It is often thought that if the Christian’s final destination is heaven then earth is merely the transit lounge. It is this notion that dulls the Christian, especially middle class Christianity, to the sufferings of his fellow human in society -the poor, the widows, the foreign worker and their children. This notion however often fuel evangelism for the church and to get as many saved before Christ returns. Sometimes social work becomes a direct project of the evangelistic team. The result of this is often the question of sincerity and trust for the beneficiaries especially in pluralistic Malaysia.
How then should Christians view issues of social concern and questions about the wider social justice? I think it would help by us exploring the idea of the kingdom which Christ came to establish in this world. Afterall, we as Christians are called into this kingdom which Christ established. The good place to start would be Matthew 13.
The parable of the sower (Matt13:18-30) and the explanation (Matt 13:26-43)
Here we learn that the kingdom of God doesn’t just begin in the heaven we are waiting for. It is here where we are now, living among the unbelievers.
The parable of the mustard seed and leaven(Matt 13:31-33)
Here we learn that the kingdom of God starts off small but grows in its influence to be something great. The kingdom is also compared to the leaven which cannot be seen but is working in the dough. At the appointed time the dough would rise fully and the leaven would have done its work.
The parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value (Matt13:44-46)
The kingdom is to be desired and treasured and sought after. It is highly valued and priced.
The kingdom of God is not physical in nature or limited to a geography (Romans 14:17)
The kingdom of heaven and how to live in it (Matt 5:1-20)
Through the beatitudes we learn that Christians are to be meek, gentle, peacemakers etc. We are to be salt and light.
In summary the kingdom of God is already here at this present moment and on this earth where Christians are living alongside non-Christians. The kingdom of God however, is not a physical geographic location but a kingdom of people who knows Jesus and follows Him. It is a rule or authority where God is their king. It is not a statehood or a nation with boundaries. It is a sphere of influence of good over evil, of righteousness and justice, of humility and love. It is to be treasured and sought after by all.
The Kingdom of God has been established through Jesus life and death here on earth. Christians belong to this kingdom and we live our values and purpose in allegiance to God as King. We do not seek a physical territory for we await our heavenly place which Christ had promised he would prepare.
How does this understanding of God’s kingdom affect how we think of social justice?
If we are that leaven, how shall we influence the world which we live in today? Remember, we are as small as a mustard seed. We are not to be separated until the last day. We are to live among the society and do what we have been called to do, to excel in our vocation, in our family life and our community life. If there are any Biblical comparisons that could be made, it would be the exilic community of Jeremiah 29. The prophet Jeremiah told the exilic community to move in among the Babylonians, to settle in, to plant, built homes and to seek the welfare of the people. Even as far as to pray for their welfare.
There is much room for Christian engagement in affairs of the nation. We cannot remain in our middle class homes, shuttling back and forth from work and busy only with our children and their educational needs. The sphere of our influence must broaden to cover more than our immediate concerns. It must encompass God’s concern. God is concerned with the welfare of the society, the poor, the foreigner, the widowed and the orphaned (Zech 7:9-10, Deut 10) Tim Keller calls this the quartet of the vulnerable. These maybe the quartet of the ancient near east days but it would be safe to extend the quartet of the vulnerable to the 21st century. Who may they be? The urban poor and homeless? The marginalized orang asli? The single mothers? The foreign workers who are stateless and who are pursued and bullied by RELA? The trafficked girls? In short those who are voiceless and marginalized by the government of the day.
We must acknowledge that words like justice, righteousness, mercy and grace are not secular words but are terminologies of the Bible and hence, the Christian. It describes who our God is. If this describes our God and He is concerned with these in society, then shouldn’t our sphere of influence as “leaven” include caring and advocating their needs in a democratic society like ours? Surely it does and the system of governance we live in (last I checked; Parliamentary democracy) allows us the space and the means to voice concerns and stage peaceful protest for these people. There are times when the ruling government, even within a Parliamentary Democracy like ours refuses the people’s rights to voice opinions and to stage peaceful protest for the various concerns in the nation. They enforce laws which are against basic human rights like the freedom of assembly and association which is guaranteed in our Federal Constitution under Article 10. They arrest people under a sedition act which is also against the Federal Constitution of Article 10 Freedom of Speech. The freedom of religion is guaranteed to all Malaysians under Article 11 as well. So within the law, Malaysian Christians have the latitude to speak out, to protest and to raise concerns for those in our society who are marginalized or persecuted because of their faith, values or even sexual orientation.
As Christians living in Malaysia, we seek the welfare of Malaysia. We pray for the welfare (shalom) of Malaysia. No doubt this is not our eternal home and like the exiles may only live a period of 70 years + (coincidentally the length of time Jeremiah said they were to be in exile) but our mandate has been to reflect the kingdom values of our God. To influence society and to shed some light on what the eternal kingdom would look like and if this attracts anyone to the gospel with which we hope in, then I would gladly speak about it.
I hope this short piece of essay would spur Christians living in Malaysia to greater engagement in the arena of social concern and politics or wherever else God calls you to.