Skip to main content

Mere Orthodoxy exists to create media for Christian renewal. Support this mission today.

Can Justice Be Saved? Part Two: On Charity

September 23rd, 2020 | 25 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

It was an ordinary Sunday afternoon in the Anderson household a few years back, full of books and tea and other comforts. My wife had momentarily interrupted my reading by giving me a kiss, seemingly without cause. It captured just the sort of warm affection one hopes for after a decade of marriage. Delighted, I unreflectively asked what it was for. Her response conveyed the same care, though not in the form I had hoped for: “Sometimes we get what we don’t deserve,” she drily remarked before turning to walk away.

In these essays, I am trying to sketch how a Christian might think about justice in our context. My earlier proposal was that justice is insufficient as a virtue: when untethered from the Gospel, justice breeds injustice, by demanding compensation for wrongdoing that requires the sacrifice of new innocents. Yet I also noted that if we begin with the Gospel, we risk not speaking of justice at all: “Now abide these three, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is charity.”

If charity is the realm of giving and receiving what is not deserved, as my wife made clear to me that Sunday afternoon, then we are in something of a bind: it is hard to see how charity might clarify or illumine justice, except by contradicting it. If justice gives what is owed, charity gives what is not owed, either by forgiving debts or by bestowing superfluous gifts. In this light, the gospel and justice seem like non-overlapping domains: they are two worlds, between which there is no commerce.

The difficulties of seeing how charity might inform justice transform into outright dangers, though, if we allow it a place in politics. It is all well and good to speak of charity within the church; it is another matter altogether, though, if we speak of it as animating the state. The state has no authority to compel its citizens to give to their neighbour beyond what they are due. When the state presumes it has such an authority, it takes on the atmosphere of tyranny. The state’s compulsion of its citizens to do more for their neighbour than they are owed undermines charity by eliminating the freedom that seems so central to it. The state that appeals to charity can only destroy it. Better to limit the state to justice and allow charity to remain between individuals and their God. Or so the arguments go.

Now, these are not the sorts of worries that one should ignore. Only that is what I am going to do. The decision to sidestep them is not entirely arbitrary: answering them properly requires, after all, understanding charity’s nature and scope. As I did on Monday, I turn for help at this juncture to the two great refrains of the Old and New Testaments to develop my account: as faith is the root of justice, so God’s exhortation that we would walk humbly with Him is the heart of charity. Humility is the astringent love needs to be purified from its political dangers. “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire,” T.S. Eliot writes, “is the wisdom of humility. Humility is endless.”

Charity Remains

Embed from Getty Images

The endlessness of charity is where our reflections must begin. Faith and hope will pass away, while charity remains. “Hope that is seen is not hope,” Paul tells the Romans. The partial knowledge of faith will cease, he tells the Corinthians. But charity abides, and is greater than these. Charity endures into the consummation of creation, and the perfection of our union with God. As such, charity provides us a foretaste and a glimpse of the joys of God’s own eternal life. Charity sums up the virtues, but goes beyond them: charity never ends, never runs out, never fails. The New Testament can emphatically order the moral life around love because it has glimpsed our consummation and joy in a way the Old has not: it has seen the death and resurrection of the Messiah, and so knows in part the form charity takes.

Because charity endures into eternity, it orders our affections and our actions toward the blessedness and perfection of our neighbour. Charity seeks their flourishing: it delights in the fulfillment of our neighbour’s capacities and powers as a person who is made in God’s image. Charity honors our neighbour’s sanctity, by bestowing upon them all they need to flourish and more besides. This beneficence toward the other is a communicative and intentional act: the person moved by charity gives out of their own for the sake of the other’s flourishing.

This gift from the person frees the other from any obligation to reciprocate: charity lends without new debts being formed, and gives without receiving. In this way, charity is disinterested: it remains unselfconscious about a possible return or reward. Love “seeks not its own,” to the point that it welcomes secrecy in its works: “Love never boasts.” “Neither let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” when giving to those in need, “lest you become like the hypocrites who practice their righteousness to be seen by those around them.” Jesus heals the sick, and then demands their silence.

The non-reciprocal gift of charity, though, is also ordered toward establishing a common fellowship between us and our neighbour—of engendering peace. The love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the peace with God that Christ Jesus secured for us. The peace of God is not only the cessation of hostility between us, but the security that comes from being drawn through adoption into God’s own inner life, and so being protected from every danger and harm. The peace of God is a terrible good: we sin because our lives lack this peace, even while our sin further removes it from us.

