by Michelle Bauman, Director of Y4Life
I’ve been reflecting on roots lately … obsessing over them, if I’m honest. It all began last spring when I filled my herb tower with starter plants. Worried that the roots might not have enough room to grow, I added a few herbs to my flower beds to prevent overcrowding. It was definitely the right decision; by mid-summer, I was blessed with a bountiful harvest of garlic chives, rosemary, and oregano.
While sunshine certainly gets a lot of credit for growth, basic botany reminds us that there’s just as much going on underneath the soil as there is above it. And when problems arise in a plant’s life, it’s almost always better for those problems to be happening topside. It’s easy for a gardener to address a broken limb or an infestation of mites. There’s a simple solution for a plant that’s visibly thirsty.
But diagnosing a root problem is difficult to do. Root rot is almost impossible to detect until it’s too late; it often requires trimming and transplanting into new, healthy soil. But because it’s hidden beneath the earth, there’s little hope for a plant under the care of a novice gardener.
Like plants, words have roots, too, roots that delve deep into linguistic history. And they carry with them layers of meaning and nuance, layers that often lie hidden beneath the soil of modern usage. When we forget these roots, sometimes rot sets in.
Let’s take, for example, the word “justice.”
By secular definition, justice definitely has connotations and shades of morality attached to it. Connected to legal proceedings, justice means administering both rewards and punishments that are deserved; it means adhering to a moral principle established by a higher order, and it includes good conduct and the act of treating others equitably.
By definition then, justice is something we should desire. In this kingdom of the left that God has established for our good, we see order and fairness and equality playing out when the government does what it is called to do. Because the world is full of sin, we need the kingdom of the left, and when the government promotes and establishes justice, we confess that the government is good.
But when the kingdom of the left doesn’t serve justly, we have a vocational obligation as citizens and as Christians to seek reform. We are called to protect and defend those unjustly accused, those unjustly harmed, and even more tragically, those unjustly killed. In fact, this desire to protect life because it is created by God and redeemed by Christ, because it is unique and unrepeatable, is foundational to the Christian 4-Life movement across the nation. It is foundational to you who seek to support LIFE.
Justice is, by nature then, both important and good. Perhaps even more interesting, though, is that the definition of justice doesn’t end there. When we dig even further into its roots, we find that the very definition of justice includes not only moral rightness, but the quality of righteousness itself.
The quality of righteousness itself.
If that doesn’t make us sit back and ponder for a while, it definitely should. We all know that by corrupted nature, our roots are rotten with sin. We are decaying; the ravages of sin cause our bodies, our words, and our relationships with others to fall apart. Like rotting plants, we need a gardener to save us. We need someone to trim our rotten roots and transplant us into healthy soil.
And that’s exactly what God sent His Son to do—to pull us out of the deathly soil we were trapped in, to clip away our nasty, worldly, decaying roots and stymie our sure and certain death. God knew that our destruction was so deep, that after cutting it off, only blood could clot the wound. Only blood could restore life. Only the blood of His Son, Christ.
And Christ did it. He died so that we might live. Romans 8:1-2 reminds us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death,” and Psalm 103:12 assures us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Christ received the punishment we deserve and gave us eternal life instead.
It was, in all measures of the word, the most unjust death the world has ever seen.
But thanks be to God that through this great injustice, Christ brought justice to the world. Now, like a gentle gardener, Christ daily uproots us and washes us clean in the waters of our Baptism. He transplants us into His rich soil of forgiveness and salvation, and He causes us to bear fruit, fruit that blesses the world.
We know that true and perfect justice will never be found in imperfect beings. It cannot grow from rotted roots. But we also know WHERE IT IS FOUND. Psalm 103:6 reminds us, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” True righteousness and justice are only found in Christ.
Because our roots are planted in Him, because His blood now nourishes us, we are able to work for the good of others in the world. We can and do confess that all life is precious in His sight, all life is valuable, and all life has been redeemed. And we encourage our government to value lives, too, asking it to establish and continue to uphold justice, to provide equitable opportunities for all people, and to treat all people with dignity.
The last few months have given us ample time to reflect on our roots, ample time to reflect on the disease that seeks to destroy us. But it has also given us plenty of opportunities to remember where our roots belong. Paul reminds us in Colossians 2:6-7 that we’ve been replanted. We are now rooted and built up in Christ. We now walk in Him. Christ has become our justice and our hope.