A primary emphasis in ancient Hebrew language was to narrate an experience in vivid fashion so that the listener(s) could experience it for themselves on some level. While there is an obvious intent to sway the listener by adding a moral slant to the telling, we know from anecdotes in Scripture that the heart can filter it out and gain a different moral viewpoint. However, that occurs within an atmosphere that takes for granted things our culture insists cannot be — analysis took place in the heart-mind.
We can’t replicate that environment, but we can reclaim that moral discernment. Answering the world’s questions about our faith includes an indictment on how wrong the world is now, and how it is wrong. It indicates a path to moral truth without any attempt to define or dictate the results of taking the path.
Christian Mysticism presumes a direct encounter with God. He has made it fairly clear that no two of us will experience His Presence in the same way. Overlap, yes, but He makes each of us with our own DNA and our own individual character. The net result is that we each have our own circle of people with whom we overlap enough to share, as God intended us to be social creatures. Tension is natural and not a threat.
Indeed, I often make the case that the fundamental focus of all the Law Covenants is social stability. The image is far larger than the words, of course, but I am convinced the tag fits. Notice in the Law of Moses how much is aimed at shaping the way people interact by drawing moral boundaries. It’s such a critical element in understanding God that it dominates the Old Testament; it’s a major element in how we relate to God. He takes as a personal insult our abuse of others.
There’s a lot less about how we relate to the rest of Creation, and yet we can tell from passing mention that it’s just as important. To me, it suggests that dealing with nature is a lot less complicated than dealing with other people. And indeed, we know that humans are fallen, but the rest of the universe is not. The physical realm around us is under the Curse of the Fall only because God designed everything with us as stewards and managers, so nature is waiting for us to claim that divine heritage and do it right. Nature is difficult only because we are.
But if you can get yourself into the firm grip of moral justice among people, it’s awfully hard to violate nature at the same time. It’s so hard that it took a massive conspiracy between Satan and a million human lackeys to create an entire civilization devoted to anything but doing it right. Western thinking kills nature, making it passive lump awaiting our whims and direct mechanical control. When we aren’t worshiping the creature as deity, we are destroying it for what we imagine is our personal comfort. The unique blindness of Western Civilization is getting everything morally backwards, and calling that perversion “morality.”
Those miracles of Jesus? He was reclaiming divine justice denied to the victims by a national leadership that violated the Covenant. Reading between the lines of Noah’s Covenant, we discover that if man will keep a good moral order, nature will follow God’s intended natural order. Get to know the individual trees — they make great friends — but don’t be blind to the forest as a forest. The trees are alive, too, and self-aware as a community; that’s in God’s Word.
We can characterize shalom as the harmonious concert that brings social stability, which in turn results in certain symptoms. We see reasonable material prosperity, safety from both natural threats (disease and disaster) and human threats, and a resonance of even greater social stability. There is a sense in which moral peace is peaceful because people are stewards of nature, but still part of nature. The goal is to harmonize ourselves with God’s moral character as woven into reality itself. The goal is not locking things into a convenient stasis.
A fundamental issue with the conflict between Western thinking and divine justice is the blame game. It is a peculiar sense of Western mythology that you can hold other people accountable on the basis of your sense of loss. Who took/broke my stuff? Who is responsible for replacing it? We become vindictive and spiteful toward others on material grounds without a clue to the moral questions. This approach sees only the lowest level of moral consideration, and asserts a false moral valuation even there. This business of “justice” defined as forcing someone to “pay their debt to society” is peculiar to the West. It is not in the Bible, though Westerners read it back into the Bible narrative.
And it’s a peculiarly Western response to throw up a false dichotomy: “So we should just dismiss restitution?” The question comes with vocal tones and dramatic posturing that is calculated to provoke a highly emotional reaction, dismissive of the suggestion as somehow evil. Binary thinking is burned into Western culture. Biblical moral reasoning compares favorably to the notion of quantum reasoning that is not bound to binary choices and singular threads of calculus. It’s not a bad figure of speech to get folks to move beyond the mental prison. The answer to that spiteful question about restitution is warning people to stop acting as if some kind of loss promotes them to the status of a deity who must be satisfied. Suffering does not gain you virtue and privilege.
The divine moral approach is not to demand what we might imagine that we deserve, but to seek what God had in mind for our response. Don’t assume it has to make sense on a human level of reasoning. Have you ever noticed that in Western political theories, everything hinges on rights concerning material property? Libertarians revere individual ownership as the ultimate deciding factor. Conservatives simply add into that a broader community loyalty. Liberals fluff about some kind of imaginary justice on a broader “human rights” scale, and socialists tend to agree for the sake of managing property. Communists simply hand the bureaucratic state all power and assert that it will turn out for the better. Some of those groups pretend to care about people, but none of them cares about a morality that is rooted above the material plane. Divine justice clings to a higher moral consideration that sees material property as mere tools, as leverage to a greater question of the One who made all things. Creation is fundamentally feudal in essence, but it’s an Ancient Near Eastern feudalism.
And by no means do we imagine that everyone will come up with the same answer from their communion with the same God. Not because those who disagree with us are perverse, but because God is too mysterious for us to grasp. We are truly fortunate that we know what He demands of us individually; the burden of negotiating with others remains a primary mission from God. We should presume that other folks will see it differently because God demands that we devote more attention to that social stability, and not worry so much about the stuff itself. In other words, it’s not the outcome but the process. The “goal” is in the just negotiation process, not the final decision made by humans in concert. “Divine justice” is a term that refers to the commitment, never mind the outcomes.
You might find Westerners paying lip service to those words, but the fundamental frame of reference and resulting actions show they don’t believe them.
The process of divine justice includes varying levels of provisional cooperation, a dynamic and living organism of a shared existence that is never static. Seeking stasis is a perverted desire of the fleshly mind playing god. Social stability is not static in the biblical mind, but a living and active thing that pulls on all our resources and then some. The joy of living in Christ is the power to give and suffer and take and bless and… It has nothing to do with making sense of things according to reason. We don’t need a resolution that is intellectually satisfying; we need no resolution at all. Tension is not evil, despite being uncomfortable. The heart looks for some kind of harmony in the making of music, but the song never ends.