Katie Ippolito | 19
You sit down across from me and from the tension in your posture I can already tell you’re hoping that this is going to be one of those times that we laugh and chatter and only pay attention to what’s immediately in front of us.
The low hum of the TV in the background and our friends laughing at the periphery of the room are just distracting enough that we can be swayed to the levity of spirits that comes with the unconscious assurance of time to spare.
“Do not prophesy”, their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us.”
Uncomfortable conversations can be forestalled to some blurrier time: 3 AM (when we’re more honest and more likely to forget any affronts), or any indefinite tomorrow. So we dust off our internal Rolodex of conversation starters, flipping through for something that’s innocuous without being trite.
The basketball team just beat Colby—
How was your test? You were studying so hard for it—
Would you believe that I went to the C Store for milk and they were out and I had to walk all the way to Hannie’s and it was cold—
So, I heard that so-and-so was causing drama. Honestly, what is their problem?
And I mean, consider everything that’s happening on campus right now, with that party and the stuff that’s all over Yik Yak. Please.
You think they’d know better.
Value claims start cluttering the air between us, critiques disguised innocently enough as gossip, opinions, and concerns-among-friends. We are toeing a fine line between tolerance and offence, but this kind of judgment-by-any-other name has always been admissible behind the scenes. The world we live in is constructed in equal parts by what actually is and by how we experience that reality. Our backgrounds, heartbreaks, and preferences inevitably color our perspectives, changing the skyline of the world as we know it until we can come up with a series of rules that fit our experience. This thought flickers across my mind, carrying a story, a true story starring the last righteous man on earth.
What misery is mine…The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains.
A few thousand years later, everyone is righteous. Aren’t they? We live by subjective codes of morality, toasting, to each his own. Every day we walk into people and situations that we’ll smile at—the expression never reaching our eyes—and engage in small talk, nodding and laughing at all the right moments, while in our heads we’re perched on a seat high enough to give us nosebleed. We cringe at every verbal misstep, are dismayed at the lack of simple common sense, irritated with the fragility of egos. But we cannot be ignorant of the rules of society—there’s a real price to pay for breaking those: the funny looks, the scornful newspaper articles, the anonymous Internet forums where our names can be posted to be ridiculed and reflected on a million screens. So long as we keep our judgments bound with politeness and sensitivity, so long as we do not offend, so long as we tolerate…there is almost nothing context cannot rationalize. One crime remains: to think yourself or your beliefs superior to someone else and their beliefs. Anything is permissible, unless whatever it is infringes on someone else’s equal freedom to do whatever it is they think is right or good. So righteousness, to be fair, has gotten a lot easier to achieve: do whatever works for you, and if you don’t bother anyone else, they won’t bother you. It’s just courtesy.
Should you not know justice, you who hate good and love evil?
I run through the usual rationales. Our world is a better one to live in than that of a 300, 100, even 50 years ago. Isn’t it? Here is a new generation, our generation, who look at each other with so much more compassion than our parents did. Connected by global networks, in airplanes and on social media, with every kind of knowledge at our fingertips, we understand each other better. We’re so much more accepting.
You remind me that every day there are kids, younger than us, who end their lives because they just can’t take the pressure of this world, the ridicule they receive from their classmates or their parents, the overwhelming sense of failure. You remind me that not so long ago, on our very own campus, people were up in arms defending their families’ histories and culture from kids who thought they had just been trying to have a little fun. That before that, there was another party, another argument, another campus engulfing conversation about privilege and ignorance, and beliefs so ingrained that they can masquerade as “the way things are supposed to be.”
The television blares on, no longer so soothing.
My ears pick up statistics and headlines. A riot and police brutality, a rape and the victim’s testimony under fire, and I refocus on your face, your mouth still moving telling some story, but your eyes are clouded with your own heartbreaks, that you dare not compare to the suffering of the world, but that you are referring to as much as anything when you say:
Sometimes I wish they’d get what’s coming to them; but I guess some things you just have to let go…Sometimes the scales remain unbalanced.
It sounds so hopeless.
All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the house of Israel …for her wound is incurable…this is not your resting place, because it is defiled, it is ruined, beyond all remedy.
Micah 1:5, 2:10
And as anger blossoms in my chest, my own heart threatening to crack, I imagine picking up a sword and going to battle for you and everyone else the old fashioned way and silencing the voices that have unbalanced the scales.
Therefore, the Lord says: “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves.”
And I realize—I’ve tried that before. At any given moment, I might think, she should not be doing that, or he’s so obnoxious, or how dare they treat me like that when I’ve been nothing but good to them.
Still you believe that justice has yet to be dealt. Clearly, so do I, or I wouldn’t be out to fight the same old sorrows, the same old unforgiven reprobates, over and over again. I think of the perch that I accused us all of having, that internal place of honor and secret judgment throne. I notice that I am firmly seated in my own, and that my view of all the people I presume to judge is pretty blurry.
