Does your heart ever feel stirred up by something that just doesn’t seem fair? An injustice in the news, perhaps, or a situation in your own life?
Thinking about a higher sense of justice, I’ve observed that the human spirit has been ignited by discontent with conditions such as oppression, poverty, unemployment, and concentration of power in the hands of a privileged few. This has been evident in the social upheavals beginning in Tunisia in 2010, followed by ones in Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco, Syria, Russia, and other countries. Many activists, including tech-savvy youths discontented with the status quo, have tapped into social media to rally populations and claim fundamental rights.
In my own usually peaceful city, Montreal, a wave of social action was kindled in February when university students started boycotting classes en masse to protest the government’s planned tuition fee increase. Fueled by broader concerns about the economy and government management of public funds, this action has burgeoned into a widespread social movement featuring nightly cacerolazo demonstrations – people banging on pots – with a wide range of voices calling for greater social and economic justice.
Human hearts naturally rebel when people feel deprived of their full rights to well-being and liberty. We all want whatever is desirable in life, including good government, a sustainable economy, health, peace, and a sense of purpose.
I’ve been thinking a lot about protest from a spiritual perspective. The Bible, often considered a purely religious book, describes thousands of years of protest against all kinds of unfair conditions, as well as the spiritually inspired thinking that has led to freedom.
The book of Exodus tells how Moses and the Israelites rebelled against oppression, and how they were led out of Egyptian slavery, fed in the desert, and brought to a revelation at Mt. Sinai by the growing consciousness of God’s laws of justice.
In the book of Ruth, the newly widowed Ruth protested against customs whereby a new widow would return to her parents, homeland, and culture. She chose instead to stay by the side of her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, and worship the Israelite God, thereby securing safety and sustenance for both women.
The prophet Elisha stood up for social justice when he helped a woman regain the house and land she had lost after fleeing the country to escape a famine (see II Kings 8:1-6).
One of my favorite examples of rightful protest is Jesus. Known for his gentleness and compassion, he nonetheless rebelled against a whole range of unjust conditions in society, including hunger, oppression, disease, social exclusion, threatening weather, and even death. He consistently brought healing and restoration to those around him through his deep consciousness of God’s infinite love and care for all.
In New England in 1908, a woman named Mary Baker Eddy felt roused to action by the growing tendency toward sensationalist journalism at the time. In response, she founded The Christian Science Monitor to support the universal human right to obtain accurate, constructive information. She once described her strong stand for truth and her love of humanity as expressions of “a heart wholly in protest and unutterable in love” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 134).
I like the idea of protest that’s motivated by love and open to new ideas. But what type of protest can lead to practical solutions today? I’ve found that prayer is a very effective form of protest. I’m talking about prayer that refuses to accept misfortunes as part of God’s will for us. This protest is based on the understanding that God is omnipotent divine Love, “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things...” (Psalms 103:3-5, New International Version). I’ve learned that prayer-based protest opens thought to see the operation of God’s laws of harmony and progress.
Several years ago, I was fired from my job for defending the rights of a client. This definitely did not seem fair to me. And how would I be able to provide a reference to potential new employers? But I took a firm spiritual stand in my thought, prayerfully insisting that injustice and unemployment are no part of God’s plan of good for us. I spent time studying the Bible and cherishing the idea that God created us to express divine qualities and skills (see Genesis 1:27, 28; Ephesians 2:10). I’m thankful to say that I moved into a satisfying career in a new field.
I’m so grateful for all the spiritual activists who’ve demonstrated that a sincere heart contending for God’s higher laws of justice will inevitably witness and support progress.
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