Be informed. Be challenged. Be inspired.

Sight-Seeing: When working for justice can lead us away from Jesus

NILS VON KALM sounds a warning about doing works of justice while remaining “comfortably distant” from love…

Melbourne, Australia

Many years ago, a sermon I listened to mentioned Micah 6:8. I’ve always thought of that passage as the John 3:16 of the Old Testament. You know, the one that we all should memorise and take to heart.

If you need a reminder, Micah 6:8 says this: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?”.

The point the preacher made in his sermon that day was that those of us with a strong social justice bent are generally really good at doing justice and loving mercy, but often not so good at walking humbly with God.

Relationships can be messy but we can’t use our call to work for justice to avoid them, says Nils von Kalm. PICTURE: ChayTee/iStockphoto

As I’ve been reflecting on the passing of my mother recently and the importance of love in life, I’ve been challenged about the fact that relationship is the bottom line in the walk of a follower of Jesus. Too often, we can do “love” from a distance and think we’re doing all we can in following Jesus when we’re actually avoiding love and close relationship. Working for justice is a classic and really convenient way to do the works of Jesus while keeping our distance from people, from avoiding the messy, awkward and difficult stuff of actually relating to people. 

“Too often, we can do ‘love’ from a distance and think we’re doing all we can in following Jesus when we’re actually avoiding love and close relationship. Working for justice is a classic and really convenient way to do the works of Jesus while keeping our distance from people, from avoiding the messy, awkward and difficult stuff of actually relating to people.”

When St Paul gave his wonderful treatise on love in I Corinthians 13, he wasn’t thinking of it being a favourite passage to read out at every Christian wedding (nothing wrong with that of course. It’s a great passage to read at a wedding, but that wasn’t its purpose). He was challenging his readers to keep close to our hearts the most important thing, the most excellent way, just as Jesus did. 

We can do all the works of justice we want; we can give our lives to it, and all the while remain comfortably distant from love. I’m reminded of the classic CS Lewis quote about this. He said that to love is to be vulnerable. Here’s what he said in full:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no-one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

This is dangerous stuff. It cuts right to the heart of who we are and who we say we are as followers of Jesus. It’s very possible that we can be totally committed to doing the works of justice that Jesus calls us to, but actually pulling away from Jesus because we’re doing those works of justice to avoid closer relationships. Working for social justice can be a great way to hide ourselves from intimacy with people. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I would much rather we work for justice at all than not do that. Social justice is still a form of love, and it’s what every Christian is called to. This is not a black and white issue. Christians work for justice because they care, even if we can do it to avoid relationships. It’s about where we are on a spectrum of caring. 

This is where we need to examine ourselves. All of us who work for justice can improve on our relationships. Some of us are really good at intimacy while working for justice, while some of us need to hear the call to further messy involvement with people. We’re all at different stages of the journey. 

But let’s not kid ourselves that just because we’re totally committed to justice, that we’re automatically doing the work of Jesus. Whether it be the person who goes to every protest rally but neglects their family in the process, or the person who regularly visits their local Member of Parliament but doesn’t have any friends, we all need to heed the challenge of Jesus to love. Love means messy, vulnerable involvement with people, mostly the people closest to us.

We rely on our readers to fund Sight's work - become a financial supporter today!

For more information, head to our Subscriber's page.

I say all this because I’m guilty as charged of what I’m writing about. I’ve never been good at maintaining friendships. I’m more of a follower than an initiator. For me it goes back to a fear of rejection and a belief that people might get sick of me if I keep reaching out. So, for me, love means taking the calculated risk of reaching out to people with the very real possibility of being knocked back.

CS Lewis was right. We can spend our lives locked away in our cocoons, safe and comfortable, while we gradually die a slow spiritual death, becoming more lonely and anxious all the time. The Australian Christian leader, Dave Andrews, made the point once that community is where there’s always someone you don’t want to be around. That’s the reality of committing to relationships with people. We will experience disappointment and rejection, and possibly even betrayal. But we will also experience the thrill and life and vitality of true human connection. We can’t experience one without the other.

The late Australian pastor, Ross Langmead, sang a song whose opening line is, “God is love and love is giving”. Love, by its very nature, opens itself to abuse and rejection. But it’s the doorway to life. Remember that on the night before Jesus went to the cross, he washed the feet of his betrayer and he healed the ear of a soldier who was sent to arrest him. He gave his disciples the command to love each other, and displayed it in costly sacrifice. 

I John 4:10 says that in this is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us. We are called to be imitators of the personification of love, Jesus, who gave himself away for others that we might live. The great paradox of life is that the more we give ourselves away in costly, sacrificial and vulnerable and intimate love of others, the more we experience a sense of the love of God in our own lives. God help us to live like that.


sight plus logo

Sight+ is a new benefits program we’ve launched to reward people who have supported us with annual donations of $26 or more. To find out more about Sight+ and how you can support the work of Sight, head to our Sight+ page.



We’re interested to find out more about you, our readers, as we improve and expand our coverage and so we’re asking all of our readers to take this survey (it’ll only take a couple of minutes).

To take part in the survey, simply follow this link…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.