Annie and I have been watching a lecture series called "Justice" by Michael Sandel, Professor of Government at Harvard, which is totally free. Turns out some 15,000 students have gone through it, and we join the chorus of praise for it; it's wonderful. He bypasses all the usual introductions and begins his first lecture, "The Moral Side of Murder", with, "This is a course about justice, and we begin with a story." The story:
You're the driver of a 60mph trolley car, hurdling without brakes down the track. 5 workers are further down the track, and assume that you know for sure that they will die if you hit them. A ray of hope: a sidetrack! On the sidetrack, there stands a single worker. So you could kill the one, and spare the five. What's the right thing to do? What do you do?
Sandel takes a poll and creates a fantastic classroom dialogue - impressive, considering the class size fills a small stadium! His speaking style is warm and engaging, yet challenging and thoughtful. He has a way of facilitating conversation that reflects people's thoughts without judging them. In this way he welcomes diverse opinions in the same room - not always an easy thing to do when discussing topics like justice and ethics.
A few weeks back I had the fun experience of seeing an old friend who was visiting nearby. We met, and he told me about his ongoing graduate studies in law school, specifically for the purpose of forming more clarity in housing market laws. So justice is a big deal for him. I asked him for a quick and dirty definition of justice, and he gave me three that gave me enough pause to stop what I was doing to just sit and think:
1) Justice is self-determination, as in, people get to set their own course in life instead of being in support roles against their will for others who rely on them for their self-determination.
2) Justice is correcting the imbalances that build up over time under unhealthy systems (like slavery).
3) Justice is changing the way society runs so that involuntary support roles are not part of the normal order of things.
Jesus followers have to reckon with justice. Like, it appears in a sweeping, perhaps alarming fashion within some 7 chapters into the Bible (!), where God wipes out all human existence save for one family. The systemic imbalance is overwhelming, we're told, and the future of humans needs correcting. It's begs asking, "What if the flood didn't happen? What if people had been allowed to continue down whatever crooked path they were walking?" We don't really know, but it doesn't look promising. It says Noah was the last person on Earth who was still close to God, and that would the new starting point for all humans going forward. The implications or results of "being far from God" were violence and corruption (6:11-12), so not exactly a happy, healthy place.
All to say, strange as it may seem at first, the flood actually appears to be a second chance for humankind. This justice was actually redemptive! God's correction, in Genesis' P.O.V., is much needed and can be painful. Talk about unsettling! But there's also hope woven throughout even this wide-reaching, painful justice.
Now the really fun part: how do you invite kids into this story, or even more, the idea of justice? Too much unsettling would be hurtful to a child - bypassing hope & innocence and heading straight for skepticism, which probably isn't a great place to camp out for the long-term. On the other hand, children will... WILL... be confronted with these scriptural and spiritual realities at some point. To ignore that truth altogether is to ignore their well-being. What do you do?
Well, I'd love to hear what you would do, or are doing. Here's a few things we're doing at our church:
- Remember the central message of the Bible - redemption through Jesus. Jesus brings hope that can be both felt and seen. Start and end there. The story of Noah starts and end with redemption... there's a reason for it.
- Start simple. As my friend pointed out, there are layers to justice. So ideally I'll "layer" my level of detail over the child's lifetime by introducing what's appropriate at various times. Language is everything here. Take David and Bathsheeba - I'm not going to go into graphic detail about the sex, adultery, and additional lying that took place during preschool years. That wouldn't be healthy. Plus, in my particular position, parents have a better pulse on the individual needs of their children - I see a fairly different batch of kids each week, so I'll leave the level of detail to parents' judgment. I'll keep the story fairly simple and concrete. Then I'll pray for, talk with, and do my best to empower parents to have further conversations with their kids about these things. But in the end, my hope is to point kids towards Jesus. Trust that He'll actually speak to kids, and invite them to hear from him.
- Speak on real terms with lots of examples. I got caught cheating in the second grade by giving answers to a guy who didn't study for an exam on the 13 colonies. I got punished, and it was not a happy day for me! Then I had another opportunity in 8th grade to give answers to a girl next to me on a computer exam. I remembered what happened in 2nd grade, and didn't give her the answers. She wasn't happy about it at first, but I decided not to pay much attention. I made a good grade, and allowed her to receive the consequences of her bad decision, rather than enabling her to avoid it. If you've had any success learning from your experiences, share those!