Justice in the Real World
Social Justice. It's a popular word these days. There seems to be a new awakening of justice awareness in both Christian and secular cultures and circles. Perhaps this explains the surge of super-hero movies that have saturated Hollywood for the past several years. Justice has become a trend. Bringing an end to evil and defending the poor is cool. Think of all the stars who adopt children from 3rd world countries and all of the fashion trends that promote justice (TOMS shoes, and (RED), just to name a few). As far as trends go, this is definitely not a bad one; the world will benefit from a generation that is outward focused and interested in ensuring the rights of others. But, as we fearlessly chase after justice for all, it is important to consider what real justice is; what God means by the word, 'justice.'
Justice can have many different meanings in both English and the biblical languages Hebrew and Greek. Possibly the most straightforward definition of justice is making sure that someone receives what they deserve – whether that means going to jail, or receiving a paycheck. Justice can also refer to fair and equal opportunity – this is the kind of justice that many people refer to when they talk about social justice. This means that the 12 year old girl who lives in a slum in Mumbai will be able to go to school and receive an education just like the 12 year old girl who lives in a townhouse in London. But there is one more kind of justice – the kind that I believe God calls his people to, just as much as he calls them to advocate for equality, if not more so.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, “God upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger.” The word “cause” in this verse is mishpat in Hebrew – it is often translated as “justice.” Mishpat not only includes receiving what is deserved or having equal opportunity, mishpat requires a person to take the cause of another onto themselves – to open their heart to compassion and allow the plight of others to become their own. Mishpat is used in the Bible 414 times – many of those times God is instructing his people to “do mishpat,” to be breathing pictures of God's love and character for a hurting world.
It can be tempting in the Christian life to take on the “super-hero” mindset when it comes to justice. To align our minds with a principle of equality and fairness, pull on our bad-guy butt kicking boots, and tightly fasten on our capes, take to the streets and selflessly rescue the needy, feed the hungry, and ensure that the forces of evil are defeated... all in days work, right? There is just one problem. God's call to justice, to take on the cause of the oppressed (mishpat), requires that we do more than adopt a set of principles regarding equality and fairness. God calls us to compassion, he calls us to feel the burden of the oppressed, the needy, and the hurting.
When we look for examples of true, Godly justice, we need to look no further than Jesus. Jesus did to justice what he did to all things – he turned it on its head. He offered food to the hungry, as well as forgiveness to the thieves; he provided healing for the sick, as well as friendship to the outcast. There is no question that justice is of the utmost importance to God. However, as we strive to obey his edicts to seek justice, we must remember that God's justice is one of compassion and love. Let us continue to feed the hungry – not because we should, but because God has broken our hearts for them, because we can feel the sting of their empty stomachs inside our own. Let us continue to fight for the rights of the poor and marginalized – but not because we live in a time when doing so can make you a modern day hero, but because the compassion of Jesus' Spirit living within us allows us to feel the crushing weight of a flawed and broken system. And of course, let us continue to pray for and work with governments as they – in some cases – try to stop and punish those who are oppressing people in need, but let us never harden our hearts toward them. After all, to Jesus, real justice holds compassion and forgiveness even for those who oppress. We are called to love and pray for them just as much as we are called to love and pray for those they are hurting.
True justice is a love so deep and wide, that its forgiveness for all is just as limitless as its compassion for the needy.
Meet the Author
Currently working with the Communications Department for YWAM Thailand.