Process, Prophecy, and the Theme of Justice: An Overlooked Relationship

In recent past, the prophetic corpus has gained renewed appreciation among Jews and Christians. Recognized as God’s messengers of justice, many scour the prophetic literature in search of rich and rhetorical statements that might be helpful to confront the rising tide of social and economic injustice that plagues our own time. Not incidentally, this emphasis on the establishment of “social harmony”—a predominant theme in the biblical prophets—is also consonant with process thought.

According to Hebrew Scripture scholar Terence Fretheim, the theme of justice explicitly emerged in the prophetic tradition when uncanny economic change swept the entire Syro-Palestinian coast. The situation of trade was especially prosperous, which brought great wealth to a privileged few, who then used their wealth to become wealthier. The cycle was vicious and fueled a single-minded rapacity. This nascent form of “conspicuous consumption” of early Mesopotamia set in motion a new prophetic posture, namely, the call for complete and undivided devotion to God and the formation of a just society that focused on the significance of ethical behaviors in relationships rather than on sacrifice or cultic activity. Such moral behavior, which directly conformed to the social norms of the law, was most pleasing in the sight of God. The prophetic utterances of Isaiah, Amos, and Micah are keen and instructive. Isaiah announced:

Bring no more vain offerings;
Incense is an abomination to me […]
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
My soul hates;
They have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them […]
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your doings
From before my eyes;
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rescue the oppressed,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow (1:13-17)

Amos declared:

Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
And for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
Because they sell the righteous for silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals—
They who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
And push the afflicted out of the way (2:6-7).

And, finally, Micah briefly captured the essence of this new prophetic movement toward justice:

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, and to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

While Alfred North Whitehead constructed a philosophical system in which he demonstrated the interrelatedness of all things, process philosophers Charles Hartshorne and John Cobb expanded Whitehead’s theories to include the theme of social harmony, one that is much more resonant with prophetic texts. Like the biblical prophets, process theology affirms that social harmony will only be fully actualized when social justice, in all its diverse permutations, is itself victorious. This demand for justice invites us—lures us—to work toward a future in which the human dignity of all is reverenced and respected.

Notes:     

[1] Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 121.

[2] Ibid., 88.

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3 Comments

  1. John on February 16, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    This is the greatest failure of the Roman Church. Justice is in fact the heart of Jesus’s message, but we are trapped in rituals focused on the organization. Follow the money!



  2. Joe Masterleo on February 16, 2022 at 7:21 pm

    Nice review of the prophetic role. The prophetic office was/is not a popular one, then and now. Beacon’s of warning to individuals and nations, the prophets got under people’s skin, pricking their seared and hardened consciences about wandering from the place of justice, mercy and humility, particularly as it pertained to those in power. Speaking truth to power was a divine mandate long before it became a journalistic principle, which, by the way, is all but extinct in the modern era. With a keen eye for the dark side of human nature, and a divine understanding of its piercing remedy, the prophetic calling was/is a difficult and unpopular one. If Mike Rowe’s TV series “Dirty Jobs” existed in ancient times, the job of prophet would be at the top of Rowe’s short list, if only for its high-risk factor. It is reported that at least six of the prophets died as martyrs. Isaiah was sawn in two. The Baptist and Paul lost their heads, and we know what became of the Jesus in his prophetic role with Israel, as well as the apostles, all but one of whom died a martyr’s death. So, the Good News isn’t always good for the one delivering it, as it must be first be preceded by the Bad News that the Good News is a remedy for. The prophets did warn of God’s coming judgements should folk not reverse the error of their ways (repent), but am not sure if they fully understood sin as a lawful interior dynamic whose consequences erring souls brought on themselves, having little to do with an angry God’s judgements. Meaning, God doesn’t so much judge or punish agents FOR their individual, ecclesial or national sins. Rather, they’re punished BY them. Mercy gives ample warning to repent from the dangers of self-orchestrated personal and national harm, say, like smoking, addiction, vices of all kinds, (or Covid vaccine deniers), on the one hand, or on the other, not heeding such dangers as the causes of climate change or nuclear stockpiling. Medical “prophet” Anthony Fauci MD, whose life has been threatened numerous times for truth-speaking in his calling, fully accepts his risky role in same. While the dire, long-term consequences of ignoring truthful warnings are inevitable, such consequences are thoroughly self-induced, not a punishment meted out by God. God is an easy target for all kinds of human-induced failings, natural disasters, and a nation’s woes. A prophet’s unenviable task is to warn others in advance that they’re making themselves a target for self-injury or disaster. Say, the way a caring person would rightly warn a deaf and blind individual of the inevitable, if the latter was lounging on the tracks of an oncoming train. Like with Israel of old, most of our national and global ills are the result of those in power unable to see and hear clearly, or who choose to deny or minimize the symptoms and signs of their own doings and times. God is mainly in the business of redeeming, not condemning, the latter of which the main of humanity specializes in, and blames others for. So much of what the earth and its inhabitants potentially could become, has been and continues to be squandered. Still, the voice of the prophet continues, heard only by those few whose hearts have been prepared to receive it. Cast in the ancient mold, the lot of prophets are equal opportunity butt-kickers, with nothing soft and silky to say about the urgency of their message, or the gravity of the perilous times they live in.



  3. Craigus on March 10, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    In the world of data humanity has been reduced to algorithms. We’ve seen over the past ten or so years a rise in how those who own the data are able to “hack humanity”. Even the concepts of “right” or “left” in the political sphere have become naught but instruments, both “sides” played like puppets. Israel has/is building the most complex digital surveillance system the world has ever seen in the West Bank. The next phase of data oligarchy is biometrics. If all of humanity, in fact, all of life, can be reduced to algorithms then AI’s ability to “unlock” or “hack” or “interpret” those algorithms must have access to each individual human’s biometric data. Those who own the AI, own the new currency, and yet there’s been little to no discussion on the morality of this new system, or even if the idea of morality exists at all anymore.

    This is inevitable. Sooner or later it will be mandatory for everyone to give up their biometric “data” in order to access food, shelter, medicine, economics, etc. Unless a relevant interpretation of or context for human dignity can be established on a global scale the very idea of dignity will become obsolete. To be human will to be a mathematical equation. Justice? What will that even mean then? The pace at which this is occurring is well beyond what most of us seem to understand. In fact, it’s already occurring and has been for some time.



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