Forming Faith Blog

Loving in the Long-term (Do Justice)

Why “do justice”? It’s simple: love. In Scripture, love is not a feeling, it is intention and action. Love in the short term is charity. Love in the long-term is justice.

People protesting for long-term change.
Do Justice, Week 4

This is the fourth (out of five) blog post on biblical justice. I’ve chosen the five main points from our new Learning Together unit “Do Justice,” though I have taken each post in its own direction from there. The previous posts focus on:

Today I’ll focus on the reason for justice (spoiler: it’s love) and the difference between short-term love (charity) and long-term love (justice).

Love: The Double Commandment

Now, I’ve divided these topics up with words like foundation, heart, focus, and reason, though it’s more complicated than that. These are more like aspects of justice than distinct concepts. And you can replace the word “justice” in many of these statements with a more common word: love. That’s not a mistake.

When given a pop quiz on the single greatest commandment, Jesus “cheated” and gave two. He combined the command to love God completely from Deuteronomy 6:5 and to love your neighbor from Leviticus 19:18. The reason is related to the image of God.

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their [siblings], are liars; for those who do not love a [sibling] whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from [God] is this: those who love God must love their [siblings] also.

1 John 4:20-21

You cannot separate how you treat those made in the image of God from the One who created them in their image.

What Is Love?

But what is love? I have found this to be a common topic at church, for obvious reasons. In our culture, we use the term in many ways, from family to friends to objects of desire, but out of any other context, we often think of romantic love. But all of these have a central theme: love is extreme fondness. It is a feeling, or at least based on a feeling. And that feeling is often physically felt in our chests, which might be where our cultural fiction of the seat of love being in the organ that pumps blood comes from. But, while fondness can play a role in biblical, godly love, that’s a side issue.

Love is the intention and action that works for the benefit of others.

We cannot force a feeling that isn’t present. But we can intend and act toward the benefit of others. We can do that for people we like and those that we are apathetic toward and even those we extremely dislike. We might not be able to just decide to “love” someone emotionally, but we can intend and act in love whether we feel like it or not.

Short and Long

So, if we are working for the benefit of others, then there really isn’t a big difference between love and service. I often define service as “love in action,” but that’s kind of redundant. Though sometimes redundancy is okay.

If we are working for the benefit of others, then love is about meeting people’s needs. It’s a lot more complicated in real life, but you can oversimplify and categorize needs as short-term or long-term. And a lack of a needed resource is basically a problem. So, there are short-term problems and long-term problems that require our loving actions. Simply put, a short-term problem requires a short-term solution, and a long-term problem requires a long-term solution.

Short-term Problems and Charity

By definition, a short-term problem is immediate and often urgent. A person is hungry today. A victim of a natural disaster needs someplace to sleep tonight. An injured person needs medical attention now. A restaurant during a pandemic needs money this week.

Usually, our love-actions in response to short-term problems are gifts. A word sometimes used here is charity (or acts of mercy).

Long-term Problems and Justice

While a short-term problem is immediate, a long-term problem is chronic. And usually, long-term problems cause (or at least exacerbate) short-term problems. You can often identify long-term problems by asking the question “why?” the short-term problems exist. And often the answers are legion and interconnected.

A hungry person needs food. Why do they need food? Perhaps they don’t have a job. Why don’t they have a job? Perhaps they live with overwhelming anxiety. Why don’t they get treatment? Without a job, they don’t have health insurance and cannot afford the treatment. How do we work toward solving this problem? Perhaps we need to look at our healthcare system and the way we view mental health.

Our love-actions in response to long-term problems involve working to change systems. This is called justice.

Desmond Tutu put it this way:

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

Charity and Long-term Problems

Charity (or the provision of resources for immediate needs if you prefer) can solve immediate needs. A hungry person gets food and is no longer hungry today. A natural-disaster victim sleeps in a safe shelter tonight. An injured person gets medical treatment now. A restaurant gets a grant to pay its workers this week.

What charity cannot do is solve long-term problems. And if we try to do that, then we risk creating dependencies and more problems.

Of course, the opposite is true as well. Advocating for healthcare reform does not give a person treatment, a job, or food right now when the person needs them. There is an important place for both charity and justice.

Charity, Justice, and Faith Formation

As faith formation leaders, what can you do about this?

  1. Education: As in previous weeks, it is important to teach our faith formation participants about loving God, loving our neighbors, charity, and justice. One way to do this, even for younger participants, is to create an activity that has simplified short-term and long-term solutions (like Desmond Tutu’s river illustration).
  2. Review Your Efforts: If you are integrating service into your faith formation context, you can consider whether you are primarily addressing short-term problems or also working toward long-term justice (similar to the question of building resilience from the last post). If you have the capacity, balance the two.

Blessings to you as you do your ministry,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

VBS, Summer, and 2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources

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