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Justice: A Theological Interpretation..Part 1

It seems as if the notion of justice is one that is touted so much these days that those who continually hear of the term may get annoyed at the very mention of the word. Justice and equity and right and wrong are everyday platitudes that bombard the minds of individuals from every strata of the socio-economic scale. However, such concepts still seem enigmatic, the notion of justice and equity – does justice necessarily mean a one size fits all philosophy or are there different strokes for different folks? How do the poor and the oppressed fit into the plan and design of God when speaking of the idea of justice? These are questions that one must answer in a true discussion of what is just (from a theist perspective). Many people often think of justice from a contracted and narrow point of view often neglecting the true source of real justice and taking a view of the issue that seems to still favour those who seem to already have the justice that they desire. To get an accurate picture of the justice issue we can go back to the book of Genesis.
The book of Genesis is so named because it presents a historical view of the advent of creation through the eyes of Moses, the author, who would have written the book some years after his own birth. Through the revelation of God, Moses penned the story of Abraham, Sarah and her hand maid Hagar in the accounts given in Genesis 16 and 21. These stories are rather interesting since it presents two focal characteristics of the God of the Bible. In the first account in chapter 16, Sarah, (then named Sarai), being impatient with regards to the promise that God had given her and Abraham decided to help God in his mission, the kind of help God could have done without, by offering her maid Hagar to Abraham so that he could bring forth a child.

As a result of her actions, Hagar gives birth to a son named Ishmael. But like so many other cases of sexual impropriety, animosity arose between Sarai and her maid (now “maytee”) and the Bible records that Sarai treated Hagar harshly. Eventually, under the passive actions of Abraham, Hagar fled from the camp of Abraham into the wilderness. The angel of the Lord meets Hagar “by a spring of water in the wilderness,” and after a brief dialogue she is commissioned to return to the camp of Abraham and submit herself to her master Sarai.

There is a temporary lull in the story but it continues in chapter 21 with the birth of Isaac, the biological son of Abram and Sarai. Sarai again seeing the son of her maid “mocking” (vs. 9), which is Sarai biased interpretation of the actions of Ishmael as being sinister, appeals to her husband and he is encouraged by God to do as his wife says and once again Hagar is sent away into the desert with bread and a skin of water...with her son. When the water in the skin was finished verse 15 – 16 records that she left the boy under a bush and went to sit opposite him because she did not desire to see her seed die, and she lifted up her voice and cried to the Lord. God heard her cry and visits her in the desert and a promise of life is given....a similar promise like that given to Abraham about Isaac that he, Ishmael, would become a great nation.

One innocent mistake that many persons who read these stories make is that they read the story from the top down; in other words from the point of view of the advantaged, Abraham and Sarai. But the story is actually told from the stand point of the one who was at the disadvantage, Hagar. It is Hagar that is in focus and it is her troubles and resulting promise that is in view. In highlighting the situation of Hagar, two crucial and interrelated points can be discovered. In the first case it points to the fact that God is a God who locates himself in the desert. God positions himself in the desert, in the wilderness, a representation of the dry and barren places and situations in life. He is located in the deserted and destitute places where life is hard, where people are placed at a disadvantage either because of oppressive powers, or being born into the situation or by any other contributing factor. The desert, the barren and destitute places of and in life is where God positions himself. God in the story twice met Hagar in the wilderness.This is a marvelous thought for those who are in such positions, to know that God is a God who finds himself in the same league of the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged. He is not a God who is aloof and out of sync with those who are suffering.

A second point can be seen and that is that true justice is an ideology that originates from the standpoint of the oppressed – those who are downtrodden and have had that justice ripped from their grasp and reach. True justice is seen and interpreted from the bottom up; from the line of sight of the oppressed and not the oppressor. Hagar was justified as God met her in the desert, lifted her head and gave her a promise. Justice is and must be seen first from the point of view of the poor – those who are denied that justice. Justice can and will never be fair if it is seen from the point of view of the rich and famous, those whose socio-economic status allow them to seemingly float above the reach of oppression and poverty. It must be seen in light of those who cannot defend themselves and whose life is lived on the edge everyday, where food is a chronic necessity not a luxury, and where having your case tried fairly in the law courts seems out of reach because money is insufficient and those who do have the money pull the strings and bribes are always welcomed maladies.


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