By Christopher Kim, Class of ’19
The New Haven Green was designed by Puritan colonists in the 17th century as the center of life for their settlement in New Haven. Over the years, it has cemented its place in history as a site of deep historic, political, and cultural significance, from presidential addresses delivered to protests held during the American civil rights movement and Vietnam War. However, the uncomfortable truth today is that the Green is symbolic of New Haven’s staggering poverty rate and the ever-increasing disconnect between Yalies and New Haven residents. Flanked by City Hall and Yale’s Old Campus, the Green is seemingly the epicenter of New Haven’s homeless community. A single look outside a window is all it takes for both the mayor and Yale students to bear witness to an obvious discrepancy between them, the elite and privileged, and the other, the poor and forgotten. But neither the city nor the institution of learning that calls New Haven its home cares enough to pay attention to the plights of New Haven’s homeless population. We blindly pursue light and truth and forgo the reality that is quite literally before our eyes. So a few weeks ago, in an attempt to combat our oblivion to the homeless community, several friends and I made brown bag lunches to offer to those on the Green. This simple initiative opened my eyes to the injustice and inequity right outside my window, as we engaged in raw, poignant, and human conversations with those facing homelessness.
The conversation that left the deepest imprint on me was with a New Haven native, who was piloting a mentorship program to partner those who are currently homeless with those who had overcome homelessness. He shared brutally honest stories of young children roaming around the Green late at night, of homeless women being sexually assaulted while sleeping on park benches, and of the city bulldozing homeless encampments. He recounted a story in which he witnessed a homeless man set himself on fire in broad daylight and traumatically described it as the most horrendous, gut-wrenching sight he had seen. These stories brought to light the realities of the Green: these people were fighting against sexual assault, police brutality, and social stigma associated with mental health–issues that we Yalies tout ourselves for championing.
Listening to the endless accounts of injustice, prejudice, and discrimination and realizing my own ignorance added to my cynicism and amplified the powerlessness I felt when thinking about what kind of impact, if any, my actions could have. I questioned where God was in all this. His goodness and His love felt like distant, abstract notions, no longer things that could be tangibly felt. But in Romans 5:8-10, the Apostle Paul writes:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
In the life of Jesus, we see the epitome of God’s justice. Through his sacrifice, mankind, who was running a hell-bound race, was redeemed, and the gap between Creator and creation was bridged. Through Jesus’ blood, we are saved and justified. While our pursuit of justice may seem futile here on Earth, such labor is made meaningful through God who calls us to justice and showed us infinite love by making the ultimate sacrifice. Justice has not been fully realized, but God promises that it draws near (Isaiah 51:4-5). We can institutionalize problems all we want, but they veil the underlying problem of sin. As long as sin remains in the world, we are bound to witness brokenness in the form of systemic injustice. However, in the redeeming work of the cross, we find assurance and certainty in God’s triumph over sin. We may not have the answers to all the questions now, but we can choose to place our hope and trust in the One who does.
If the crucifixion of Jesus represents true justice granted to us, we must then strive to seek justice in the light of the cross. In his article “Only Christians Understand True Social Justice,” Bryce Young writes, “Only justified Christians can seek true social justice without contorting it to keep themselves safe from judgment on their own sin.” A God-centered pursuit of justice begins with the understanding that we are not so different from the people we seek justice for. In Romans 3:23, Paul writes that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all undeserving of grace, and we are all in need of a Savior. As Christians, we are justified, not by any of our deeds but only by Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Thus, our pursuit of justice must be grounded in an acceptance of our own limitations and shortcomings as sinners. When we wholeheartedly pursue godly justice, we remove any distinction between the sin responsible for the broken world outside us and the sin that corrupts us from within. We distinguish our perverted notion of justice from God’s perfect notion of justice. It is when we are pained by the things that pain the Father, which include our own depravity, that our hearts align with His and we are able to pursue justice in its truest form.
Pursuing justice in the world also requires us to cultivate a humility that openly acknowledges that we cannot heal our own wounds, resolve our own conflicts, or be our own saviors. We need to acknowledge that as long as we live in a world of sin, the world will inevitably be saturated with brokenness and suffering. We’re not in our eternal home yet. But this must not make us complacent in our fight to see godly justice realized here on Earth to its fullest extent. We Christians, as those who know we are justified through Christ, must be the ones on the front lines fighting to champion the poor and the weak, serving as mouths for the mute (Proverbs 31:8), eyes for the blind, feet for the lame (Job 29:15), and fathers for the fatherless (Isaiah 1:17). We must engage in intimate conversation and offer every person the dignity he or she deserves as a human being. We must seek to know this city as a home apart from what Yale has to offer and as a city sought after by God. And in doing so, we reflect glimpses of God’s infinite love and serve as witnesses to the reality of the coming kingdom, which we wait for in eager anticipation: a kingdom with no more tears, death, mourning, sorrow, or pain in which the old order of things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).