Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Importance Of Biblical Justice, Part 2

In our previous blog post we began discussing the importance of biblical justice by discovering how it permeates the entire narrative of Scripture. In that post we set forth the first two points of the narrative:
·         Justice Is Part Of God’s Original And Current Vision For How Mankind Is To Live.

·         Part Of God’s Vision For Justice Among Humans Has To Do With Functioning As His Image Bearers.  

In this post we continue discussing the importance of biblical justice by setting forth the remaining points of the narrative, starting with the third.

3. After The Fall This Vision For Justice Became Restorative In Nature 
The New City Catechism provides helpful commentary on the effects of the entrance of sin into the world when it affirms in the answer to question 13 (“Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?”): “Since the fall, no mere human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly, but consistently breaks it in thought, word, and deed.” In answer 14 we find the reason behind the just-mentioned inability: “…because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are all born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law.” Consider the following biblical confirmation: 
·         “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)

·         “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’” (Rom. 3:11-12)

·         “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph. 2:1-3)

In other words, humans think, act, and relate to God and each other in ways that are not in keeping with God’s character, in ways that are unrighteous (Rom. 1:18). Since God created us to glorify him as his image bearers who create, work in, and give order to this world in righteous ways (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15) and since the renewed and restored world in the future will involve his God-glorifying renewed image bearers creating, working in, and bringing order in that renewed and restored creation in righteous ways (Rom. 8:30; Rev. 14:13; 21:3-7, 24-26), how we relate to God, to one another, to his creation, and in relation to self is central to our carrying out his will to his glory.

To take this a step further then, if we will glorify God in this life and the life to come, it means we must live righteously in relation to God and others, as our King wills for us to do. This is one of the reasons Jesus tells his followers: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Mt. 6:33).

This is why one of the key notes struck in the Bible is that mankind must move to restore righteousness and justice after the fall, since the assumption is that naturally there will be unrighteousness and injustice. Consider the following Bible passages: 
·         “For I myself, Yahweh, continually love justice, hating robbery for burnt offering; and I will give their work in truth, and I will cut an everlasting covenant with them” (Is. 61:8, my translation). This is found in a context of the LORD promising to save his people and bring salvation, liberty, and justice, where there has been bondage, suffering, and also false worship. So, what is contrasted here with justice God loves is false worship that involves a profession of faith and yet the mistreatment of others. God is promising that instead he will transform his people—making everlasting covenant with them—so that they work in truth.

·         “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.” (Is. 61:1, 10, 11) Here we see that in the future God’s servant will work to bring a transformation, a salvation, that will bring about righteousness—both in a display of God’s righteousness and God’s people reflecting God-like character toward him and one another.

·         “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:7-10) We discover those who truly know Jesus and are children of God do righteousness—as Jesus is righteous. Those who don’t are of the devil. We also see here that practical righteousness involves loving brothers and sisters. See also the preceding context (esp. 2:29, in light of 2:3, 10, 15-17, 23).

One of the reasons that helping and defending the cause of the poor and needy are so often mentioned along with righteousness and justice (e.g. Jer. 21:12; 22:15-16) is because the world is sinful, fallen, broken, and this brings great suffering and bondage. God has acted to restore righteousness and justice (e.g. Is. 61:1-2, 8)—to help those who are poor and needy, which spiritually is all of us—and so he calls his people to do the same. Created and recreated in his image, “because God is a God of justice, a God who loves justice and hates injustice, his people are to be a people of justice as well. Theirs are to be actions, relationships, and communities that reflect the character and values and goals of God.” [1]

God does not save people merely so they have a ticket to heaven, but also so that they can be restored to God-glorifiers in their relations to God, self, others, and the creation. God wants us to reflect his grace and glory in how we treat others. This demands righteousness and justice.

Tony Evans captures well and summarizes what I am affirming when he writes: “The kingdom agenda is the visible manifestation of the comprehensive rule of God over very area of life…. Through the establishment of the church along with His overarching rulership above it, God has created a reflection of his kingdom in heaven on earth.”[2] he then adds: “…theology must find a relevant demonstration in society, that the God of the Bible is not too highly removed that He is not also a God of everyday miry and mucky realities, and that His heart for the suffering and for the poor should be our own.”[3]

We must also see the fourth main truth of the justice-filled biblical narrative from the passages we just cited, as well as additional ones.

4. God’s Vision For Justice Is Restored Fully Only Through The Righteous One, Jesus Christ 
In Luke 4:18 we find out that Jesus is the servant who fulfills the words of Isaiah 61:1-11. He is the one who brings righteousness and justice to the world through saved and restored people. In 1 John 3:7-10 John makes the same point, namely that the righteous Savior restores his people so they practice righteousness (“and justice” is implied).

This is why, when Matthew in chapters 5-7 of his Gospel gives us a sample of the “gospel of the kingdom” Jesus proclaimed (4:23), he records that Jesus affirmed that when a person comes to him in grace, realizing he is poor in spirit and thus becomes part of the kingdom (Mt. 5:3), he will hunger and thirst after righteousness (5:6), will seek that righteousness and the kingdom as a priority (6:33), will even sacrifice his life for this Jesus-exalting righteousness (5:10-12), and the resulting good works will lead to God’s glory (5:16). Yet, apart from the restoration that comes through Jesus a person cannot live out the fruits of this righteousness (see John 15:1-16).

