Editor’s Note: A version of this article was published on the Christian Reformed Church’s Faith Formation Ministries’ Faith Practices Project website at crcna.org/FaithFormation/practices.
True confession: I lack rhythm. Somewhere between what my ears hear and how the rest of my body moves, the beat gets distorted. Watching me dance is like watching a video with out-of-sync audio. Nothing lines up the way it’s supposed to. But I still love listening to music and dancing around the house. Though I am not a musician, music is still one of the ways that I engage with the world around me.
Perhaps the rhythm I find most challenging and most important, however, is God’s heartbeat for justice and mercy. God’s love for people who have been marginalized, discarded, and taken advantage of reverberates throughout the Bible. Psalm 146:7-8, for example, describes how God’s care extends to those who are oppressed, hungry, in prison, blind, or bowed down.
But I have to admit that despite being so clear, consistent, and strong, God’s heartbeat gets distorted and out of sync as it works its way through my calendar, home, bank accounts, work, and other relationships. I need to practice justice and mercy as part of my ongoing formation as a follower of Jesus.
From where I sit, I see at least four formative aspects of justice and mercy practices.
Imitating God’s character
As we respond to Jesus’ invitation to “Come, follow me,” justice and mercy practices usher us into the patterns of loving others that Jesus Christ declared were central to his mission (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 4:14-21). These practices serve as tools through which we learn to imitate Jesus’ actions. The Spirit works through this imitation to form us in Jesus’ character.
Being attentive to the image of God in others and in us
Matthew 25’s record of the sheep and goats parable teaches us that what we do to the people we consider to be the least valuable and important we do to Jesus. This passage shows that justice and mercy practices are important both because they affirm that other people have been created in God’s image and because they help us embody God’s image as we put justice and mercy into tangible action.
Growing in our capacity and practice of loving our neighbor
As we practice justice and mercy, we become immersed in working out what it means to love our particular neighbors in their particular circumstances. Through these particularities, we often become more aware of the systemic challenges and barriers that often contribute to injustice. In this way, practicing justice and mercy tangibly teaches us what it looks like to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34), which shows us what it looks like to know and love God (1 John 4:7-21).
Participating in the shalom (abundant life) of God’s coming kingdom
Finally, through justice and mercy practices, the Spirit forms us to more fully and more faithfully participate in the life of God’s coming kingdom. As Scripture points out (Isaiah 65:17-25; Rev. 21:22-22:5), this “beautiful community” is marked by the end of violence and the flourishing of all people. Justice and mercy practices make us into apprentices of the coming new heaven and new earth.
For me, and I imagine for many others, learning to imitate the rhythm of God’s heartbeat takes intentional, repeated practice. I find I need to listen frequently to the echoes of these rhythms in Scripture’s record. I need to watch and learn from others who have been keeping time with the rhythms of God’s justice and mercy much longer and more naturally than I have. I also find that I need to do more than listen; I must actually put justice and mercy into practice (James 1:22).
- Besides justice and mercy, what else do you think God’s heart beats for?
- What other biblical passages or stories speak of God’s love for people who have been marginalized, discarded, and taken advantage of?
- How have you put justice and mercy into practice in your life?
- What other practices might help you better follow God’s heartbeat for justice and mercy?