Just Words (Psalm 7)
Reflections on Psalm 7
When God speaks in the Bible, they’re just words. His speech, however, is not empty breath. It is the very language defining reality. He tells us what to live for and how to do it. Love for God and others is the objective of our lives. These two objects of our love comprise the vertical and horizontal aspects of justice. God’s words tell us what is just.
In Leviticus, the Lord reminds his covenant community to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). To do this, we must treat others the way we would want to be treated. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). If you want to hear a kind word, offer one first to someone else. If you desire affirmation, affirm the dignity native to your neighbor. We don’t act to fill fulfill our needs; rather, they remind us that our neighbors, too, have unmet needs we can fill. Love given to fulfill my neighbor’s heart, that is the horizontal essence of God’s justice. For us to love this way down below on earth, however, we need to have first received this virtue from heaven above.
As we exchange love with each other, we do so as a reflection of God’s heavenly love. His affection is the beginning of all love. Like a Father teaching his child to walk, God’s relationship to us helps us find our feet. In looking upward to him we gain the ability to move. His love shows us how to love.
An Imbalanced Equation
If men and women depended on the Father for love and freely shared that with each other, justice would thrive on earth. We fail to act toward each other as we should, however, so the equation is unbalanced. From systemic issues to interpersonal disagreements, we have violated the principle of horizontal love. Now, we individually and collectively long to regain the just love we have stolen from each other. Where can this missing virtue be found?
Love and sacrifice
For justice to ever return, sacrifice and love must come first. We have to treat our neighbor well first. This means they may not reciprocate the action; in loving first, we may not get kindness, affirmation, or appreciation in return from the person we are loving. The willingness to love without a guaranteed return is the core of sacrifice. Love and sacrifice are the ultimate acts of defiance against injustice. It proclaims we will not stand for their normality. Instead, we will blaze a new, better way.
How Justice Returns
Love that precedes and acts sacrificially can return justice to earth. For it to work in the horizontal sphere, however, it must descend from the vertical realm. God created us to constantly look up to him in dependence for how to love. Now, in our failure of affection, the Lord looks down to restore creation’s order. In his downward gaze, Christ meets us. As a man, he perfectly loved his neighbor. As God, he extended mercy for our failures. He loved first, and he loved sacrificially. On the cross, the vertical realm of God’s perfect charity intersects with the horizontal aspect of our fractured love for each other. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, our injustice finds forgiveness and we are enabled to love justly again. Christ summarizes this renewed reality by commanding us to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 13:35). When God speaks, they are just words.
Footsteps—putting feet on our faith
1. In what ways have you failed to love your neighbor?
2. In what ways have you failed to love God?
3. How does Jesus restore justice?
Dear God, you are love. In you this virtue finds source and sustenance. From you I learn how to love. Apart from you, my love distorts and turns inward. Keep me focused on you and to never stop drinking from the source. In Christ I pray, amen.