a hunger for righteousness in an age of injustice

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. Isaiah 66:1

Young people today are big on justice. And it’s easy to see why. The world doesn’t seem, and is not in fact, fair.

Actually, when you are young it is easy to be frustrated and angry with things—the man, the system, the status quo. Growing up is partly about seeing the world as more complex, and more broken, than you could imagine as a kid. And blaming someone else is the easy option.

To criticise your government, your church, and your parents is easy. They clearly don’t see as clearly as you do, when you are 21. And the solutions are collective—if everyone did their part, pitched in a little trash, donated a little money, took a little mission trip (on someone else’s money), took on a little cause, the world would be a cleaner, safer, more just place.

Except it wouldn’t.

Everyone would have to do a lot, to make a difference. And while we can all make a little contribution, hardly anyone will make a big sacrifice. For the most part, young people want the government to solve the big problems, even though they don’t vote. And they want the church to be more compassionate and less principled, even though they don’t go.

But neither the church or the government is really responsible. The problem, as always, is the human heart. It might be the human heart of a politician or preacher, of course. But it is also the heart of the young person who blends apathy with advocacy so effortlessly.

That may be why Jesus himself was less concerned with human organizations than with human motivations. He was constantly pointing his interlocutors toward issue of character rather than issues of culture. He didn’t want the rich young ruler to leave everything and give it to the poor for social reasons. He wanted the young man to recognize the idolatry of his heart.

Nor was it ever an issue of just trying harder. His instruction to Nicodemus, who had certainly tried hard enough, was that he needed a new heart, one “born of the spirit.”

This transformation is dependent on Christ’s work and God’s grace. It leads to, rather than results from, a hunger for righteousness. Righteousness leads to justice, but it is not the same thing. One is an external reflection of an internal state. Righteousness is personal. Justice is social.

It is those that hunger for righteousness, Christ says, who will be satisfied. But that satisfaction comes from outside ourselves, as surely as the bread and water which Christ says he himself is. He satisfies. And transforms.

This may be the hardest thing for young people today. Or in any age. They are not smart enough, and they can’t work hard enough, to change anything. Not even themselves.

Depending on God’s grace and power is to finally get over ourselves. We call such humility repentance unto salvation and God alone gets the glory.

Changing the world requires changing ourselves and we can’t do it on our own. That’s why preaching the gospel is more important than feeding the poor, although both are necessary.

Justice comes from the inside out.

Note: This is part of the jungle series, on issues confronting Christian college graduates today.

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