God Reigns With Equity

God Reigns With Equity March 1, 2024

Petar Milošević: Pantocrator – Nativity Of The Theotokos Church, Bitola, North Macedonia / Wikimedia Commons

Each and every human person shares with each other the one and the same human nature; by nature, they are not only equal, they are meant to united together as one. Sin undermines that natural unity. It has humanity divide up against itself, turning persons into individuals who are no longer equal to each other, and the more they sin, the more such individuals will find themselves divided against each other, with some of them being obtaining more than their just and fair share of the goods meant to be shared by all humanity, with others obtaining far less, indeed, many not obtaining the basic necessities all humans need to survive. That is, many people suffer grievously so that those who have obtained more than their fair share of the goods of the earth can continue to possess them and enjoy them at their own leisure. Justice indicates that in such a situation, those who have more should give to those who do not have what they need so that such grave imbalances should be rectified. Justice, therefore, promotes equity, which is why, in the eschatological kingdom of God, where true justice is preserved, God reigns in and with equity: “Your divine throne endures for ever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity” (Ps. 45:6 RSV).

We should learn from God’s reign, embracing the dictates of equity, seeing it is the fruit of divine wisdom, the wisdom which we should act upon ourselves:

For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his saints.  Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul  (Prov. 2:6-10 RSV).

Inequity denies justice, and when justice is denied, what transcends justice, charity, will also be denied. Christians should not be critical of the expectations of equity; indeed, they should embrace it, for if they do so, they show their love for Christ, the Bridegroom: “Therefore, because the height of perfection consists in charity, and charity allows nothing of iniquity—and where there is no iniquity, there surely is equity—it is rightly said to be Equity that loves the Bridegroom.”[1]

The Christian tradition consistently tells us to promote equity. Indeed, to resist equity is to support its opposite, inequity, which is sin, and with it, the harm which sin causes in the world (dividing up and destroying humanity instead of building it up and bringing it together as one). We should defend the rights of anyone, including ourselves, when we discern some grave injustice, some grave inequity, in the world:

It is sufficient for such a merely formal equity that each man defends his rights. But if I defend only my own it shows that I am not concerned for the rights as such but only because they are mine: that is, I am defending myself, my own interests. And if everyone stands up only for himself and what is his, common rights and social equity are nothing more than an abstract notion, justice becomes simply the theoretical balance of various, particular forces. Now in fact our idea of justice goes beyond this abstraction; we have a lively moral perception of it which radically modifies the principle and quality of our actions; it causes us to defend the person and rights of others as well as of ourself. And then it becomes clear that right and equity are in themselves worth something to us. [2]

This is why we are given the example of the Good Samaritan. By showing us what we should be like with our neighbor, Jesus tells us the practical expectations love places upon us:

This charity, however, reckons all men as neighbours. For on that account the Saviour rebuked someone, who thought that the obligation to behave neighbourly did not apply to a righteous soul in regard to one who was sunk in wickedness; and for that same reason He made up the parable that tells how a certain man fell among robbers, as he was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and blames the priest and the Levite, who passed by when they saw the man half-dead, but approves the Samaritan who showed mercy. [3]

We must find those who are poor, those who suffer hatred, those have been unjustly pushed down, and work to bring them relief. We must undermine the systemic structure of sin, and the systems which put it in place (i.e., systematic structures of sin), realizing such systems are all founded upon and seek to preserve inequity in the world. Certainly, we must realize that things will not be perfect in the world, that we cannot produce a utopia, that only in the eschaton, will equity be fully realized (and transcended). But, on the other hand, our work for equity will be taken up by God and used in the establishment of the eschaton, which is why such work, even if it is not perfected in our lifetime, is important:

The things that you refer to as works of piety and mercy are necessary in this age, as long as iniquity continues to dominate. Their practice would not be called for even here were there not an overwhelming number of poor, needy, and sick people, which is the result of the wickedness of men who have seized for their own use – but not used – those things that were bestowed upon all by the Creator of all. As long as such iniquity is rampant in this world, then, this behavior will be necessary and beneficial to the one who practices it, crowning a good disposition and a pious will with the reward of an eternal legacy. But this will cease in the world to come, where equity will rule and when there will no longer exist the inequity that made these things obligatory. Then everyone will pass over from this multiform or practical activity to the contemplation of divine things in perpetual purity of heart. [4]

We must not use the fact that only in the eschaton will God’s equitable reign be realized as an excuse to ignore our work for justice. That is, we should not embrace some sort of quietist error thinking we should abandon the world and all that is in it, engaging our own personal holiness while letting inequity thrive:

In view of this one should consider whether they act justly who, removing themselves from all occupations and devoting themselves to spiritual pursuits,  do nothing for human society, and, preferring their own desires to the advantage of all, disregard the common good by choosing a welcome freedom. For, to be unwilling to help the afflicted when you can, to wish to enjoy restful quiet without regard for the common good is surely not equity. Those who  respect this equity of all life for the good of all and, as though born for another, guard and love one another’s salvation. [5]

To be sure, there are many ways we can go about working for justice, promoting the welfare of the dispossessed. Some of us will do so through a more contemplative form of life, but it is important to recognize, against quietism, that even those called to contemplation must not engage it selfishly, thinking only about ourselves and our own contemplative work. Traditionally, contemplatives have been involved in all kinds of labor while embracing a life of contemplation, and in and with that labor, they have been found doing work which helps promotes justice in the world. This is why many contemplative resources remind contemplatives not to ignore the needs of those who come to them for help, but to offer them hospitality, and to speak on their behalf if the situation requires it.

Christians, therefore, must embrace equity, recognizing its role in executing justice in the world.  They should understand, as Scripture points out, God reigns with equity, and so to reject equity, is to reject God’s reign, that is, to go against God and so embrace sin.


[1] Origen, “The Song of Songs: Commentary” in Origen: The Song of Songs, Commentary And Homilies. Trans. R.P. Lawson (New York: Newman Press, 1956), 89.

[2] Vladimir Solovyey, God, Man & The Church. The Spiritual Foundations Of Life. Trans. Donald Attwater (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2016), 38.

[3] Origen, “The Song of Songs: Commentary,” 33-4.

[4] John Cassian, The Conferences. Trans. Boniface Ramsey, OP (New York: Newman Press, 1997), 49 [First Conference;; Abba Moses].

[5] Julianus Pomerius, The Contemplative Life. Trans. Mary Josephine Suelzer, PhD (Westminster, MD: The Newman Bookshop, 1947), 155-6.

 

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