The peace charity pursues with its neighbours similarly secures people in the confidence that their neighbour will do good unto them, as they do good unto their neighbour. The social peace charity pursues, then, goes beyond the mere elimination of strife and conflict, and looks for a shared enjoyment of a common life and of common goods. “As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men,” Paul tells the Romans immediate before proceeding to consider government’s aims and duties.

Live peaceably with all men, though, he says. The ‘more excellent way’ of charity quickens the church, uniting the members of Christ’s body in the bonds of peace. The social form of this body is, like the flesh of the Christ who is her Head, unique and irrepeatable. Yet the porousness of the church’s boundaries demands that we remain alive to the demands our neighbour makes upon us everywhere we encounter him.

“And which one of these proved a neighbour to his fellow who fell among the robbers?” So goes Jesus’ question to those who would try to escape the injunction to love their neighbour as they love their God. The parable is well known to us, as is the point: the Samaritan’s kindness emerges through his indifference to the social and racial boundaries that prevented others from assisting their distressed neighbour. Yet the parable’s frame also limits charity’s scope in ways not often noted: “as it happened one day,” Jesus says.

By chance, in the ordinary course of events, a neighbour intrudes upon the Samaritan’s course and tests his love. The scope of charity is bound by the bonds that hold us: it is governed by providence, and requires us to make peace with our near neighbours before we aid those far away. It is no accident that Jesus exhorts us in the Sermon on the Mount to leave our offering and make peace with our brother before continuing our worship.

The attentiveness charity takes to those who are nearest to us is a recognition of our limits: we are bound to the places we live, and lead lives that are determined by those immediately around us. Charity respects the limits of our creaturely life: it ties us to creation, and recognizes that we are given a place and a time in which it is our task to live responsibly before God. The emphasis on the contingent and accidental bonds within which charity is formed draws us near, I think, God’s command to walk humbly with Him.

The Hebrew word Micah deploys resists translation, though one can see why the Septuagint and later Christian writers opted for ‘humility’ to render it. The term connotes a judiciousness that submits to counsel, a discriminating care that is akin to modesty. There is a strong practical or deliberative dimension to the concept, which suggests it indicates a kind of wisdom. The term is thus distinct from how we commonly think of humility: it indicates a glad embrace of direction and guidance, rather than a reluctance to boast or a refusal to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We might say that the judiciousness and care of wisdom is attentive to the limits of our knowledge: it prioritizes in our discernment those who know the world better than us, by learning to love our nearest neighbours without pretending we can equally understand those whose lives are not intimate with our own.

This emphasis of attending to those near us within wisdom and humility is infused into charity by the disclosure of God’s love for humanity in Jesus Christ. By this, John writes, we know love—that God first loved us, and laid down his life for us. We can only think about loving our neighbour truly by constantly returning to this center and source: the humility of God is more glorious than the glory of men: the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man. In the cross, God exposes the wisdom of this world as folly; He shames the wisdom of the wise, Paul writes. It is a stunning repudiation of the pretensions of humanity to understand and inaugurate the Kingdom on our own terms. The distinction between God and man in creation is transformed into a division by our sin: the hostility of humanity to God can only be overcome by the humiliation of Jesus Christ. Here, upon the cross, is love vast as an ocean, lovingkindness as a flood: God walks in humility with man that man might walk humbly with God.

Learning to love our neighbour in humility, then, means seeing the way our lives are bound up together before the God who died for us both. Such humility takes many forms, no doubt. One disposition it inculcates is the willingness to defer our moral judgments upon our neighbour until we have thoroughly examined our own lives in the same respects. If charity binds us together in love, then we will do unto others as we would have done unto us—as the manner in which we judge will be the same by which we are judged. Jesus’s command to “judge not” is the epistemic corollary to the Golden Rule: they both disclose the deep equality at the heart of charity, which is founded upon the common humanity we share before God.

Yet this version of charity itself transfigures justice: behind Jesus’s command to ‘judge not’ lies the lex talonis: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This principle of equal restitution limits the otherwise voracious demand for compensation by victims that I named in the first essay: “The very mercy of the law cries out,” Shakespeare announces in Measure for Measure, “most audible even from his proper tongue, Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; like doth quit like, and measure still for measure.” Living within the wise humility of God means cultivating a discriminating prudence that sees how our own lives are bound by the standards we impose upon one another.

