist in decay and darkness. The Early Church grew up under some pretty rotten Caesars at times and didn’t stage a revolution. In-deed Christianity is only legal and mainstream in the 4th century and yet it already had a perva-sive influence – because Christians served those around them. We live in a very different time now but I think the principle remains – that Christians serve where they are – using the best information they have at hand. They serve in all parts of society because they can be found in the cogs of pretty well most of it. It requires discernment always and courage at times because we look to Jesus to see whether what we’re doing really does serve our neighbour. If it does serve our neighbour then we probably do what the government, the organisation, the boss, the relationship expects of us. However if it doesn’t serve our neighbour – maybe it really serves ourselves for example – then we have to work out what does serve our neighbour and do that – and that mightn’t suit the government, the organisation, the boss, the relationship! There are no easy answers!
We might sing that God has got the whole wide world in his hands – and it is true – but this world is very much a product of ourselves. As the individual is sinful, so is the world and every-thing we touch. But God doesn’t smash his hands together and obliterate us. Rather his hands are pierced to show that love truly can find ways to serve. Jesus did it for us all. We also can share the blessing with those around us – even if the world might think us amoral. (The Roman Empire initially killed Christians because they were guilty of atheism!) — GS