Chapter 1 of Generous Justice starts with, what was for me, a new understanding of righteousness. One that is revolutionary to how we read the Bible. Keller talks about how “righteousness” in the Bible means living in a right relationship with God and with our fellow humans. Righteousness is not simply following a set of rules and commandments, but a way of life. It is a way of living that should invade and seep into every area of life.
How differently might we live our lives if we begin to read ‘righteousness’ in this new light? No longer is our “10%” good enough, our year end donations for tax credit seem like a cop-out. Keller says, “In the Scripture, gifts to the poor are called ‘acts of righteousness,’ as in Matthew 6:1-2.” Therefore, according to Keller, not giving to the poor is an act of “unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.” How would we view the homeless man we pass on the street if we thought that just walking by and ignoring him would be a violation of God’s law, and an act of unrighteousness?
Now I understand we can’t help every person we see in need every day (for some in big cities you might never make it from the subway to your office). But I think this should make us stop and evaluate how we are spending our time, money, and resources to help those around us. Maybe the money you have been saving up for that nice new car could be used instead to help feed, clothe, and shelter a family in need. What a greater reward that would be, rather than a new car or the latest smart phone.
Reading through this chapter was tough for me. Not because Keller used big words or the concepts were particularly hard to understand, but because the ideas cut me to my core. How many times had I frivolously spent money on something I didn’t need or felt a nudge to offer dinner to someone on the street and ignored them? More times than I care to admit. The worst part is, I had not even gotten to the most convicting part of the chapter yet…
In the final part of the chapter, Keller quotes the following passage from Ezekiel 18:7: “He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked.” Keller points out that in this passage, the text compares not providing food to the hungry and clothing to the naked as robbery. Robbery! The Bible tells us, and I’m sure we have heard it over and over in sermons that what we have is not our own, but God’s. Yet over and over again we treat it as our own. We treat it as though, no matter how hard we have worked for it, we have somehow earned it without God’s grace. Who are we to judge who is worthy of our help? Were we not rescued from the depths and depravity of our own sin when we deserved nothing more than damnation?
It so easy for us to try and separate our spiritual lives with our physical lives. We don’t want to go out of our way to help people we don’t know or might feel uncomfortable around. We like spending money on ourselves, not so much on the stranger in need. We too often want to see spiritual and physical lives as completely different things, when really the living of our physical lives should mirror our spiritual lives. I think Keller sums it up best when he says, “Nevertheless, if you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God.”