Our conflict should not be with each other, but with sin, and the way sin creates structures over society which controls and dominates it. We must seek to overturn the structures of sin, but especially in regards the way they cause innocents to needlessly suffer. We must stand up for those who are being oppressed, those who in Scripture are represented by widows, orphans, and foreigners. If we see antisemitism on the rise, we must fight against it and help defend the Jews. If we see Islamophobia on the rise, we must stand up and defend Muslims (and the Arabs who are attacked with them), making sure they are shown compassion and love. Our fight should not be seem as being against flesh and blood, but against sin and the structures of sin which develop on top of sin. Each structure of sin, it could be said, has its own power of influence, its demonic power, which seeks to impose its own destructive ways upon the world; they create ideologies which confuse people and have them support the structure of sin as a good to be defended, making it that much more difficult to overturn. Christians must resist such toxic ideologies in their fight against the structures of sin and the control they have over society:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12 RSV).
We must resist evil, recognizing that our true enemy is the same enemy for everyone, that is, sin. We can and will find ourselves fighting against people, to be sure, but we must understand that our true conflict is not with them, but with the sin which has taken control of them and manipulated them to act in way contrary to their own good as well as against the common good. Knowing this, we know that as we fight against sin, as we fight to stop injustices in the world, we will sometime have to act against those who embrace such evil. When we do so, we should do so with as much compassion as we can, making sure we engage injustice with restorative justice instead of mere retribution and revenge. We must find a way to help separate the evil people do and believe it from the person, so that we can continue to engage the person in a way which promotes their human dignity even if they would not do so for us. This is the only way to fully overcome the powers that be and the structures of sin which have been put in place. We must make sure we do not confront evil with evil, for all we would end up doing is replace one structure of sin with another, which, though it might at first be better than the previous one, due to the nature of evil, over time it will itself become as bad, if not worse, unless it is put to an end.
It is not easy. We will have to engage people we dislike. We might not be able to see the goodness in them, but we must understand, their human nature gives it to them. If we expose the evil for what it is, show its nature and why it must be resisted, some might be convinced and change their ways, but we must accept many will not. Instead, they will become defensive and double-down on the evil which they do. There are some who will resist the greater good all their lives. We should care for them even as we should do what we can to pacify the threat they represent in as a just manner as possible. Our goal should always be for their reform, and what we should do should always have that goal in mind, but we should also be realistic and understand not everyone will be converted.
How do we love our enemies while contending against sin and the powers that be? Jesus shows us the way. He engaged everyone with the same desire. He wanted to elevate everyone he encountered and help them away from what sin had done to them. The dark powers that be tried to find any and every excuse they could to lead people to resist Jesus and the changes he promoted. We often see this in the religious leaders who opposed him (which we must not confuse as representing all the religious leaders of his time, or the response of the Jews as a whole). They used elements of truth, elements of their religious faith, taken out of the greater whole, and used them to suggest Jesus was in the wrong and was the one promoting evil. He healed on the sabbath, which some suggested, meant he violated the law and did evil by helping those in need on a day in which people should rest and do no nothing else. They used the letter of the spirit to reject the spirit of the law, and in doing so, they denied the holistic integrity of the law and used what was meant for good to help promote suffering and evil in the world:
But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him (Lk. 13:14-17 RSV).
If we promote what is good and true, such as restorative justice, we will likely find that many, including spiritual leaders, will denounce us. They will try to suggest we have a warped sensibility, that we should not be concerned about such things. They will tell us we should be focused on the salvation of souls. Their response is very Gnostic, as they suggest what is done in the material world has little to no value in regards the soul. Christianity, especially in its teaching of the resurrection of the dead, resists such a simplistic, unholistic approach to salvation. We are not Gnostics thinking the body has no value. What is done in the world, what people do or do not do for the sake of others, affects their souls. If they embrace injustice, their souls become corrupted and they risk losing their own salvation. Being socially engaged, being concerned with the material welfare of others, far from having no connection to the work at hand, is directly linked to it. Thinking we can deny justice only means we accept sin and the structures of sin which we should fight against and resist. Jesus showed us this in the way he constantly helped those who were suffering in their body, showing that healing them in their body, will help them with their souls. We must, therefore, do what we can to help those suffering injustice, to confront the structures of sin, bringing restorative justice to the world, for in doing so, not only do we help bring the grace of salvation to others, we find our own embrace of justice will help in our own spiritual growth and rehabilitation.
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N.B.: While I read comments to moderate them, I rarely respond to them. If I don’t respond to your comment directly, don’t assume I am unthankful for it. I appreciate it. But I want readers to feel free to ask questions, and hopefully, dialogue with each other. I have shared what I wanted to say, though some responses will get a brief reply by me, or, if I find it interesting and something I can engage fully, as the foundation for another post. I have had many posts inspired or improved upon thanks to my readers.