In ethics and religion, there is often a great temptation to find one comprehensive meta-system to deal with all of the injustice in the world. Some story to tell or some grand scheme to encourage the oppressed and to bring their oppressors to account. Which usually includes us in the former category, and someone we know (or have read about) in the latter. Which is the main problem, right? Because we’re on someone else’s list, and their sense of justice is at least as skewed as our own. So who’s to say, and who’s to decide?
In the Bible, justice is unjust. Preferential, particular, compassionate, and loving. Yahweh seems to use a sliding scale for determining what is just: he is biased toward the powerless and poor, the alien and the widow. Then and now, strict justice will only contribute to the teeter-totter of retribution and the shifting sands of power. So God’s justice is personal, individual, forgiving, and full of grace. It trades the illusion of ethical impartiality for personal engagement with the excluded and oppressed (and it asks us to do the same).
Volf illustrates by recalling the story of the Tower of Babel, where pride and lust for power are put down in favor of a blessed ‘scattering’ of the people. The story is reprised in Acts at Pentecost, where once again God’s people are affirmed in their differences and sent out in a kind of perpetual embrace. Which is nearly undone shortly after when a partisan group rises up in the fledgling church to point out that, ahem, their widows are not being cared for. The leaders of the new community wisely deal with the situation by blessing the complainers with the work of caring for all of the widows, and in so doing offer them a loving lesson about embrace, and the nature of love and justice.
The Kingdom is not some faraway end that is always just out of reach. Instead, it is both the means and the end; the community which we construct around us with countless acts of love. Or, to use Volf’s words, “…as we desire to embrace the other while we remain true to ourselves and to the crucified Messiah, in a sense we already are where we will be when the home of God is established among mortals” (EE, 231).