A little while ago, knowing how keen I was to inform my view on social justice by sound Bible based teaching, my pastor kindly presented me with a book titled: “Generous Justice”. It is a good read and like all good reads it showed me things I didn’t know, especially as a result of delving deep into the Bible. While it does reinforce my views, it has caused me to think more deeply and, moreover, I agree with practically everything it says. While that is not a good enough reason to read it, it is good to know one may be on the right track. Like all good non-fiction with a radical message, it has taken me out of my comfort zone and has encouraged me insofar the author writes from a perspective few Christians get, for if they did it would utterly transform their attitudes to these matters.
While recognizing dust cover sound bites aimed at promoting what is inside tend to be biased, what was on the cover of this book gives a good flavor of the content. “It is commonly thought that the Bible is a great hindrance to real justice. Isn’t it full of old-fashioned views? Didn’t it condone slavery? Why look to the Bible for guidance in building a more just society today? But Timothy Keller sees it differently. In Generous Justice, he explores how to live a life of justice empowered by an experience of grace; a generous, gracious justice. Keller calls on life-long Christians to acknowledge the fraudulence of faith without concern for justice for the poor – and challenges skeptics to recognize that the Bible can and must contribute to a modern understanding of justice.” All this is music to my ears, given that Keller is the sort of person that is respected in my circle of hard-nosed conservatives, but it is also convicting to soul and spirit as to what one’s response ought to be, but then isn’t that what happens to anyone who truly takes the words of Jesus seriously? While there will always be a world we wish to influence along the right lines, the reality is what we can do is limited, but there is also the personal response and we can all do something.
While it may be possible to see a tenuous link between the subject of Generous Justice and Greek Debt, one wonders if it can be any more than this. However, this book got me thinking. One of the measures God laid down in the law to his chosen people, the Jews, was provision to release people from their debts, notably in the year of Jubilee (every fifty years). It looks once again, despite long, hard negotiations, that the Greeks are going to the default on repaying their EU loans. The newly elected Greek government, who were returned on an anti-austerity ticket, are understandably reluctant to impose, as has been strongly urged, austerity measures, even though it is argued this is the only way to prevent disaster.
On my Facebook page earlier in the week, someone posted the message: “On this day in 1953 Greece agreed to forgive Germany’s debt”, and while Germany isn’t the only creditor today it is the main one. One is reminded that it was not all that long ago when some of the leading western nations agreed to wipe off some third world debt, so there is no doubt this can be done again but should it? There is a lot of questions to be asked and without having all the facts it is hard to come up with answers. One could argue that the Year of Jubilee applied specifically to a theocracy and to individuals rather than nations. There are likely important differences between the 1953 situation and the one we are seeing today. Greece is not the only country in receipt of huge bail out loans, for there are others – also struggling, and if we forgive Greece’s debt, where does it end?
The list of questions go on but what cannot be denied is that the people of Greece face a bleak future in order to repay their creditors and probably an even bleaker one if they were to renege on their obligations to settle debts. The Greeks haven’t done themselves any favours by their own economic mismanagement including the non-collection of taxes that are owed and such difficult questions can’t be ignored. While generous justice is what I seek to do on an individual basis and urge others to do likewise, I can’t help feeling there are wider applications and when it comes to dealing on the international stage, to ignore these principles will likely go against the message of generous justice discussed in Keller’s book.