Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Wonder, Heartbreak and Hope (11)
February 18, 2011
by Gideon Strauss
(In this series I reflect on my work as an interpreter for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the late 1990s, and try to tease out some of the biblical beginnings for a spirituality of political practice, looking in particular at a few Psalms.)
The covenant spirituality of the Psalms is a response to some of the good news that the Bible shares with us: the good news that the world in which we live is not a chaos, but a creation, and not a creation left to its own devices, but a creation sustained by its creator, who cares, minutely, moment by moment, for every created thing.
James W. Skillen, the former President of the Center for Public Justice, writes of this in his book A Covenant to Keep: Meditations on the Biblical Theme of Justice:
“Many times in my life I have been awestruck when seeing one of God’s creatures for the first time. God made millions of kinds of plants and insects and sea creatures and animals, each with distinct habits, a unique appearance, and different habitat. And God made humans capable of creating many different cultures.
“The grand symphonic complexity of God’s creation cries out for recognition and celebration. Each creature, because it is God’s, calls for special recognition and honor. Every creature, in other words, deserves justice so that the entire creation can testify to the glory of the Lord.”
One of my favorite places in which the Bible describes the promise-making and promise-keeping relationship of God to our complex created reality is in the prophecies of Jeremiah. Jeremiah (in 33:21-22) recounts this word of the Lord:
“If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne …”
This passage resonates for me with the picture painted in the wonder-Psalm 104 of a world made by God in wisdom and sustained by God in love, a world in which God delights in his creatures, and takes care of them—God, the self-existent, not distant, but fully engaged in patterning purpose and maintaining meaning:
“He made the moon to mark the appointed times, the sun knows its time for setting.”
There is indeed something in the public, Christian spirituality of creation and covenant that makes it possible that such a spirituality may also be a spirituality for the doing of justice. The very pattern of creation—the divine weaving together of myriad creatures in rich relationship—is a pattern of justice.
Jeremiah’s God speaks not only of keeping covenant with the large patterns of this universe—day and night—but also with human beings, in their political communities. When the heartbreak and darkness of political life threatens to collapse our trust in God and thrust us into despair, the witness of the moon and the sun reminds us—however bad things may get—that this world is not bereft of meaning because it is not abandoned by God.
To make the connection between the sun and moon enthroned in the sky to the sons of David enthroned among the people of Israel, to make the connection between the just order of sun, planets, moons and other orbiting creatures constituting our solar system, and the just political order of ruler and subjects, government and citizens, we have to consider the place of humanity among all God’s creatures. And this will take us to our next Psalm of wonder.
—Gideon Strauss is editor of Capital Commentary and CEO of the Center for Public Justice.
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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.”