By Sally García
“Justice” is a word that is jumping off the newspaper columns and shouting through the television news stories this year. We hear that people are clamoring for justice, but we also hear a confused mixture of meanings.
What some people consider justice, others may consider out of proportion, or impossible to comply with. Can you demand justice for something that happened lifetimes ago? Will multimillion-dollar lawsuits heal an injustice done? Is justice sometimes used as a synonym for vengeance?
And when and where should we, as Christians, take a stand? Because there are lots of “wrongs” to be “righted” in this world! Christianity has played an active role in helping the hurt, hungry, and oppressed from its first days. But where do we begin, and how do we know what causes we should embrace?
These have been the questions that have kept coming back to me as I scroll through my Facebook account, where I have friends dating from childhood on up to the present time, plus acquaintances, and personal family members that—when taken all together—have worldviews that cover every range of opinion on the grid. Then, I go through the newspaper and the same questions pop up, especially after reading the opinion pages.
So how do we properly define “justice” and how and when do we “fight for it”? The fullness of this topic exceeds the scope of this post, but here are some conclusions after studying the issue. It has been good to go to the Bible to find the solid ground that I needed to get a clearer understanding on the matter. Here are some of the things that are making sense to me. So far, I have found in the Bible more references regarding my need to act justly over my need to cry for justice—unless it is an appeal to the Divine Judge to administer His justice according to His all-knowing perspective.
From what I see, biblical justice rests upon these main precepts:
- All humans are made in the image of God; we are His divine creatures.
- Our responsibility is to be just and fair and honorable in all our dealings.
- Ultimately judgment belongs to God, who knows and sees all things.
What is our role? What are our social obligations?
- To live justly according to His precepts.
- To deal justly with others in all that we do.
- To be His instrument upon the earth whenever and wherever we can to help those who need our help.
Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can.1
One Christian blog puts it this way:
Justice, in its simplest form, means to set things right. Yet, how do we know what is right? Who defines “right”? Is it society-at-large or the culture we live in? Is there a moral law that we inherently know to follow? ... As we look at the life of Jesus and the mandate given throughout Scripture, it is clear that Christ-followers are called to “do justice.” We are called to take action and confront evil, to care for the vulnerable, and to make right that which is wrong. This mandate is not new. It is not a cultural fad or something that is simply a trend in today’s society. Throughout the Old and New Testament, our call to do justice is clear. 2
With so many “issues” flying around, it is important that we take the time to look carefully at what we endorse and what we condemn. Are we being used to further someone else’s agenda? What is the source of this campaign? What is its background? How does the slogan hold up against the Bible’s precepts and especially Jesus’ teachings? He looks at our motives and wants us to love others, not because we have been shamed into responding or because it is the latest cause in the headlines, but rather because we feel His Spirit speaking to our hearts.
You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s.3
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.4
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.5
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?6
Jesus led the way by showing us the spirit of the Old Testament precepts. He was a friend to all who came to Him with an open heart. Their gender, social standing, or reputation did not matter to Him. He saw past it all and looked straight into their souls. He lovingly and radically defied convention in order to heal and comfort those who came to Him. Through the example of Jesus and His followers we learn to do the same.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.9
The following excerpt of an article by Timothy Keller gives the breakdown of the original Hebrew and Greek words used for justice:
The Hebrew word for “justice,” mishpat, … its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty. It also means giving people their rights. Mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor—those who have been called “the quartet of the vulnerable.” In premodern, agrarian societies, these four groups had no social power. They lived at subsistence level and were only days from starvation if there was any famine, invasion, or even minor social unrest. The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups. … That is what it means to “do justice.”
We get more insight when we consider a second Hebrew word that can be translated as “being just,” though it is usually translated as “being righteous.” The word is tzadeqah, and it refers to a life of right relationships. Tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity, and equity.
These two words roughly correspond to what some have called “primary” and “rectifying justice.” Rectifying justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else.
If you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God.10
So, how does this apply to me, and how am I to filter the news, opinion pages, and Facebook comments that I see? How do I know what causes to adhere to? How to be consequential in my beliefs and actions? Rather than jumping on the latest bandwagon, I need to do the necessary research and ask for guidance and discernment through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.
And in my tiny little corner of the world, I pray that I can be a force for good and be faithful to share of what He has given me—whether spiritual or material blessings. All my studies brought me back to the beginning—the Law of Love that summarized and simplified all the books of the prophets and the law:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.11
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 12 Let all your things be done in love.13 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.14
Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.15
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.16
1 Attributed to John Wesley.
2 Christine Erickson, https://sharedhope.org/2018/06/04/biblical-justice-and-social-justice.
3 Deuteronomy 1:17 NKJV.
4 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV.
5 Isaiah 1:17 ESV.
6 Isaiah 58:6–7 NIV.
7 Galatians 3:28 NIV.
8 Romans 2:11 NKJV.
9 1 John 4:7–8 KJV.
11 Matthew 22:37–39 KJV.
12 1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV.
13 1 Corinthians 16:14.
14 Romans 13:8 KJV.
15 Matthew 25:40 NIV.
16 Micah 6:8 NIV.
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