Hey everyone! I hope you’ve had a fantastic start to your new year. As I shared in my last post, I’ve made it a personal resolution this year to really focus on my relationship with God first and foremost. Abide with Him each day in time of prayer and worship, and dig even deeper into His Word and GROW in my knowledge and understanding. I’ve already been so blessed in this pursuit. I find that as I spend more and more time with God I’m also growing in my understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Sometimes it’s encouraging to be affirmed in ways God is growing me. Other times it’s challenging and convicting to discover new ways God is calling me to open my eyes or change my perspective. I’d like to share one of those specific examples with you today!
Since the beginning of January I’ve been working my way through the Justice series on the Bible Project. What started as homework and prep for a school youth program I work with quickly turned into an item of further study prompted by my fascination over how little I truly understood about biblical justice. If you’re fascinated to see where this goes then stick with me!!
“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in obeying the Lord.
He will not judge by appearance
nor make a decision based on hearsay.
4 He will give justice to the poor
and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
5 He will wear righteousness like a belt
and truth like an undergarment.” Isaiah 11:1-5
Justice was a central part of the ministry of Jesus here on earth. We see this already in Isaiah’s prophesy prior to the birth of Jesus. When He ascended back to the right hand of God and gave the promised Holy Spirit, He left His ministry in the hands of His disciples- that’s me and you now.
So to start off with… what is justice?? The word justice occurs over 400 times in the Old Testament alone…yes, OVER 400 TIMES! The original Hebrew translation of the word literally translated to “uprightness” or “not crooked”. It means fairness, morality, and impartiality. This word is constantly linked together with the word righteousness. It’s actually not something internal as I would have originally defined it; rather, it’s a state or standard of right relationship.
In Romans 5 we read that “since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ.” We are made righteous only by Christ, which means we are put in right relationship with God by salvation. BUT, this state of righteousness also applies to our relationship with others. Righteousness is interpersonal- an outward oriented standard of how I relate to other people…particularly how I relate to people in difficult situations.
Now it’s important to quickly define the differences between two types of justice. When you think of justice you probably often think of retributive justice, which aims to punish in proportion to an offence, by a standard of justice. Restorative justice, on the other hand, seeks to proactively create ways to protect those who are most vulnerable. It’s a form of mercy- looking at those who are in difficult positions and seeking ways to help them. Making sure that everyone in a community or society is treated fairly and given fair opportunity to flourish.
You’ll find one example of this in the Bible in Deuteronomy 18. The Israelite tribes adjusted their society, seeing that the right and good thing is to have one whole group of people that’s supported by the income of the twelve other tribes, in order to maintain the worship and honour of God. One tribe, the Levite tribe, had not been given a plot of land on which to dwell and farm, and instead had been given the responsibility of the temple duty. So they decided that the Levite tribe would have a right to a tenth of what all the other tribes had. This was the just thing to do.
Hope I’m not losing you yet! Stick with me here, there’s so much good stuff still coming up! 🙂
In his book, Justice, Harvard professor Brian Sandel describes three patterns of thought/argument that most people have in regards to the topic of justice. It’s important to recognize that when people say the word “justice”, they’re not always talking about the same things. I’ll summarize them quickly since I have bigger points to move on to:
- Justice is Maximizing Welfare → Whatever will bring the greatest amount (maximization) of good (flourishing) and do the least amount of harm to the greatest amount of people.
- Justice is Respect of Individual Freedom → Justice is what creates the greatest amount of rights and freedoms (liberties) for individuals to live the way they’d like to. Their view on a just society is that it will accommodate and adapt to promote the fair treatment and equal liberties of every single different kind of person.
- Justice is Promoting Virtue → “So that people act as they ought to in accordance with moral virtue”. A certain type of moral compass. The belief that a just society is what will push people towards this.
There’s tons of examples that could fit into these various categories. Think along the lines of things like minimum wage, gender spectrum, religious expression in public environments, marriage being between man and woman, boundaries on people’s “self expression”, taxing the rich higher amounts to give more to the poor….the list could go on. Maybe you’re starting to think of even more examples that fit into these categories, or maybe you can even put yourself distinctly into one of those patterns of thought.
But what does biblical justice look like? What do we know about justice from the life and ministry of Jesus? What is the Church’s responsibility when it comes to seeking justice?