The justice of charity remembers that those who we judge are our neighbours and fellows, and that we are bound together beneath the judgment of God. We must make a decision: the world can only go on if we close the case, and make a limited and provisional judgment between right and wrong. But we are directed to consider the plank in our own eye first, as the standard we apply governs our lives as well. The same principle of deferring judgment also applies communally: judgement begins at the house of God. The church is authorized to announce the shape of justice to the world within the gospel of Jesus Christ. But this can only be authoritative if she has already submitted herself to the gracious judgment of God.

At the same time, the common fellowship we share as humans in moral judgment beneath the grace of God means that our charitable concern for our neighbour has a reflexive quality: grace is echoed by grace, and charity breeds charity. When we are merciful, mercy falls upon us. The goods we give in charity are not diminished or lost: they return to us, and in so doing, increase. Abundance is the iron law of the Kingdom of God. The gifts of charity are multiplied when they are given, as the fish and the loaves are multiplied by Christ. The infinite plenitude of God’s love—which never fails—leaves no grounds for envy.

Charity is free to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, because it lives within a blessedness nothing can touch—“neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing can separate us from infinite love of God in Jesus Christ.” The gifts within God’s good creation to us, and the surpassing greatness of His gift of Himself in our redemption, mean that in our humanity we stand as debtors before God. “What do you have that you did not receive?,” Paul asks the Corinthians. We, the poor and the outcasts from God’s kingdom, live even now within the luxury of His love, which increases and grows world without end.

“Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The presence of poor within the church is a testimony to the abundance of God’s love. The church in welcoming the poor makes visible the common joy available to us within the Kingdom of God. It gives the world a glimpse of the end of history in which charity prevails. It invites us to a feast of blessing and of fellowship in which the last are first, and the first, last. But the church does not only welcome the poor: she accompanies them in their alienation from society, as Christ accompanies us in ours from God. The beatitude of the poor, and the meek is inseparable from the presence of the church within their midst: through such presence those who are alienated learn the language of lament for the injustices they suffer, and experience the alleviation of their distress by participating in the common life of a new community. Through the church’s witness to charity, those who are disadvantaged are folded up into the abundance of God’s riches, and what seems to be the basis for their humiliation proves instead to be the grounds for their glory.

The Relationship Between Justice and Charity

Embed from Getty Images

What, though, might this account of charity have to do with justice, and especially with the state’s responsibility to secure it? Properly speaking, bearing witness to the charity God’s redemption makes possible remains the work of the church. There can be no easy nor direct derivation from the church’s rule of love to the state’s task of securing justice: the two institutions have a common authority, but distinct ends. They both bear witness to God’s works, but in different ways: the church provides a glimpse of the beatitude to which humanity is ordered, while the state secures a peace that allows such a beatitude to be enjoyed.

The church’s evangelistic efforts depend in part upon the state’s preservation of peace: the Roman Empire could not last, as it was founded on the injustice of pagan sacrifices rather than upon the justice that responds to Christ’s death and resurrection. But the Roman government unintentionally and unwittingly carried forward the seeds of its own destruction and renewal when it crucified our Savior and sent Paul to Rome. We are told by Paul to pray for all those in authority, so that we “might lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”—for this is “good and pleases our Savior, who desires that all might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” In God’s providential ordering of the world, the Kingdom’s growth primarily occurs through the quiet and peaceful faithfulness of God’s people, rather than the spectacular witness of martyrdom.

The distinction between these institutions, though, means the church must say “no” to any attempt by the state to mimic charity without submitting to the kingly direction of Christ Jesus. As justice outside the Gospel breeds injustice, so charity absent Christ can only breed inhumanity. Philanthropy that is founded upon an abstract commitment to the universal brotherhood of humanity can only generate a distant, indifferent form of action that denies the poor the very thing they need most: our presence with and for them. The church can be present among the poor as Christ is present among us, by accompanying them in a humility that submits to their counsel about their own needs, as Christ really hears and responds to our prayers.

Such a presence means that within the work of charity we give our time, and not only our resources: we meet needs within the communication of loving care and concern, rather than out of the abstract commitment to the “needs” of “the poor.” Only through close proximity to our neighbour will we be able to truly and fully discern their needs. George MacDonald’s Robert Falconer critiques a would-be philanthropist, who would give her money without her time, on these grounds: “But it is right to do many things for [the poor] when you know them, which it would not be right to do for them until you know them,” he says. “I am amongst them; they know me; their children know me; and something is always occurring that makes this or that one come to me. Once I have a footing, I seldom lose it. So you see, in this my labour I am content do the thing that lies next to me. I wait events.”

