Think for a moment about some of the most beautiful things you have seen.
Maybe a mountain range, field of flowers, a baby’s smile or a sunset spread across the sky
Now think for a moment about some of the ugliest things you have seen.
Maybe the effects of disease, physical poverty, human violence or oppression
What is it that makes some things beautiful and other things ugly? In chapter 8 Keller sums this question up with the word Shalom. Shalom, usually translated as “peace” means complete reconciliation, a state of fullest flourishing in every dimension – physical, emotional, social and spiritual- because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy. (pg 174)
When things are operating as God designed they elicit a sense of peace, gratitude, awe, and unity. Basically, the way things were intended to be prior to sin. That’s shalom. However, when disunity, brokenness and chaos prevail an immediate sense of ugliness comes to pass. Shalom is severed and dysfunction is introduced.
In a world filled with sin, brokenness and dysfunction the absence of shalom seems to surround us. When I walk through certain areas of my city I see the effects of drug abuse, broken relationships and systems as well as violence and aggression. When I read stories of sex trafficking across the world I see a deep ugliness resulting from greed, addiction and the lack of human dignity. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to watch the news and not be bombarded by the ugly aspects of sin and brokenness.
Simply put, the ugly injustices in our world reflect the fact that our relationships with God have broken down and shalom is gone – spiritually, psychologically, socially, and physically.
Where does that leave Christians?
How do we restore beauty (justice and shalom) in the midst of the ugly (injustice and brokenness)?
One of the things that I have appreciated about this book, and it is reiterated again in this final chapter, is that justice is something to be done. It is a task God has called his people to throughout scripture, and doing justice (Micah 6:8) can’t be accomplished without action. Here are two ways in this chapter that Keller encourages Christians to be a part of restoring God’s beauty in society.
1) Weaving ourselves into the threads of society.
Doing justice means going places where the fabric of shalom has broken down. It means sacrificially using our time, goods, power and resources towards the betterment and needs of others. In essence Keller is encouraging Christians to involve themselves into society by creating relationships that help to restore people and bring about shalom.
How can you do that in your city?
My neighbors Joel and Maria and their daughter Kiera are doing that by befriending the vulnerable young girls in our neighborhood. With several low-income, broken families on the street my neighbors invite the girls over to their home to experience life with them. Daily you will see several young girls hanging out across the street on their porch, playing games, snacking and laughing. Weekly you will see a group of kids piled into their car heading off to church on Saturday night. By providing a loving listening ear and a safe place to pass time my neighbors are weaving justice into the world of these young girls.
2) See Jesus in their faces.
It is sometimes difficult to see God’s beauty in the face of the poor. They are often struggling and living in situations of need, suffering and disorder. Keller encourages Christians to not see the poor as recipients of charity but as images of Christ. Part of weaving justice into society is beginning to see people the way God sees them.
In Jesus Christ, God identified with the poor and related to their injustices. He relates to their plight and cares for their inequalities. As we will talk about in the next blog post, seeing Jesus in the face of the poor begins inside our hearts and moves into justice spreading action.
I have seen this lived out in my friend Jim who has cared for the internationals in his city. His passion to see them treated with dignity and justice has resulted in numerous activities, gatherings and church initiatives to connect his church congregation with those who are lonely and need a helping friend. Jim sees Jesus in their faces and it shows by his sacrificial service of loving those often forgotten.
In a world that seems void of shalom, Christians are called to be beauty restorers. By weaving ourselves into the lives of the poor and vulnerable we can be part of helping them see the beauty of God in their lives.
How might God be calling you to be involved in the life of the vulnerable? We can all make a long list of the ugly things in this world. Let’s begin to be a part of turning those uglies into beautiful things. Together by the grace of God maybe the injustices we see today will be replaced with shalom tomorrow.Image courtesy of dlbezaire / Flick.com