The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” How many times in life have we found ourselves bandaging the wounds of others not out of love and self-sacrifice, but out of the fear of our own demise? How many times have we stood on the outskirts of injustice, watching the lies and schema of society trample the oppressed and downtrodden?
There is a clear and definitive paradigm shift occurring within both the Church and secular society around us. The fight for Justice is not a new desire of human enterprise; it has been around since the beginning of time. Since the moment humanity actualized its capacity to commit injustices towards one another, we have tried to combat its reality. For many, justice is found in and through the democratic action of the American court system. When there is an evil committed by one person against another, or one group of people against another group, cries of justice spring forth. It is then that the court system occasionally steps in and attempts to hash out an acceptable counteraction that edifies the dignity of the offended party, while maintaining an anchored obedience to the laws and rules of the Land.
The American desire and pursuit of justice is a banner that our government and its citizens wave with an incessant repetition. Almost everything that is branded by America is said to bask in the glory of our “wholesome and irrefutable” relationship with justice. That is, America justifies the entirety of its actions in the world through our self-defined pursuit of justice. This “way of justice” colors all of our wars, legislations, promises, programs, occupations and invasions. However, the reality of this paradigm is that it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t throw a spoke into the wheel of injustice. Instead, it only serves to bandage the wounds of those it oppresses.
The spoke that Bonhoeffer is speaking about in the quote above manifests itself in the reality of God. That is to say, the only possible way for justice to actually destroy and reorient injustice and oppression is through the Grace and Peace of Christ. The antithesis to oppression and condemnation is a self-denying love and unconditional forgiveness towards those in whom we find strife or disagreement. In another way, the only antidote to the realistic wounds of those downtrodden is a way of living that redefines social norms into an intentional, loving community of people. This loving community of people realizes that in the bearing of one another’s burdens, in the lobbing of grenades of peace, God manifests true and everlasting Justice.
God’s everlasting justice is dependent fully upon his revelation for its effectiveness. Justice is an aspect of God that, if removed from who He is, ceases to exist or be possible. This reality illuminates the brilliance of the Sermon on the Mount. In this set of teachings Christ implores his disciples, as well as non-disciples, into a way of life where Justice is the means by which communities thrive. Justice overcomes injustice in places where the inhabitants understand that He is the source of overcoming oppression because his way of life necessitates such an occurrence. To live the way that Christ calls us, can do nothing else other than invoke justice. This is reason for which Jesus begins his most extensive teaching with The Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the peacemakers, etc.”
Again, it is here, in this realm, that I think Bonhoeffer would locate the spoke that destroys the wheels of injustice. To love your neighbor as yourself, unconditionally and without merit disrupts the solidified establishments that are merit based. It decrees merits as useless. If merits are belittled, what purpose does that merit-oriented establishment have? To be a peacemaker destroys establishments that are dependent upon violence and subjugation. In the promotion of peace you exhibit a definitive “no” to enterprises that feed on the spoils of war and violence. Peace calls out the man who hits his wife. It illuminates the person who slits the throats of others with the use of language. To mourn with others means to give dignity and edification to the oppressed. To weep with the outcasted calls out the person who says, “They just aren’t willing to work hard enough.”
To be brutally honest, Justice is not possible apart from the way of God because it is here, under this paradigm, that all humanity is fully held accountable for their actions. The injustice that is exhibited everyday doesn’t start with the large corporations and governments. Instead, it starts within the heart of every person on earth. Jesus once said, “Are you so dull? Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?… What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil comes.” How we interact with others doesn’t only affect the other, it has a profound impact on how we grow and exist as individuals.
I am arguing that in order for Justice to reign we must be throwers of peace. We must throw grenades of peace that shatter oppressive establishments. We must change the way we live by understanding that injustice comes from the selfishness of humanity and cannot always be masked in the existence of monopolies or governments. Our lives must be dictated by another paradigm. What does this look like by the way of a historically rooted example?
During the second world war, in the small French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, André and Magda Tromcé risked their lives to protect aliened and outcasted Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation of France. André Trocmé spent his life as a Protestant Minister throughout France. He was a devout pacifist who believed that the life Christ orchestrates necessitates that Christians align themselves with the peace-oriented reality that Christ exhibits in Holy Scripture. In fact, it was his pacifistic sympathies that sent Trocmé and his wife to Le Chambon in the first place. His devotion to peace was problematic for the French Protestant Church, so they exiled him.
In 1938 André and his wife founded the Collège Lycée International Cévenol in Le Chambon. The thrust of this school was initially to provide a place for the town locals to prepare themselves for higher academia. However, when the war broke out and the town began to experience an influx of Jewish refugees from surrounding areas, Trocmé began to feel God calling him to something greater. As the casualties of war increased Tromcé became more bold in his alignment with peace. He began preaching sermons to his congregation demanding that their cathedrals of worship become a shelter for the people of the Bible. Within this calling, during the war and amongst great opposition, Trocmé harbored Jewish refugees within his parish and throughout the homes of his congregants in Le Chambon. When confronted by Nazi supporting French officials as to whether he was hiding Jews Trocmé brilliantly responded, “We don’t know what a Jew is. We only know men.” It is said that between 1940 and 1945 Trocmé, his wife and the village of Le Chambon harbored an estimated 3,500 Jewish refugees.
This is what it looks like to throw grenades of peace within historical space and time. It is to stand before the powers that be and defend the rights of the oppressed; regardless of the threat of death. Trocmé did not water down the teachings of Jesus so that they would fit nicely into his little French way of life. The ways of the world were not the means by which his reality was informed. This doesn’t mean that he was removed and unconcerned with the plight of the downtrodden. In all honesty, his adherence to the reality that Christ puts forth led him in no other direction than to the place of the oppressed and forgotten. For Trocmé, there was no other way to be a human. Where injustice exists is the place that Christ leads us to, because it is a place He desires to dwell.