Note the emphasis on his nearness to those whom he takes responsibility for: like the Good Samaritan, he is with his neighbour while serving him. The alternative form of charity is an impersonal and uninvolved philanthropy, that parodies the disinterestedness of charity by denying our presence to those to whom we would give our money. Such a form of philanthropy, Falconer suggests, is “the offspring of our mammon worship”—it gives money, but will not give our self.

What The Church Teaches the State

Embed from Getty Images

At the same time, the church’s practices of charity have something to teach the state about justice and its contents. We might reprise the above themes by transposing them into an explicitly political key. Take, for instance, charity’s form as a judicious humility, a willingness to remain under counsel in discerning what we ought do. A state that walks humbly ought defer as much as it can to those institutions that most pervasively encompass and form persons. The state’s deference to parents in the formation of children, for instance, is founded upon its recognition of the intrinsic goods of family life. In giving parents the freedom to make decisions for their children’s well-being, the state acknowledges limits on its authority and competence to secure the goods children need.

Note that in doing so, the state might be forced to allow what some would suggest is a source of injustice: as an institution that secures goods across generations, the family is a bastion of social and economic inequality. Yet family life is so comprehensive and so central to our formation as persons that families need the freedom to cultivate and enjoy the goods of a common life, so that children can cultivate their capabilities within an environment of love and affection. A modest state respects the astonishing potency of the family to bring about flourishing individuals, and defers judgment about how such communities arrange their common lives to parental authorities. The Gospel relativizes every institution’s claim over us, including the family’s, by placing us directly beneath the command of God. But a state that has learned charity from this witness defers its judgment about the good of its citizens to those who are nearest them.

Second, a state that has learned modesty prioritizes its competence to judge wrongs, rather than determine and compel particular or definite visions of the good. Wrongs engender a cry for restitution that is infinite, but they are more easily identifiable than specific arrangements of the right. Killing is a discrete act, which makes it possible for the state to determine whether it constitutes murder. But the goods a society might pursue are boundless and indeterminate. Tolstoy had it wrong: there are an infinite number of ways for a family to be happy, as there are a nearly infinite variety of ways we could arrange our society. The state exercises a cautious discretion by limiting its power to judging against the wrongs human beings inflict upon each other, rather than arrogating to itself the authority to compel people to pursue concrete goods.

In this way, the state can avoid its unique temptation to seize the Kingdom of God for its own and attempt to bring it about by force. Through judging wrongs, the state also preserves the social trust needed for a flourishing society to emerge organically. The state prunes and weeds out wrongs and vices, we might say, and in that way preserves the possibility of beatitude of its citizens by expanding the space for their agency and for the institutions that stand between them and the state. In learning modesty from the witness of the church, the state sees the dangers of trespassing its limits. We know when a state walks humbly with God when it avoids the pretense that the Kingdom lies within its grasp, and limits its direction of society to judging wrongdoing.

However, the sharpest limits of the state’s competence, and its most urgent need for modesty, arise when we consider matters of belief and conviction about the claims God makes upon humanity. The state’s acknowledgment of its limits preserves the freedom for individuals and communities to worship and practice as God would have them do— namely, freely. The value of non-coercion in matters of faith and worship is itself a theological principle: it is not obvious that God would view compulsion as intrinsically incompatible with true religion. But God honors the freedom of the creature by setting humanity free in Jesus Christ. The state that preserves freedom for others to worship honors them in the same way. The coercive direction of the state in such matters is sheer hubris: a state that purports to determine the right shape of worship loses the humility that the witness of charity engenders. A state that has heard and responded to the Gospel must be a liberal state, for it lives within and affirms the liberality of God’s grace in allowing individuals to spurn Him if they wish.

Freedom Has a Shape

Embed from Getty Images

Freedom is necessary for flourishing, then. But freedom has a shape: the freedom of the creature consists in our correspondence and conformity to the order God has laid down in creation and redemption. The state’s determination of the wrongs it judges will only be just to the extent that it comports to the bounded, ordered freedom of the creature: charity “rejoices in the truth,” Paul writes. The state must be interested in the real flourishing of persons, rather than merely providing us an undifferentiated space to do whatever we might desire. The state’s embrace of a judicious humility in deferring decisions about matters of religious belief and practice to its citizens cannot be a radical rejection of any form of judgment: as the function of the mind is to come to partial, limited conclusions, so the function of the state is to determine how citizens have wronged each other.