The sword falls from my hands, and, unbidden, a million memories unfold, releasing questions too uncomfortable to answer. How many people have stood wanting to raise their own swords against me—and how is not chief amongst those God, whose word I have been inclined to ignore since birth, and whose authority and love I’ve rejected again and again in the name of independence?
Listen to what the Lord says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains”…With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
With God seated in the judge’s seat that I so recently vacated, there is no avoiding the fact of my insufficiency. Page after page of the Bible confronts me with broken rules and failed commitments. Imperfect, prone to mistakes, still learning: words meant not to extend grace, but to rationalize my actions.
I’ve even failed my own fickle moral code.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.
And yet amongst the stories of faithless people facing the consequences of their actions, the Bible is stitched together with words such as forgiveness and righteousness, light and love, God’s perfect and unchanging character.
Throughout my personal Revelations moment, you’ve been waiting for me to poke through the Rolodex again and pull out some comfortingly worn words.
But for once, I ought to unshutter all the light I feel within me, to stop pretending that the circumstances and dramas of this world are bigger than my God and the epic he set in motion with his first act of creation. I can’t balance the scales. I can’t save you, but I know who can.
“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my savior; my God will hear me.”
My thoughts, moving faster, as usual, than my mouth, glance over the story of Micah once more. Even in his darkest days, in a speech meant to warn the people of Israel of the wrath of God that was incumbent upon them all, he can’t help but speak in expectation. In hope.
There will come a day when the remnant of God’s people will be drawn together under a King, when no one will be afraid. The lame, the exiles, those brought to grief will become a strong nation; peace will be within and among all people. God’s law will go forth, and he will be judge.
And yet this good news is not one that I speak to you in expectation, but in gratitude for an act already committed.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Jesus Christ came to the world and lived the life I never could—that none of us ever could. Not only could people not fault him, neither could God. He was the one person in history who deserved to go to heaven, to live the life of peace and harmony promised by God to those who love him and live as he intended. And yet, instead he faced death on a cross and abandonment by God. This is the climax in a story about how the Creator of the universe loved his creation enough to leave the judgment throne that only he deserved to sit in, and stand in their place as the one being judged. Every wrong was laid in his name and he took the full punishment, leaving us free to ask forgiveness for our failings, not banking on any redeeming quality of our own, but in humble acknowledgement of a price that has already been paid. Judgment day has already passed. We have already been given the salvation that Micah longed for.
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy.
You watch me, a little hesitantly, still confronted by an unbalanced scale, and a world that is fundamentally flawed. The question standing is, of course, where is the peace and the strong nation built for victims and the law upheld by all? If salvation is as past tense as I am telling you, why doesn’t the world look the way God promised?
But as for me I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.
We both know that you or I, or our college, or our generation, on our own, cannot hope to achieve the justice we really want. We have tried every possible combination of world powers and NGOs and money and weapons and treaties. When time finally does run out, and God comes to lead his people (as he promised to Micah), the whole world will face judgment. Every wrong committed, in secret or at large, will have to be answered for.
You know that this scenario conveniently provides that hope that is missing from every other hypothetical trajectory you have considered.
I know that salvation is there for the taking for anyone who wants it.
But in the meantime, you wonder if those equal understandings leave us at an impasse—you, unconvinced, and me, resting easy in the belief of my rescue by God.
I can’t blame you for thinking that way, but the unglamorous truth of Christianity is this: we don’t automatically become better people because we realize we need God to save us. We remain prone to wander from God, as likely as the next guy to commit an injustice. But the beauty is in understanding this tendency, in the willingness and freedom in Christ to say to God—yeah, I messed up, but I want to learn to live the way you have intended.
And this new way of life starts with loving God above everything else, in a natural response to the love he showed on a cross two thousand years ago. As I get to know God, it is my responsibility to listen and obey. When he calls an injustice, I cannot ignore it because I feel the hurt that has been inflicted; when he asks for me to live a life contrary to the one touted by this fractured world, I must live it to be a light for anyone looking for hope.
I cannot give the final verdict on the world. Nor can you, or anyone else, though they might try. Every person deserves to be judged by the God who judged me—the one who knew everything about me, everything that I had done, every thought that I’ve had and who loved me anyway. But I do get the endless hope that one day that judgment will happen. I will not be found lacking, nor will anyone else who believes, thanks to the finished work of Jesus. The scales will be balanced, and God will fulfill every promise he has made. There are too many people that God loves and that I love who are being weighed down by the troubles of this world, and I have a story that might lift their heads to see what joy is already, but not yet.
I can imagine your head full of electric current, the synapses firing as you process what I’ve said, lighting up arguments and questions and something like hope. I will listen. I can wait. What I know and what I believe are worth spending a lifetime sharing, and if you open your hands, I’ll start with you.
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Katie Ippolito, Bowdoin Class of 2019. Undeclared. River Edge NJ.
Katie is a voracious mind-reader with an ability to see where our brokenness meets God’s healing power.