History and Justice
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of history bends toward justice.” Empirical evidence proves this statement to be true. But the path toward that justice is not a smooth one, nor in the individual moments does history seem to be leaning toward justice.
The 13th Amendment to the United States constitution which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude seemed to move toward justice. But in that move the ground was made fertile for mass incarceration on an unbelievable scale. Reconstruction of state and society following the Civil War appeared to move us toward justice. But this financial move opened the door for Jim Crow laws which further disenfranchised black Americans. The Civil Rights Movement clearly struggled toward justice. But this movement created a backlash from the majority which was losing its place of power. The presidency of our first African-American president felt like a very just moment in history. But the insecurity of the unknown paved the way for a power grab at security through the demagoguery of populism and prejudice.
And yet, in the long view of history we have moved toward justice. Though it often feels like our progress is incredibly slow.
You see, it is only when we take a wide view of history, tracing the long and circuitous route of it, that we see the truth of Dr. King’s statement. In the individual moments, we seem to be moving either directly toward or directly away from justice. Only from a broad perspective do we see the gradual path.
As to the arc of fear, the individual moments migrate back and forth as wildly as history. But where as history seems to be moving somewhere, the movement of fear never leads to a conclusion. That is because the arc of fear will eventually break.
Fear is not always a negative motivating factor, only mostly. Fear most often shows us our baser selves. But fear can also motivate us to assert our better selves. Occasionally, fear can move us to let our light shine, if only from defiance. If only from the unwillingness to accept the darkness.
But on the whole fear does not lead to good things. This is because fear is the opposite of love. More specifically, fear — of any kind — is in direct opposition to a particular kind of love. I’m speaking of an uncontrolling love that works toward the well-being of the self and others at the same time. This particular type of love requires vulnerability. It requires that we will not try to control others with our love. It requires that we may very well be taken advantage of; we may lose our power; we may not make the world do as we would wish.
To fear is to deny this uncontrolling love.
We see the brokenness that fear pushes us into. We see the cavernous pits of history where fear has won the day. We see in our own lives the unappealing results of personal fear. How many regrets do you have which are directly tied to the fear that got the better of you?
I could make the following appeal at any point in history. In fact, it is a daily appeal I make to myself. Here it is:
I appeal to you, let the arc of fear break under its own life-draining strain, and endeavor to love in way that does not seek control, nor power.
In embracing an authentic and particular love instead of fear as our motivating catalyst, we will likely see injustice done to us. It becomes an opportunity to love.
We may lose all our power. It becomes an opportunity to love.
We may not see our will imposed on the systems of this world. It becomes an opportunity to love.
The way of fear brings occasional moments of false security. But the way of love brings lasting peace. The arc of fear will break. It is inevitable. Let it crumble! The arc of love never breaks and will always bend toward peace.
As Paul wrote in a letter to Timothy: “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of powerful love.” (2 Timothy 1.7)
We cannot change the past. But we can bring the path of love to bear on the arc of history and, in so doing, move the future toward justice.
(Originally published at brianniece.com. Reprinted with permission.)