Time and history have shown God was on the side of the North, and not simply because they won the war. God was on the side of the North because of slavery. God will not stand idly by while whole races of human beings are not properly valued.
We might want to call this a question of social justice, and I think that we would be right. But what does that mean?
In his book, Justice, Abraham Joshua Heschel says that the Jewish take is that God doesn’t really care about justice. Heschel writes,
“God’s concern for justice grows out of His compassion for man. The prophets do not speak of a divine relationship to an absolute principle or idea, called justice. They are intoxicated with the awareness of God’s relationship to His people and to all men.”
God doesn’t love justice. God loves people. God’s heart is not attached to an ideal of justice. God’s heart is attached to you and me and to creation. God’s desire for justice flows out of God’s love for humankind. God doesn’t care about justice so much as God cares about people.
…is the name we give to the fact that the richest people in our society have rigged the system so that all of the economic gains we make as a society go into their pockets. The middle class and the working poor haven’t had a real share in the economic growth of the past thirty five years. The economy no longer works for average people, and God cares about this because God cares about all people.
God is not impartial on this issue of income inequality. One of the most hopeful messages of the prophets is the claim that God will not sit idly by and watch the rich take advantage of the poor.
We always think that God is on our side. But the bible seems pretty intent to teach us that God is on the side of the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized. God is serious about economic injustice, but evangelicals seem blind to God’s concerns. This is not a small problem. This is, perhaps, the main reason our society is in such a precarious state right now.
For example: Evangelicals spend a ton of time arguing about homosexuality, which is mentioned only seven times in scriptures. At the same time, evangelicals seem relatively unconcerned with economic injustice and the right use of money, when there are more than 250 verses on the proper use of our wealth, and more than 300 verses about our responsibility to care for the poor in the bible. Do you see the disconnect?
Why are we like this? It just seems wrong to me. It’s like we’ve lost the ability to care about what God cares about and only have the ability to care about what the politicians tell (manipulate) us to care about.
Tax reform, for me, is more a matter of grace than of justice.
Kathleen Falsani once wrote, “Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely don’t deserve.” I love this quote because it reminds me that I don’t want justice, not really. God help me if I ever get what I truly deserve. What I want is mercy. I want to avoid dealing with my own shortcomings. But what God gives me is even better than mercy. God gives me grace… forgiveness and restoration that I really don’t deserve.
God’s grace comes free, but it is not cheap. It cost Jesus everything, and it also puts me on the hook to extend the same grace I’ve received to the other people in my life.
I don’t really care about a “just” tax system. I’d like a graceful tax system. I don’t care if the rich “deserve” to enjoy their own wealth. God help us from getting what we really deserve. (We also need to learn to tell the truth about who the rich have screwed, and what they have done to the planet on their way to becoming billionaires).
I want to care about what God cares about. I want to extend grace to others the same way God extends grace to me. I think God cares much more about our becoming a more graceful people, than about our becoming a more affluent people.
As a Christian I am bound to extend grace (even financially) to others because God has shown grace to me. What does a graceful tax system look like? I think it’s one where the wealthy, especially the uber-rich–the top 1% of our society–are asked to share generously of their wealth. They are asked to grace the poor. They are required stop hiding money in tax shelters and off-shore bank accounts.
The price the uber-rich should be required to pay for their wealth is that they should have to use that wealth for the betterment of society, especially the poor, instead of living lives of decadent wealth and luxury.
That’s why I care about things like income inequality and tax reform. God has been so graceful with me that I am simply obliged to extend that grace to others. Income inequality is a problem in our society because God cares about the plight of the poor and the working people. God cares about tax policy because God doesn’t want to see middle and lower class people struggling while the uber-rich own a dozen homes and stockpile their money.