Public Square

The World Is Not on Your Shoulders

You Have a Duty to Seek Justice, but You Don't Seek It Alone
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Most of the time we dare not think too much about the sheer amount of evil in the world, lest we become paralyzed by it and despair of ever changing things for the better.

Yet the Bible makes clear that justice should be a primary concern of ours. In Micah 6, we are told God desires justice even above offerings of “thousands of rams” and “ten thousands of rivers of oil”:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

When we dwell on the myriad injustices in our world today – poverty, slavery, sex trafficking, etc. – we feel impelled to act. At the same time, the weighty magnitude of these problems chills our resolve and may keep us from rousing ourselves altogether.

We can overcome that weight of despair if we remember this: no one of us is responsible for the world. We have a duty to “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17), but for any given person that duty does not encompass the entire globe. We are all aware of suffering in the world, each of us attuned to some kinds more than others. It is by knowing which types we are best suited to address that we can function as God’s unique instruments of justice.

This is just one of several truths to be found in Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming, and the one I will focus on today.

Justice in Focus

There are more opportunities than ever before to become involved in fighting injustice, with nonprofits, charities, and all manner of altruistic ventures in plentiful supply. They all make requests on our time and resources, leaving us trying to figure out which ones to support.

So many causes seem righteous and urgent – imperative, even. How are we supposed to choose? Surely it is impossible to support them all?

It is impossible, but it wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. Annan writes that spreading our attention too thinly leads to a reduced impact all around:

To practice attention in a way that serves justice well, we need to deliberately focus so we don’t spread our efforts scattershot and make no real difference.

Suppose you set aside $500 each month for charitable donations. It’s hard to imagine what fifty organizations could do with $10 each, but not so hard to see that $100 each for five organizations has a much better chance of making a difference. Likewise, nominal involvement with a multiplicity of nonprofits will probably not make much of an impact, whereas deeper commitment at a smaller number of organizations will likely lead to work of greater significance.

For this and other reasons – one being that some efforts are more efficacious in bringing lasting change than others – we must be discriminating about which causes to support. Apart from the question of effectiveness, how should we decide?

What Strikes a Chord

For each of us there will be issues that resonate with our hearts. In music, resonance occurs when the vibration of a sound is amplified by an acoustic system that shares the same frequency of vibration. (If you hum in the shower, you might have noticed that one or two notes sound more powerful than the rest.) Similarly, says Annan, we can determine which causes to focus on by thinking about which ones deeply affect us:

Part of this practice of attention involves asking ourselves, What breaks my heart? In the world, my country or my neighborhood, what makes me angry because it should be better?

This doesn’t mean we have to get worked up over an issue in order to volunteer or donate, but it is a natural way to identify causes we are likely to remain committed to, rather than losing enthusiasm along the way or giving up altogether.

In addition to finding causes that resonate, we should also take into account our unique gifts and inclinations:

We’re each responsible for the gifts God entrusts to us. It’s important and freeing to discern a clear calling.

This applies particularly to volunteer work. If we can find opportunities that capitalize on our native gifts, our capacity to serve will increase proportionally.

Again, we are not required to volunteer only in fields for which we already have a strength or predisposition, but weighing options with these factors in mind can help maximize the fruits of our labors and make our commitments sustainable. By investing more in a smaller number of ventures instead of less into a larger number, we can have a greater impact and a lasting will to continue.

Many Members, One Body

The way each of our hearts resonates with the world’s suffering and the gifts we have been granted both point to God’s calling on our lives in the realm of justice. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

Just as we are not expected to be jacks-of-all-trades in our careers, neither is it right or reasonable to believe that it is up to any one of us to set the world to rights by combating every variety of injustice. This work is not for one alone, but for the body of Christ together.

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