Doing Justice in Community

18 Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. 20 The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found.

21 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22 With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23 The human said,

“This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
because from a man she was taken.”

24 This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren’t embarrassed. (Genesis 2:18-25 CEB)

The Centrality of Relationship

In the Genesis creation story, we see the first thing that is “not good” about God’s creation: the human, Adam, is alone. The animals are good – more on the environmentalism of the Creation account soon – but it isn’t enough.

In the quote above, I chose to use the Common English Bible translation for a reason: it speaks of Adam as “the human” rather than “the man.” Strictly speaking from the Hebrew, “human” is a better translation. It raises an interesting question which has some disagreement between interpretors: was Adam biologically male or was he simply human with no gender differentiation?

Either way my main point here that we are not meant to be alone does stand up, but I’m going to suggest the latter mainly to fight past the temptation of seeing this passage as solely about romance/marriage/sex. Those are generally good things. But singleness is also a good thing and I don’t want to look past that. Both Jesus and Paul seemed to see it as actually better (Matthew 19:1-12; 1 Corinthians 7).

If the “not good” of Adam being alone wasn’t because of lacking that special type of relationship – which “he” wasn’t if undifferentiated, and even if not there is no reason to assume that relationship is all it is talking about – then it must be because of lacking human relationship in general. The sense of humanity being made to be in deep meaningful connection with others runs throughout Scripture and it is only in more recent history that the Western world has begun to see humanity primarily in terms of independent individuals.

Relational Social Justice

How do we apply this to our Social Justice work? To quote Oscar Muriu, a Kenyan pastor, from the Urbana ’06 conference:

The purpose of maturity is not independence but interdepence.

We’ll be talking a lot about social justice in the coming year and my point here is simple: social justice begins and ends with relationship. At our church, we have a goal of giving $5 million relationally invested locally and globally in compassion initiatives over the next 4 years. Many would just focus on the number, but just as important is that word “relationally.” We seek to be in relationship with each other as we carry out this work and we hope to be in relationship with those who help.

We most effectively work for justice in the world when we work together. It’s hard to get out there and do the tough work of social justice on your own. Generally, 2 people working together can do more than those 2 people working individually. Who would you work with? Friends, family, youth group, church, or do some Internet research for an agency nearby that does something you care about and see if they have any volunteer positions. There are a lot of people out there doing amazing things that you can connect with.

Just as true, as in the context of Oscar’s quote, those with privilege must be careful in our approach. We in the West must be careful not to have a “white saviour complex” where we go rush in to help others without even bothering to get to know the people we are claiming to help. The same applies on the small scale such as helping out those homeless near you. In fact, not only do we keep this important tenet of relationality in our work when we work together, it is actually been proven much more effective than just throwing money around in a way that could foster dependence rather than interdependence.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.