The cross and Christian hope for peace and justice

We need to remind ourselves that what we as Christians may legitimately hope for is not first of all a transformed super-human existence, but a way of living with our flawed existence. That is why being a disciple is not only living in the resurrection; it is first of all taking up the cross. – Echoes of the Word, 154

This inclination toward ‘total perspective’ is in rather stark tension with other notions which Christian reflection also takes as normative, namely, praise, prayer, and sacrifice. We would do well to place these notions before our own inclinations to theologise about peace and justice. What difference might this make? It might make a theological difference since our language about God would be rooted in our language to or with God. It might also make a moral difference. And it might affect how we understand ourselves as community. After all, what was right about the tax collector and wrong about the Pharisee was not their theology but their stance before God and the other. The difference suggested here is rooted in the shift that takes place when the focus of theology becomes the articulation of a praying people’s imagination and practice.

It is tempting to think of prayer and praise either in the genre of contemplation and silence, on the one hand, or in the form of emotive and ecstatic expressions, on the other hand. Both clearly have deep roots in the Christian tradition. Yet as Dietrich Bonhoeffer aptly reminds us, God is not a God of emotionalism but of truth, which means that we do well to cast the net of applicability somewhat more broadly when speaking of prayer and praise. Might the stories of the children and the rich ruler teach us something about praise and prayer after all? Prayer and praise are not, as they are sometimes taken to be, mere exercises of the spiritual dimension of human existence. Romans 12:1-2 tells us that they are a service empowering us to present our bodies as living sacrifices acceptable to God. In this way prayer and praise become strategies and practices of dispossession….

When we speak a theology of peace and justice in the language of dispossession, we demand a new kind of theological rigour not rooted in an abstract logic or a denuded biblical or any other kind of theology, but rooted in the effort of a people seeking to give expression to a way of human existence before a God who wills to teach us that all of life is grounded in gift. God is not a concept invented to keep our theological world consistent or our existential world meaningful; God is a being with whom we are invited to commune, one who will lead us, one who will nurture us, one who invites us to embrace the other. Such a theology will challenge the fantasies that we have the power to create a just society by our own hands, at the same time as it challenges those who wish to define for us the limits of our involvement in the peace-building enterprise. – Echoes of the Word, 159-169

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