Biblical & Quranic hope in a time of despair
The foundation of the reign of God is justice. And from justice come peace and joy.
Hope is a difficult virtue to maintain these days, when the future seems uncertain and many religious and political leaders have lost all credibility. Religion has become irrelevant to some and a cause of conflict for others, rather than a source of idealism and reconciliation.
Many young people abandon religious faith, while others have become religious zealots who lead their fanatical followers to battle against those who do not share their own beliefs.
In the Catholic Church, many bishops are not trusted by their people. America’s Protestant evangelicals are criticized for being more interested in propping up Trump, than in gospel values.
In the world of politics, we see a general inability to deal with the real issues of our day: climate change, economic injustice, and conflict among peoples. We see partisan divisions and political chaos: in France over a tax on energy, in Britain over Brexit, and in most of Europe over political refugees and economic immigrants.
Right-wing parties rule the governments of Brazil, Philippines, Turkey, Italy, and Hungary and threaten the governments of Austria, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, and the USA. Anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and Anti-Immigrant political groups grow throughout Europe and North America.
Political and economic elites, who have prospered under globalization, seem blind to the suffering of those who have lost jobs; and have no hope for the future because they don’t have the skills to operate in this new world. The ground is prepared for a revolution. Progressives always thought that the revolution would be led by the left. But the rise of right-wing governments suggests that many people regard the left as bankrupt as well. And left or right, voters don’t trust the wealthy elite or their governments.
The Prophets of Israel, like all of God’s Prophets, spoke to their people who also had many bad rulers. The Biblical prophets excoriated their religious and political leaders, but they also offered hope and comfort to those who were suffering. Their central message was, “God is on your side.”
The Hebrew Prophets spoke about an aspirational just and peaceful kingdom of God: that gives everyone hope, for God is on the side of the all the exploited. Stimulated by an article by Thomas Reese, I add these inspired words from the Bible and the Qur’an; that enjoin hope and forbid despair.
Prophet Muhammad proclaims:
Behold, God enjoins justice, doing good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellows; and forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy [and] exhorts you [repeatedly] so that you might bear [all this] in mind.(Qur’an 16:90)
Prophet Micah states: “Mankind, God has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
On the fast of Yom Kippur every year Jews read Prophet Isaiah’s words: “On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
“This is the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the chains of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? To share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard… If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and spend from yourselves on behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like noon (Isaiah 58:3-10).
For: “Righteous is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but righteous is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, the Prophets; and gives wealth in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives Zakah; fulfilling their promise when they promise; and are patient in poverty, hardship and during battle. These are the ones who have been true, and it is these who are the righteous.” (Qur’an 2:177)
As the Qur’an states:
“’Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing.”(Quran 5:8)
And as Prophet Isaiah states: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them [all] saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance” (Isaiah 19:23-5).
The foundation of the reign of God is justice. And from justice come peace and joy. Prosperity that is not based on justice is a house built on sand: It will not last because without justice there cannot be true peace.
Likewise, piety without justice is not true peace.