Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Bringing Order. Establishing Justice. Treating Water.
November 17, 2012
By Katie Tarara
Watching coverage of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction prompted reflections on the people whose job it will be to restore water service, to repair roads and sidewalks and to work with people who suffered great loss to make things close to right again.
These events shine a bright light on many vocations I have generally thought very little about. But this fall I have been part of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s Civic Leadership Academy in Pittsburgh, which brings together community members from different neighborhoods in the city to learn about how city government functions. I heard the head of Environmental Services beam about his team of refuse collectors; I have walked through the water treatment facility that processes water from the Allegheny (“beautiful river”) to make it clean and safe.
In the run up to the presidential election, I was forced—through the constant stream of political advertising—to consider government whether I wanted to or not. This time, I have been particularly frustrated with the tone of races at every level. I started to wonder: What is government for, anyway? Should I vote? Should I care? Does this even matter?
Fortunately, others have asked these same questions for centuries. The Center for Public Justice has been providing thoughtful answers from a Christian perspective for nearly 30 years, and their conclusions have helped me to shape mine.
Government is intended to establish public justice and to bring order. Though I have often thought that justice-establishing and order-making were results of the fall, I am coming to see things a bit differently.
Throughout scripture men and women are instructed by God to bring order—not out of the disorder of sin, but as the creative outlet of our image-bearing nature. Adam gives names to the animals—because God couldn’t think of names? No, because nomenclature is within our scope. Then man and woman are instructed to fill the earth and subdue it.
The fall does make the need for order and justice more acute, and the ordering process itself gets twisted up. Man’s need for power and autonomy gets in the way of seeking God’s perfect order, and the good purpose of government is now supplemented by the need to restore justice in the face of oppression and exploitation. The Old Testament is filled with governing—the Law, for example, and the specific sections about how leaders ought to lead. God raised up judges and then kings to keep order and establish justice, all of which point to His perfect plan for restoring all things.
Even after Christ’s resurrection, God continues to use human structures. In Acts 6, the apostles set up a leadership team, a governing body within the new church to ensure justice for the Hellenic widows. Paul speaks to kings and authorities with respect. The church points to government as a good structure with its own purposes—distinct from the church, but not divorced from it.
All of this has me thinking: what about in the new heaven and the new earth? Will we need government then?
When the river of life flows through the center of the city and there is no more crying or sickness, will we need a water treatment plant? I imagine we will, because unless our resurrection bodies can process sand there will be some work to do. A perfect river may not cause disease, but it will still flow through a riverbed, likely to involve perfected dirt. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewage Authority (PWSA) spends as much energy getting natural silt out of the water with giant filters as it does putting chemicals into the water to kill nasty things. In fact the PWSA is consistently a national leader in water treatment, so some of the technology developed there may well last into eternity.
And then, how will we get to the water in the New Jerusalem? Will it be on each family to go to the river and carry their water back to those mansions prepared for them by Christ? Or will there be a system of pipes and valves that use physics to get water to where it is needed? I know several amazing organizations doing great work in developing nations to help stop the need to carry water every day—surely the Holy City will have some sort of system for that as well—when all is as it is meant to be.
It is easy for me in my lack of hope to imagine that government itself is bad and outside of what God intends for his people. Yet, I see God glorified in a map of water distribution that makes sure the 90 neighborhoods of Pittsburgh have access to clean water daily without significant cost to the family. This is public justice that we can see (and taste and bathe in.) This doesn’t mean the system is perfected. It doesn’t mean that the people who work in local government are perfect in their motives and actions. But neither can I write government off as somehow outside of God’s care, and therefore my own.
As leaders begin to take office after this election cycle, please join me in praying that at every level of government God will continue to be glorified by the bringing of order and establishing of justice.
—Katie Tarara is the Director of Development, Communications & Marketing at Serving Leaders in Pittsburgh, PA. She meets with a group of other citizens in Pittsburgh to learn and apply the principles of the Center for Public Justice in their local context.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”