One of the main things I try to teach when I’m speaking on a theology of justice is that justice isn’t just something we do, rather we’re supposed to become just and righteous people who do just and righteous things. Somehow in our fast-paced, modern culture we can get overly focused on the adventure or urgency of addressing national or global injustices.
Another way of saying this is that justice isn’t a cause, it should be a lifestyle.
As I speak with people about justice, I sometimes hear a variation on this: “I want to be a modern-day William Wilberforce. I’m going to end slavery in my day.”
Perhaps, instead of wanting to do like Wilberforce, we should spend more of our energy trying to be like Wilberforce.
Wilberforce began thinking and praying about the abolition of the slave trade in the 1780s, first bringing up the issue in Parliament in 1787 when he was twenty-nine.
On July 26, 1833, Wilberforce was told that a bill would certainly pass that would abolish slavery in the British Empire. Three days later, Wilberforce died. He was seventy-three.
Wilberforce was constant and measured in his resolve to end slavery. He dramatically changed the world. He is widely credited with being a major force in ending the slave trade and abolishing slavery in the British Empire.
Do you believe he regretted giving his life to a cause that took a lifetime to achieve? I don’t.
Justice doesn’t have a finish line, and neither does education.
We never reach a point where we cannot learn, where ceasing to learn would make us, or our world, better. It takes perseverance to walk the road of justice, and we cannot know where or when—or if—it will end for us.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, a professor of theology at Yale, stated, “We [institutions of higher education] must not just teach about justice—though we must; I mean we must teach for justice. The graduate whom we seek to produce must be one who practices justice.”
Do you want to change the world? In a cultural climate where it’s far easier to cast stones and critique, let’s instead choose to engage.
This isn’t something we accomplish overnight. It’s not about one-time actions, but about our calling. It’s not about single events, but about a lifetime of faithfulness. Learning to change the world is rarely easy or convenient—it can be complex, costly, and messy. With so many injustices confronting us at home and abroad, these times can seem overwhelming . . . but they don’t have to overwhelm us. Let’s not let what we cannot do interfere with what we can do.
What will we decide to do with the time and opportunities we’ve been given? It isn’t enough to say we want to change the world. To change the world requires knowledge and skill, as well as dedication, which is why the motto of Kilns College is learn to change the world.