The principle of “religious liberty” is not inviolable: in respecting the limits of its competence, the state must look to determine whether wrongs are inflicted under the umbrella of religion that do fall beneath its authority. But this responsibility can only be exercised judiciously and cautiously, in the humility that it has no competence to determine the truth or falsity of what religious communities believe and practice. The state’s failure to love the truth, and so to enact its limited judgement rightly, can only lead to the expulsion of the freedom it is meant to protect. If charity without humility sanctions an aggressive paternalism, so humility without truth comes to a similar end. The state’s protection of freedom for its citizens must honour the truth about the person and his flourishing: when this dimension of charity flees, freedom flees as well. At the heart of every tyranny lies an embrace of falsehood: lies require increasingly elaborate, coercive, and expensive webs to maintain, as the totalitarianism of North Korea’s current regime indicates.

This means, though, that the state’s purview to judge wrongs is broader than it might seem, and extends into arenas where many of us think it can only do more harm than good by getting involved. The state’s responsibility to pursue justice, for instance, includes addressing the injustices that give rise to systemic imbalances in a marketplace, which restrict the agency of individuals and communities. An economy should be ordered toward cultivating the freedom of persons to enjoy the goods of God’s creation and to cultivate their capacities as persons made in God’s image. A free market, in this way, is a great good, for it offers us a wide degree of latitude to enjoy those goods and cultivate our capacities as we deem fit.

But economies are political, and not purely material, arenas: commercial exchanges are moments of communication between institutions and persons, through which we can inflict injuries on our neighbours. Additionally, people cannot be participants in a social order if their material want prevents them from cultivating their capacities: an individual cannot take personal responsibility for themselves, much less their neighbour, if they do not have food or shelter. A community that distorted its economy by preventing certain individuals from creating multi-generational wealth is an unjust one in this respect. Naming this as an injustice in no way undermines the responsibilities of individuals to pursue their own flourishing; nor does it commit us to a doctrine of equality of opportunity, which risks impinging upon the family’s position as the central institution for the formation of a virtuous and just citizenry.

But it does enjoin the state to take seriously the possibility of injustice in matters of trade and exchange, and to oppose the alienation of disadvantaged individuals from the structures of governance that happens when political access and power becomes dependent upon material prosperity and wealth. If justice is responsive to the order of God’s good creation, we are owed, I think, the fruits of our labour to such a degree that we can support our lives and the lives of those who depend upon us.

That those who are impoverished go on having more children despite their condition is, in this way, a sign of their deep faith in the luxuriousness of God’s love, and a witness to the inherently interpersonal quality of goods that make up our flourishing: poverty and wealth may be material, but our happiness is finally dependent upon our freedom to enjoy the goods of creation within a common union of loving bonds. While we ought not have to choose between these, if we do, the poor are right to pursue large families. Wealth serves a community, or will destroy it: we cannot serve two masters.

Which is to say: the state must recognize and resist the “boastful pride of life” that John warns against. The voracious appetite for the appearance of economic prosperity that animates much of bourgeois, middle-class American culture has been satisfied through an extraordinary accumulation of debt: we in the middle classes have borrowed much to secure our way of life. Preserving the appearance of economic comfort and ease has required financing opportunities for ourselves that the working classes have not had access to, stratifying our society and creating the conditions for social and political alienation.

The white-working class’ rebellion against this social stratification through Donald Trump has been well documented. But this rebellion is now taking the form of a counter-reaction toward socialism among educated, progressive, millennials. For many conservative Christians, the growing popularity of socialist ideas arises from a sense of resentment and envy among millennials, and an unwillingness to take responsibility for their lives.

But if envy is breeding the desire for economic equality, millennials learned that particular vice in the bourgeois neighbourhoods we group up in, dominated as they were by the “boastful pride of life.” The failure of the one generation leads to the abuses of the other: if conservative evangelicals wish to resist socialism, they ought begin by examining the planks within our own eyes. Charity toward our millennial neighbour demands judgment begin at our own bank accounts. Socialism is not so much a cure worse than the disease, as it is the inevitable perpetuation of one of America’s guiding vices. As I observed on Monday, God visits the sins of parents upon their children. He really, really does.

