15 Feb Justice, Righteousness, Compassion: God’s Plan for Nation Building
India is a multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic marvel of a nation. We have demolished the myth that we need one race, one language, or one religion to be a unified people. Our country is home to some 2,000 different ethnicities, speaking close to 450 languages, following all the four major religions of the world, and more. But we have demonstrated that a desire to be one country is the most crucial element to be a nation. To be honest, the seven decades of our independence have not been all glorious. There were some ugly upheavals, such as linguistic agitations, unrest in the states, the Emergency of 1975 — all of which have left a deep scar on our collective psyche. Besides, there have been some deep-seated and perennial maladies, such as casteism, communalism, and corruption, for which we have not found any permanent solution.
In the light of all these complexities, our unity, as a nation remains our greatest achievement. The question, however, may be asked whether it is not merely a political achievement that has nothing to do with the biblical mandate. Bible, many Christians believe, has nothing to do with earthly order; it is merely an instruction book that prepares us for heaven. How many of us have heard this ludicrous expansion of the acronym B-I-B-L-E: Best Instruction Before Leaving Earth? If Bible is about leaving earth, then committing ourselves to nation-building is an undesirable entanglement. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (KJV). If the earth and its many blessings belong to God, if the world and its inhabitants are the creation and possession of God, then should Christians invest their time and energy in proclaiming only intergalactic escape plans? God wants us to be committed to the habitation He places us in. Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to “dress it and keep it”, that is, to develop it and look after it (Gen. 2:15 KJV). In Genesis 10 and 11, we see God’s hand in creating nations, which in those initial times were uniform in their composition, with people belonging to the same language and same clan. In Genesis 12, God tells us, Abraham, that he would give him his land, separate from his kinsmen. Common ethnicity, thus, is not an absolute condition for a nation. In Genesis 13, Abraham and Lot divide territories between themselves. Later, out of Abraham, the Hebrew community was formed. But this community, or “nation”, was driven into slavery. They lived in Egypt; they had no rights there because they were not citizens of that nation. For them to be a nation, they must have their land to which they must be voluntarily committed. So through Moses, and later Joshua, God led them to Canaan, a land which they could call their own. During that journey, God taught them how to be a nation. It is in Deuteronomy 16 that we see God’s clear commands to the slaves to turn themselves into a nation. It would be a great accomplishment to occupy the land, but more important was the culture that they must build on that land. God commanded the Hebrews to observe the month of Abib in which the “Lord thy God brought thee out of Egypt” (Deut 16:1 KJV).
Remembering their historical escape, the great act of God in the past through which they gained their liberation from slavery, was necessary; but, it wasn’t sufficient to build a nation. The Hebrew slaves on their journey towards freedom and sovereignty must also learn how to reflect God’s character in their new existence as free people.
You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Deut. 16:18–20 ESV).
Justice must be at the heart of this new community, emerging out of 400 years of slavery. Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey, was still only a hardware that would sustain a free people, a free society, only if it operates on the software of justice and righteousness.
It is Joshua who finally brings people to the Promised Land and helps them settle down. Each tribe is assigned their land and they are instructed that they will not cross their boundary to encroach upon the neighboring settlements. Borders are sacrosanct, and within their boundaries, justice and righteousness must rule. The rest of the Old Testament narrates how the emerging nation of Israel loses its way, gets divided into two separate nations of Israel and Judah, and suffers exile and ignominy for their disobedience and stubbornness.
The unfinished agenda of the Old Testament, that is, the reign of justice and righteousness is given a renewed push in the New Testament when Jesus commands his disciples to go to all nations and make disciples. He had already taught them to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10 KJV), but now he commanded them to model it for the rest of the nations and teach them to show the key element that builds a nation: compassion. Compassion was the update in the cultural software of justice and righteousness. Justice is subverted because people are indifferent to each other. The pain of one person is not felt by the other. The need of a person is overlooked by the one who can fulfill that need. An enquirer asked Jesus what, according to Him, was the greatest commandment from God. Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan
The biblical idea of nation-building can be said to hinge on the three principles of justice, righteousness, and compassion. People who are free, truly free, truly set free by the Truth (Jn 8:32) must build a culture that flows out of these principles. Paul, the great evangelist who was consumed by the passion to spread the gospel, who undertook many perilous missionary journeys to take the message of salvation to the farthest places he could reach, was nevertheless committed to developing a culture of justice, righteousness, and compassion. For instance, he charged Titus to put in order things that remained and appoint elders to further create a new culture (Tit. 1:5). The biblical mandate was for the salvation of souls and also for reformation of the culture.
Reformation of the 16th century and the great missionary movement of the subsequent centuries all testify to the fact that God’s will is to build nations, and within each of those nations, the top priority must be to seek God, as the Bible says in Acts 17:26 – 27 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way towards him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us.”
The great missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries made a substantial and foundational contribution to the creation of modern India. Gospel of Jesus Christ—directly and indirectly—triggered the comprehensive transformation of life, institutions, and morals on the Indian subcontinent. Christian missionaries, Indian Christians, and Indians from other religious backgrounds collaborated to make a fresh start. Before Indians began fighting for political freedom, they were wholeheartedly engaged in social reform. That generation of Indians had understood that without social reform, political freedoms would be untenable. Social evils had to be eradicated, collective or public spirit had to be cultivated and individual character had to be sanctified. After 74 years of independence, it is time for us to recognize that India is a nation not merely because of political freedom or national sovereignty; it is so, also because we have been committed to the social freedoms of our citizens that guarantees them a life of dignity, security, and justice.
In the light of the above, what can we conclude about our role in nation-building? As Christians, we need to have an unwavering commitment to justice, righteousness, and compassion. Whether it was God talking to the liberated slaves in Deuteronomy 16:27 or Paul instructing his spiritual son in Titus 1:5, the appointment of just and wise judges is a crucial element in creating a godly culture of justice, righteousness, and compassion. By “judges” we mean not only those administrating justice in courts of law but all people responsible for administration. The church must take it as a mandate to prepare people to take up leadership positions in the society, who will serve the nation as servant-leaders—a model perfectly illustrated by Lord Jesus Christ himself. Christian youth must aspire to be not only “worship leaders” within the four walls of the church but also “intellectual leaders” of the larger society. This they must have a desire to serve the nation through civil services, judiciary, media, and academia. Therefore, we build the nation by praying for, being and appointing the right kind of people for the right kind of positions. And fundamentally, we build the nation by becoming people who can be considered worthy of worthy appointments.
Dr Ashish Alexander is Dean, School of Film and Mass Communication and Head, Department of English, SHUATS, Allahabad. He has freelanced for Indian Express and worked for Dainik Bhaskar. His articles have featured in The Tribune, Daily Post, Madras Courier and Caravan magazine. He has worked PEARSON and FORWARD Press magazine for a few years. His current research interests include intellectual history of modern India. He is married to a journalist and has two children.