by Toby Lowther
Why should students bother with social justice? Surely, it would make much more sense to wait until you were older, wiser, in some better position to influence others. Why are we talking about “hungering” for justice, such an immediate, visceral sensation, when it clearly ought to be a matter for the years down the line?
Perhaps you’ve found yourself thinking thoughts like these – I know that at times in my life, I certainly have. We live in a world of “not-yets”: yes, you’re told you can change the world, but only when you’re a “real adult”, thoroughly engrossed in a day job and beyond the “student bubble”. When those like Greta Thunberg stand up to challenge the injustices and issues of our modern world, more often than not, they’re silenced and told they’re just not “old enough” to understand.
But as Paul writes in Corinthians, “the time is short.” (1 Corinthians 7: 29) He goes on to write, “From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31) Or as it is elsewhere written in Romans, “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” (Romans 13: 11-12a.)
These verses point to one of the many truths that the early church truly understood, but we, as the church in the 21st century, have so often forgotten: the immediacy of the mission of God. “The time is short” – so what are you going to do with it?
Why should Christian students bother with social justice? Because the call to love our neighbour and serve the last, the least, and the lost doesn’t start the day you graduate – it starts the day you meet Jesus.
We have at most some 80-odd years on this world, to preach the Good News by word and deed, to live the love of Christ as ones loved first, and to play our small part in the great work of restoration that is the Kingdom of God; and no one knows when Jesus will return, and the time for working will be done for good. As we look forward with that knowledge, we must realise that we cannot waste the time we have now waiting to be “old enough” to do good.
The day is always drawing near when “each of us will gave an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14: 12). What kind of a generation will we be? What kind of a church will we be? Will we be the ones who stood by while the planet we were given to steward burns, the people we should love are pressed into slavery to make our clothes, and the vulnerable are cast out and forgotten by society – all because we “weren’t old enough” to change it? What account will we give?
“The time is short.”
All this is not to say that we should rush blindly into complex issues, without knowledge – this would do more harm than good. It is wise to inform yourself; to learn, understand, pick apart the complex webs of the many massive issues of our age. Rather, this is just to reiterate what Paul says to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12); instead, “set an example” in all things, not least in justice.
As we come to the end of a term of looking at what it means to “hunger and thirst” for justice, let’s remember the simple fact that if you’re truly hungering, you’re not content with a meal several years down the line. You need it now. Our desire for justice should be likewise – not a desire just for justice in some “quieter day to come”, when we have a bit more time and a bit more prestige to “really make a difference” – but a desire to see God’s justice break out now.
Toby is a PPL student at University College, and this year’s events co-ordinator for Just Love Oxford
Opinions expressed are those of the author, not of Just Love Oxford. Just Love Oxford is not responsible for the content of external links. Bible references are to the NIV.[image description (cover): Toby is standing in front of a waterfront, smiling.]
[image description (inline): a close-up of Toby, slightly side-on, standing outside in front of a tree on a sunny day.]