The alienation of America’s working classes and our society’s rampant loneliness and isolation are deep problems that should trouble us all. A public policy aimed at establishing the conditions for disadvantaged groups to have agency might be animated “class warfare,” by the envy of the weak for the strong. But it might also be guided by an interest in preventing the violence that so often erupts when social groups become alienated from one another.

Even so: the state’s policies will not be enough by themselves to overcome the social crises of poverty and isolation, nor is it enough to give our neighbour our vote if we will not also give them our time. Within our technocratic society, meritocratic elites on both sides of our political aisle wash their hands of our social problems by issuing very good, very reasonable policy solutions to alleviate poverty without themselves living with and among the very poor they would claim to defend. There are political versions of the vices that arise from our mammon worship. The social problem of poverty is an interpersonal problem: real persons are shut out from institutions, and the life of those institutions is diminished without their presence. Our community is worse, not better, if it has only members of the middle classes.

Yet the social stratification of our society ensures that we rarely encounter our impoverished neighbour on our way to work, or the grocery store, or anywhere else—at least that we know of. The alleviation of poverty requires our presence, and the communication of our respect and our care toward our fellow: it is a work that cannot be done from a distance. Public policies that are attentive to the dangers that arise when alienation takes root should seek to increase the social and geographical proximity of those who have means and those without. And those interested in preserving the individuals’ freedom to act charitably should be first among us to overcome the infrequent opportunities we have to encounter our neighbours with needs in the ordinary course of our lives: the working classes remain invisible to us, because we do not live among them, nor allow them to live among us.

To these social and political dimensions of charity I add one final suggestion: as charity gives us a taste of our blessedness, it empowers us to be joyful, even in the midst of hostility and hatred: “Blessed are you when they persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you for my sake; rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.” ‘Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him and grief the superficial,’ Chesterton wrote. Christ’s cry of sorrow on the cross is the wellspring of comedy; His humiliation is the origin of all humor. As Chesterton noted, Christ hid his mirth from us in His incarnation; his joy is too tremendous and too terrible to be seen in this world.

This joy has a political edge: The Lord who sits in the heavens laughs the nations to scorn. He scoffs at them, exposing their pretensions to inaugurate the Kingdom of God as vanity. The absence of anything approaching humor or joy in our public discourse is another profound indicator that we are fast becoming a post-Christian society. Neither the progressive left nor the conservative right seem to be having a very good time: they are incapable of laughing at themselves, and aren’t particularly good at satirizing each other. They are consumed by a spite that forgets we are bound together as neighbours before God, and so have lost the levity required for an argument to delight even while it cuts. In this way as well, a post-Christian despair seems to have seized us. Who has time for rest or merriment, when there’s injustice around and a culture war to be fought?

The answer, of course, is Christians. The luxury of the kingdom of God is so vast that God demands we devote an entire day to enjoying it. In the Sabbath, God gives us time that we had taken from him by sin: he commands us to rejoice, rest, and to enjoy the fruits of our work and of the Kingdom of God. Within the Sabbath, we are set free within the limits of our creaturely life: we learn to love those limits as the keys to our own flourishing. On the Sabbath, we experience a foretaste of the beatitude that we shall someday enjoy. The Sabbath means we may work without the anxiety that comes upon us if we must build the Kingdom of God by our own hands, as it reminds us that the rest to which our lives are ordered will finally be given to us by the gracious God.

The work of charity in the church, then, has something to teach the world about how it conducts its business. Neither the contents of justice nor the work of the state can be hermetically sealed from the contents of the Gospel: dividing the Gospel from justice tears asunder what God has joined together. Yet within their union, there is distinction: for justice to remain justice, it must be qualified by charity, and embrace the judicious humility that the virtue inculcates within us. A government that has thus learned charity secures the freedom of all its citizens to arrange their lives before God, and honors them as persons by deferring to them the power to organize society around the goods we wish to enjoy in common. The Christian state knows it stands beneath the judgment of God, and so limits its own judgment to the wrongs we inflict upon each other: but it also really judges those wrongs, and so preserves the possibility of social trust. The humility that emerges when a society hears and responds to the Gospel frees us to cultivate our agency and to enjoy the goods of God’s creation together, uniting us with our neighbour—wherever we find him—in the bonds of peace.

Enjoy the article? Pay the writer.

Personal Info

Donation Total: $0