When we look at the state of the world, we often can’t help but feel hopeless. What with the number of people living in poverty, the number of modern slaves, the rate of deforestation, the increase in global warming, the consistent failures of governments to serve their people, it seems that the problems in today’s world are unrelenting. One piece of good news is quickly shouted down by ten depressing statistics, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that lowly millennials like us can do about it. Somehow turning out the light for Green Week in primary school just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.
For Christians, even for those part of Just Love, it’s easy to feel disillusioned when working for social justice. I’ve spent a good portion of my university life going out on the streets once a week with Just Love HO to ‘give our homeless friends a sense of God-given dignity and value’ by handing out hot drinks and basic essentials. And sometimes it feels like we go out more for our own sense of self-righteousness and to tick the ‘doing something because it’s right not because it’s easy’ box. After all, it’s not like we can make anything better, it’s not like anything’s going to change!
So why do I still go?
I think there are two main ways that Christians can be encouraged in their individual lives and work for social justice. One is something that we all hear but don’t necessarily act according to: the world may be broken, and that was our fault, but God is sovereign. That means that no, we can’t change anything by ourselves, but no, that doesn’t make us hopeless! Our God chooses to use us in his plans, and who better: ‘a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’ (Jonah 4:2). To learn to trust Him and His ways, timings and decisions takes faith and often guts, but it is so rewarding: we can learn to focus on the pursuit of His kingdom, while resting assured that His way is the best way.
But if God’s so great, then where do we come into it? In Matthew 25 there’s a parable which massively encourages me in this regard. It’s called the ‘parable of the talents’, or the ‘parable of the bags of gold’, and in it there are three men, who are each given a different number of bags of gold, according to their ability, and then are left to look after this giver’s wealth while he goes away. While the man who received the smallest gift didn’t invest it at all and is cursed by his master as a result, the other two men invest their respective gifts, and receive the same praise from the owner once he returns: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
We’re students: we have limited experience, time and money. God understands that – he created us, and knows what the future holds for each of us. But what this parable shows us is that we shouldn’t make excuses: all God-given gifts should be used for the glory of God, even if it doesn’t seem like we have much to offer. We can’t give anything more than we have – but we can acknowledge that what we have is a gift and do what we can with it. The giver in the parable says the same thing to both men, even though they technically, numerically got different returns: ‘You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.’ Our actions stand before God – we are called to live distinctively, both in ways that others can see and ways that they can’t. But God is not only our judge but also our Father: he delights in us, even in our meagre efforts.
So what can we do to show that, despite everything, we still have hope? The individual, seemingly small choices we make in our lives, whether that’s having a chat with a rough sleeper, giving up meat, going zero-waste or giving to charity…all are a part of stewarding God’s creation and loving the world that He loves.