God’s character, His righteousness being a part of that, is what causes Him to stand for seeking justice and restoration for those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and broken. What hit me about this is the fact that when I became a follower of Christ, I was made righteous before God too…so this should then cause me to feel the responsibility, as a disciple of Christ, to desire justice for the oppressed.
In Psalm 146 you’ll read the following:
“He remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”
The following quote was one shared with me by a coworker and it really impacted me. Shane Claiborne writes the following in his book, The Irresistible Revolution:
“I asked participants who claimed to be “strong followers of Jesus” whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question, I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time with the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”
I don’t know about you, but I find that to be deeply convicting and challenging!!
The commentators in one of the podcast episodes of the Justice series said the following: “If I honour the Bible as a source of divine wisdom, I have to reckon with the fact that this extraordinary emphasis on the poor living conditions of the vulnerable and their problems needs to become the problems of those with influence and resources and voice (ME)…this is the definition of a biblical justice. A biblically just society. This doesn’t mean disregarding fairness in favour of the poor…rather, being aware of (not turning a blind eye to) the difficult circumstances of the vulnerable and acting on it accordingly. Otherwise we can’t claim a biblical view on justice. This isn’t just in the hands of the government, it needs to also be in the hands of the Church and each of our families.”
I won’t type it all out, but I encourage you to go check out Jeremiah 9:23-24. God basically says (in my own words) “don’t boast about the things you have or the things you know…the one thing you should boast about is having understanding to know me and the fact that I am the Lord who values and delights in kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.”
Wow. Knowing God means also knowing the things He stands for and stands against. If I know the things that God stands for, but don’t take this part of His Identity on as my own, then am I truly hidden in Christ?
So what is the Christian response to this supposed to be?? Ultimately, this is the question I was left with. How do we, you and me, as followers of Christ get to the front battle grounds of justice?
I absolutely don’t have all of the answers. I have a few ideas based on what God has already taught me as I’ve worked with vulnerable youth in my city these last two years, but I’m really praying that God takes me deeper into what this is supposed to look like on a personal level for me. I’m feeling challenged to continue to pursue this. In the meantime, here are a few quick thoughts that I’ve been mulling over:
- Lay aside prejudices. Know your preconceived bias’ and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. I’ve had moments of needing to do this too. If you know that you’re likely to make quick judgments about that “homeless bum” in the alley or the “native” that lives down the street or the “lazy woman” who you don’t think actually needs to be getting extra money/benefits from the government, check your attitudes at the door and let God begin to do some work in your heart and mind.
- Educate yourself. Know the types of injustice and vulnerability that are prevalent around you in your very own city. Even here in Canada, one of the wealthiest and most envied countries in the world, we have an inconceivable amount of poverty, injustice and pain going on around us. Sometimes we’re too quick to make uneducated comments or judgments. Remember that there’s always a story you don’t know about.
- Open up your eyes. Some of us truly grew up wealthy and privileged compared to others in the very same city. It’s easy to be blind to it when you’re in certain pockets of the city, surrounded by people who are just like you. Try to understand your own privilege and the dis-privilege of others in comparison. Ask God to give you eyes to see that.
- Get out of your comfort zone and walk alongside broken people. We can’t take action if we don’t know any broken people! As God gives you eyes to see and ears to hear, pray about how to spend time with or invest in what theologians call the “Quartet of the Vulnerable”: orphans, widows, poor, and immigrants. (There’s also the elderly, homeless, mentally ill, and lonely that could be added, but these four were specifically addressed often in scripture). Where are these people? Are there some right in your community? How can you start doing life alongside them and loving them and help give them the opportunity to flourish?
- Recognize that what you have is God’s. It can be easy to remain apathetic or inactive if you see what you have as yours, not God’s- given to you to steward. There are two very different responses depending on how you view what you have! If you know that it’s God’s, then it only makes sense to ask Him how He wants you to give it to others. I know it’s difficult to think about…but if what we have is God’s, and God’s ministry centers on compassion, justice, righteousness, and mercy, then wouldn’t he want us to use our resources towards those things?
Sorry I know this has been one of my longest posts yet…if you’re reading this then I’m so glad you stuck with me and I hope you were super blessed and challenged by it!! I’d like to just end with the well known scripture you can find in Micah 6:8:
“Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with your God”
Think about how this simple, yet complex, commission holds an Action, Affection, and Attitude. My prayer is that as you and I both spend some time reflecting and praying over that some more, He’ll transform our hearts and minds. I’m anxious and excited to see where God will take me with this as I pray over it more and open my eyes.
Have a wonderful week!