Wisdom and justice

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A report and personal reflection on this morning’s service by John Dempster

The speaker this morning was Joyce Mitchell, and her subject the passage from 1 Kings 3 where King Saul is asked by God what he most wanted God to give him. Solomon chose wisdom so that he could rule his people fairly, and reach the right decisions on the different issues people brought to him. He knew he needed insight and help from a higher power.

Joyce pointed out that very shortly afterwards Solomon was confronted with a difficult situation involving two mothers and one baby. The fact that he was able to handle this satisfactorily would have been a sign to him that God had indeed answered his prayer for wisdom.

The ‘stand out points’ in the sermon for me:

Wisdom and justice are not simply the concern of people in power, but of all of us

Wisdom is not the same as acquiring lots of knowledge. Rather it’s knowing the best way, God’s way in a particular situation.

Sometimes wisdom is a question of common sense; sometimes it’s a question of thinking differently about things and encouraging other to think differently about things; sometimes it’s much more complex

You need wisdom to ask for wisdom

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.’(Psalm 111:10)

God’s wisdom is often very different from mere ‘human wisdom’. Jesus perfectly demonstrated God’s wisdom – and the receiving of wisdom to respond to difficult questions.

God longs for justice for all, a longing which springs from God’s heart of love. Without love, justice is cold and harsh

Justice does not simply involve ‘punitive’ decisions made by courts. ‘Seeking justice’ means behaving in a fair and righteous way in the whole of life, and working to ensure that these values permeate the whole of society.

In the UK, by and large, we expect individuals and institutions to promote fairness. In other parts of the world this is far from being the case.

Martin Luther King Jr said ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.’

We all have our part to play in seeking justice. ‘And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humblywith your God.’ (Micah 6:8)

We seek justice first among our own contacts and communities; we pray, seeking wisdom; we grow aware of injustices locally, nationally and internationally and take appropriate action; we participate in campaigning and awareness-raising; we support initiatives such as Fair Trade.

‘We live in a troubled world, but light bearers bring a sense of hope’ Ron Ferguson’s article in last Tuesday’s Press and Journal highlighted the work of those helping combat Ebola in Africa, and of Malala Yousafzai who jointly received the Nobel Prize for her work highlighting the need for fair access to education for women in Muslin countries and elsewhere. We like them, are called to be light-bearers in our communities and our world.

Seeking justice also involves ensuring that we act responsibly towards the world and its resources which have been entrusted to the care of humanity.

Personal reflections on the sermon

Solomon’s prayer for wisdom is presented as a one-off thing, but I expect that as each situation and choice presented itself, he would have sought wisdom for that situation. That’s certainly what it’s like for us – praying, by which I mean conscious openness to God – is the only way we will receive God’s wisdom, certainly in more difficult situations. It’s not as though God gives us a download of wisdom which we then draw on. And although the wise course of action may be obvious, it is good to make the decision in the light of God’s presence with us at the moment of deciding, rather than thinking ‘I know the answer to this one,’ and forging ahead.

Receiving God’s wisdom may involve determining the source of different inner ‘thoughts’ or ‘voices’. Earlier in the service, Fiona Waite spoke about fears and doubts as to whether she was doing the right thing in leaving college and progressing to the Soul 61 course. She said that she knew that these fears and doubts were not from God. In other words, she discerned which ‘thought’ or ‘voice’ conveyed God’s wisdom and which didn’t.

Sometimes where two situations are similar what is God-given wisdom in one situation will not be identical to God-given wisdom in another situation. To take an extreme example, Solomon’s handing of the situation with the two mums would not be the right way to go about things in our time and culture.

Sometimes wisdom will only be discerned as people get together, and share their own insights, each bringing part of the picture. God works collectively.

Someone mentioned to me after the service that it was good to hear women’s voices – Joyce’s and Fiona’s – at the service today. It is a matter of justice that women’s voices are heard equally in church.

I can be so familiar with practices in my life that are unjust towards others that I don’t see them as unjust, or even if I do, don’t summon the energy to change. We all need to discern our own prejudices and injustices, and pray for resolve to change them.

I am just aware that some of us at the service may be, or may have been the victims of injustice in some context as employees, or wives, or gay people or in any other way. If this is you, if you are hurting and in pain and resentful, find someone in the church you respect and trust to talk to about the situation.

Joyce mentioned a number of organisations who work as ‘light bearers’ striving for injustice. It can seem a heavy load, a full-time job working against injustice, and overwhelmed we can close our ears and do nothing. Again we need wisdom – what can I do in small ways to promote justice and fairness in my own life, in my family, in my work place; how can I refocus my thinking so that I become justice-aware in everything; what justice-seeking initiatives am I called to participate in?

Am I really seeking justice for everyone, or are there some groups in society I tend to exclude? How would seeking justice for everyone change my thinking?

And another question: if there is divine wisdom available for every situation, why do Christians find it so hard to reach consensus on some issues? Is it because of the freedom God gives us to explore options in relationship with God, to take decisions in the light of what we know about God? A good counsellor does not tell the client exactly what they need to do, but gives them the freedom to make their own choices. We rightly emphasise the wisdom of God, but the availability of that wisdom is not intended to ‘infantilise’ us so that we are incapable of personal decision. Choice is part of what makes us truly and fully human.

And the last thing which struck me from Joyce’s talk was something I’d thought about last week too. If God said to me ‘What do you want me to give you?’ what would my answer be? Not ‘What might I think an acceptable answer would be,’ but what would my answer really be? That answer will tell me much about myself. And the thing is that God does say to us, maybe at big life-changing moments, but also day by day, moment by moment ‘What do you want me to give you?’ I will truly be a light-bearer if I choose grace, love, humility, faith and wisdom, which sound remarkably like the fruits of the Spirit.

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