During the summer of 2018, I fulfilled a years-long desire to spend a week on the Isle of Iona off the western shores of Scotland. Iona (I Chaluim Cille in Gaelic) has a long spiritual history dating back to the sixth century when an Irish monk named Columba settled there and founded a monastery. My journey to Iona was long—three legs via plane from Washington, DC, to New York City, to London, and finally to Scotland. After an overnight in Glasgow, I had another full day of travel, taking a several-hours-long train ride from Glasgow to Oban, a ferry for almost an hour from Oban to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, an additional two-hour coach bus ride (on mostly single-lane roads!) from Craignure to Fionnphort, and finally a quick ten-minute ferry ride from Fionnphort to the Isle of Iona. Needless to say, I felt most grateful to finally arrive!
With every mile traveled toward this sacred place where I went to meet with God, the troubles and realities of the world became more obscure. I actually believe the ridiculously long journey to Iona is a part of the sacredness of retreating there; the distance seems spiritually significant. As the final ferry approached the landing terminal, I became overwhelmed by the harsh beauty of the place. When I had seen pictures, I thought they had been doctored because the water was so overwhelmingly brilliant and so vibrantly turquoise. Sparkling. Clear. Pure. White sand beaches line the very short length of the island. (I later learned that one of the most beautiful beaches is called “White Strand of the Monks” [Traigh Bhan Nam Monach], commemorating where several of Columba’s followers were slaughtered during a Viking invasion. Even in such a sacred place, the violence of the world had broken through.)
Iona has been called a “thin place” by many—a place, as Tracy Balzer puts it, “from earth to heaven” where the line “between the spirit world and the physical world” is paper thin. She describes a thin place as “any place that creates a space and atmosphere that inspires us to be honest before God and to listen to the deep murmurings of his Spirit within.” On the island, there is not much to do besides worship, be still, and meet with God. I wrote in my journal that evening, “Why do I feel closer to God here? Perhaps because Iona is a thin place closer to heaven and the spiritual realm than some of the ‘thick’ places in the world.”
The kingdom of God, which we often can glimpse in those thin places of the world, encapsulates the fullness of God’s heart for justice. Justice is the promise that one day the world will be made right. The book of Revelation reminds us that the kingdom is a place where there are no tears, where Christ will be glorified and the brokenness of the world will be fully healed:
“Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,”
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
“he will lead them to springs of living water.”
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:16‑17)
This is a picture of God’s divine justice. Through Christ, the brokenness of the world has been redeemed, and one day justice will completely prevail.
The Bible is a book about justice. Kingdom justice. Biblical justice. And social justice. For God did not send his son Jesus into the world to condemn the world but to reconcile the world to himself. John 3:16 is the heart of the gospel. Christ came to save the lost and broken so that the world might be reconciled to God and once again made right, the way God intended for it to be.
I’ve become increasingly convinced that the gospel of Christ cannot be fully expressed without both salvation and justice being integrated and pursued. Biblical justice is the manifestation of the full gospel of Christ. We see this throughout the Scriptures from God’s initial view of creation as “good” and his proclamation that Adam and Eve, man and woman together in community, not only reflect the image of God (imago Dei) but are deemed by the Creator as “very good” (Gen 1:31).
The prophets continually talk about justice and how worshiping and honoring God is directly linked to the pursuit of justice. And justice is certainly woven intricately throughout the entirety of the gospel. Consider Luke 4 Jesus’ very first recorded sermon in the Gospels—where he proclaims the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, / because he has anointed me / to preach good news to the poor.” His words would have reminded those listening of the promises of the Year of Jubilee from Leviticus 25, which was a vision of how God intended the world to be—free from slavery and oppression, where blindness exists no more, the impoverished are released from economic poverty, and captives are set free. Jesus was declaring himself the fulfillment of the Year of Jubilee.
The gospel cannot be dichotomized into only spiritual provision or only material deliverance. Both—the spiritual and the material—are necessary components of the good news of salvation. Proclaiming Christ without responding to the needs of those who are poor and oppressed is inadequate. Comprehensive biblical justice is the scriptural mandate to manifest the kingdom of God on earth by making God’s blessings available to all humankind.