Thinking through a fully biblical justice

It seems as I grow older issues of justice and injustice occupy more of my thoughts. A recent phone conversation reminded me the change itself has only been a few years in the making. A reader of this blog (and my two previous efforts) said, “I’ve noticed that you have been writing more about justice lately,” noting the difference from emphases in blogs gone by.

He would be correct, and he was supportive. Justice, so often limited to a single topic in the conservative Christian mindset, is now in full view all around me. With increasing regularity legal actions, political agendas, or economic policies present themselves to these eyes framed not in the politick of left vs right, nor the antagonistic vitriol of conservative vs liberal, but whether biblically just or unjust.

As God would have it the Bible says a lot about justice. Some dismiss “social justice” as some kind of left-wing, commie-pinko plot to redistribute Bill Gate’s billions. Others claim justice is a “social gospel” supplanting evangelism in favor of sweeping streets, picking up litter or planting trees. Yet the Old Testament prophets warned about the treatment of the poor, the widows and orphans, while the New Testament eschews favoring the rich and promotes caring for the poor. How issues God writes large become small print to so many is either a symptom of our lukewarmness or a cause of it. Neither is a good scenario.

In the U.S. many Christians have elevated one injustice, abortion, to a level no other injustice approaches. Though arguing the issue as “right to life” we have less presented it as an issue of biblical justice. Since many Christians and churches are bereft a fully biblical view of justice all the while watching as this crucial one became a political football. In other words failing to provide a larger context of God’s justice allows “woman’s right to privacy”–which should be discarded as a non-sequitur–to guide the conversation.

haiti earthquake rubble houses

A scene from Haiti one year after the earthquake [Image credit]


Because we have no fully biblical sense of justice we rarely speak out about the homeless. We complain that they do not work, criticize them when they try, then will not support their efforts when they do. It matters not where they stay as long as they are not on my street, in my yard, or on the sidewalk on the way to work.

White Christians in America rarely speak out about the unjust treatment of minorities–especially African-American men–who are unconstitutionally targeted and prosecuted more harshly than their white counterparts…for the exact same crimes.

We rarely speak out about economic inequity because we tend to be capitalists first and biblicists later.

We rarely speak out about a military-industrial complex that has affected and continues to affect the spiritual lives of our citizens just as President Eisenhower warned.

We rarely hold our elected officials to account for helping crash the economies of smaller nations.

We rarely fight for denied rights for those with whom we disagree on other issues for fear the all encompassing “slippery slope” might give them an upper hand in some area(s) of disagreement.

We alternately use and condemn non-citizens in our country outside legal channels (“illegal aliens”) when it is convenient. Never mind the Word says, “For I [Jesus] was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger (foreigner, alien) and you invited me in.”

Recently the posed question, “What is biblical injustice?”, brought several thoughtful answers. My friend Paul Littleton wrote,

Justice and righteousness are basically the same word in Greek. It has the idea of both doing right and making things right. In a world that has gone wrong, justice is a matter of setting things right. Injustice would be both being a part of a process that makes or keeps things wrong or simply standing by passively in the presence of the wrong.

My friend Mark Kelly, a journalist and editor at Multiply Justice said,

[B]iblical justice is about right relationship, with God, with others, with creation. It’s about being brought into what the Jewish scriptures call “shalom” — a state of well-being in which people can flourish and achieve what God created them to be. Justice is the outworking of salvation. It begins with the “new creation” transformation of a broken soul and grows as that person matures in wholeness and multiplies that justice into the broken lives around him. Justice is God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Justice is what Jesus died to accomplish. Justice is our mission as ambassadors of reconciliation.

Citing Deuteronomy 10, Pastor Arthur Thompson, Jr. explained:

The duty to execute justice was an integral part of God’s law, founded upon his holiness, filled with his promise of security in the land. Its standards were plain: impartiality and the shunning of bribes and influence that would pervert justice. To do justice is the hallmark of the righteous king, proof that he walks in the way of God’s wisdom.

Finally, my friend Todd (Paul’s brother), summarized thusly:

The practice and structures that reconcile, restore, and make whole those who have suffered the indignities of power, the powers, and powerful people. Power treats as un-human those that are human. Biblical justice is the God-ward move that stands with those who have been maligned, marginalized, and discarded by any society, power, or persons.

One problem we face with definitions is, “Are they complete?” Our propensity toward brevity, need for tweetability and desire toward the easily remembered can give us something like, “Injustice is stuff God does not like,” which, being so broad, tells us practically nothing.

I have been thinking through two rather lengthy definitions which, when finalized, will form the basis for my own writing.

Injustice is the deprivation of basic human rights, dignity or freedoms by those in authority through oppressive or unfair laws, customs or mores that allow the physical, sexual, or economic exploitation of men, women or children who lack power, position or voice, affecting individuals and groups, whether unique or systemic, hidden or known, all of which grows from contempt toward or ignorance of God’s standard of righteousness.

It follows for me, then, that

Justice is using all righteous means to restore basic human rights, dignity and freedom to men, women or children everywhere, becoming their voice to address, rebuke or replace those abusing power so God’s standard of righteousness is recognized and reflected as much as it is possible within the fallen systems of this world until Christ brings the kingdom of God in its fulness.

It is this we are commanded to do in Micah 5:8, and on this theme I cannot help but write.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • John Elam

    Great post Marty. I could say more but Great sums my thoughts.

  • Dwight McKissic

    Marty,

    I praise God that He let me live long enough to see a Southern Baptist address the righteous/justice matter with passion, clarity, balance, boldness, and more imoportantly with biblical accuracy. I was so blessed by the young lady from Dallas who wrote in defense and support of President Obama’s reelection on your blog a few weeks ago. Although, I don’t plan to vote for him, I was blessed by the fact that you have her a platform, and she articulated her views quite well. If the SBC ever wed your heart for biblical justice, with their stated passion for evangelism/discipleship, we would see a move of God among Southern Baptist and this nation that is unprecedented except for the ministry of Jesus. Your message and ministry concerning justice ought to be the heart of what takes place at the ERLC. Thanks for your heart, compassiom, courage, commitment, intellect and pen.

    Dwight

    • Marty Duren

      Dwight-
      I believe there are others who are and will speak.

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