Read Genesis 1-2, Psalm 33:1–9, Psalm 139:1–18, and Numbers 6:22–27.
In recent years a popular meme has made its way through social media that goes something like this: “If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.”
It’s attributed to French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and is likely a paraphrase of this excerpt from his 1948 book, Citadelle, in which an individual wishes to build a boat:
"One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love."
Everything we do as human beings is motivated—in large and subtle ways, consciously and subconsciously—by our vision of the future, our definition of “the good life.” Even if we can’t articulate why we desire something, that desire shapes our actions. In the above scene, this community of people with a shared taste for the vast and endless sea naturally cooperate and collaborate in the more mundane tasks of building a boat. The call of the seas, the mystery of the deep—their why—motivates what they do and how they do it.
This is true of our pursuit of justice, too. For followers of Christ, we must ground our understanding of why justice is important in the biblical narrative. As image-bearers of God, we were designed for eternity, so we need to do our best to see this and all issues from the same eternal perspective our God has.
The entire Bible is necessary to understand God’s vision of flourishing, but it is perhaps clearest in the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation where we have a vision of humans flourishing before the introduction of sin and after the return of Christ when sin has been dealt with once and for all. There is no concept of “justice” in the garden of Eden because there is no “injustice.” Instead, the garden was in a constant state of shalom. Shalom is translated as “peace” in English, but that word doesn’t fully encompass shalom. Peace is defined as “freedom from disturbance, tranquility, a period in which there is no war or a war has ended,” but shalom denotes a deeper meaning.
“The ancient Hebrew concept of peace, rooted in the word ‘shalom,’ meant wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence.”1 Further, “Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being — physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right — with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.”2
Or, as Paul summarized in Colossians 1:19–20, “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him [Jesus], and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” and again in Ephesians 1:9–10, “He [God] made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Or, more simply, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Restoring the shalom of the garden, characterized by God’s kingdom on earth and all things submitted to Christ, is what justice is all about. Thinking about it in these terms broadens the concept of “injustice” and includes every aspect of life in need of God’s restoration, from human trafficking to broken marriages to physical illness.
As we explore these concepts over the next few days, we encourage you to adopt an eternal perspective and anchor your thinking on the high bar set by the total rule and reign of Christ as described in the garden. If we as the Church are going to be united in our partnership with Christ to bring His justice to earth, it’s important for us to share a longing for the vast and endless sea that is His kingdom.