Paul also makes this abundantly clear in Ephesians 4:24, where Paul writes that the “new self,” the new person we are in Christ, is : “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This does not mean that a level of justice cannot be achieved in the world apart from faith in Jesus Christ. It can. Yet, the justice will never be full and it will always be short-sighted and lacking apart from him. This is much of the reason why today’s advocates of social justice, though some of the things for which they advocate are part of biblical justice, dismiss things that ought to be sought for full justice at the same time they seek some things that are unjust by God’s standards. What is more, no person, apart from Christ, will desire anywhere near the same priorities of God for justice.

The big take-away, then, from this point is that Christians cannot pit the gospel against justice. They must advocate the propagation and acceptance of the gospel at the same time they advocate for justice. Both go together. Advocating for involvement in the public square without the gospel is incomplete and, at the same time, advocating for the gospel without the resulting focus on the public square is also incomplete.

Yet, we must remember that we will never see full and perfect justice even among saved and transformed people this side of heaven, because we will not be free from sin in this world. This leads to the fifth and final main truth of the biblical narrative in regard to justice.

5. God’s Vision For Restored Justice Will Be Fully Realized Only At The Future Coming Of Jesus Christ And In The New Heaven And New Earth 
Because we will not be perfect in this world (James 3:2; 1 John 1:8; Heb. 12:23), perfect justice will not be realized this side of heaven, even though lives transformed by Christ should live much more justly toward others. This is why Peter (2 Pt. 3:13) writes: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

The result is that we live with a tension. On the one hand, we should seek and do justice, realizing this is a way of glorifying God. And we should see justice grow. On the other hand, we will not live in perfect justice, nor will we ever experience perfect justice in this world. God at times will even use injustice to change and grow us (Rom. 5:1-5; 2 Cor. 4:17-18; James 1:2-3, 12).

We must remember that the ability to pursue greater justice is already here in Jesus and yet full perfect justice is not yet here. It awaits the future coming of Christ. Any approach that has sought to force the issue and set up a utopia (such as with communism) has usually devolved into even greater injustice.

Conclusion
We have now seen through both an examination of passages that deal directly with righteousness and justice and through looking at the overall narrative of Scripture just what justice is. “Justice identifies the moral standard by which God measures human conduct…[his own character as reflected in his moral will]…. Biblical justice, therefore, is the equitable and impartial application of the rule of God’s moral law in society…the understanding and application of God’s moral law within the social realm,”[4] with the understanding that this justice is what is best for all.

We also have seen how important justice is. It is not something that the church can ignore. In fact, the sense that we have picked up on is that in a pursuit for justice we should live for a great cause, the cause of meeting the physical and spiritual needs of others all for God’s glory. That is why I have titled this series of blogs, “Live For A Great Cause, Not a Great Comfort: Move Toward Need.”

What we have left to do is to unpack several specific topics and find out how to pursue biblical justice in each.

Joyfully Pursuing Justice With You,

Tom

[1] Roy, “Embracing Social Justice:” 8. 
[2] Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced, 42, 44.
[3] Ibid., 195.
[4] All but the bracketed clause and the last clause of this definition is taken from Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, The Kingdom, And How We Are Stronger Together (Chicago: Moody, 2011), 260.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Importance Of Biblical Justice

When I began studying justice in the Bible I assumed it was not that crucial of a topic. Yes, I knew it is there in the Bible, but I was convinced it’s a peripheral topic at best. Perhaps it’s only the kind of Christian who “kinda, sorta” follows the Bible and who wants to turn justice on its head while ignoring the gospel that has advocated it’s frequent and important place in Scripture. 

As we saw in the last blog post, this is not the case at all. Justice is a frequent topic. Yet, it is not just the frequency with which justice is explicitly mentioned. Once we grasp what justice is, we begin to see that it permeates the Scriptures, even in many places where the actual word is not mentioned. Another way to put it is that it’s woven into the narrative of the Bible.

The presence of justice in the narrative of the Bible is the focus of this blog post. It naturally follows my first two posts. In the first one I introduced that there is a problem with “social justice” because, on the one hand, some of its proponents lack clarity on what is meant by this phrase. As such it can almost come to mean anything. On the other hand, others have clarity, but mean by it something that has too much baggage to be helpful for the Christian who wants to be true to the Bible.

In the second post I defined “justice” by looking at what the Bible says about it. Our conclusion was this: “Justice identifies the moral standard by which God measures human conduct…[his own character as reflected in his moral will]…. Biblical justice, therefore, is the equitable and impartial application of the rule of God’s moral law in society…the understanding and application of God’s moral law within the social realm,”[1] with the understanding that this justice is what is best for all.

What I now will outline is how biblical justice is woven throughout the fabric of the Bible’s over-all narrative. [2]

1. Justice Is Part Of God’s Original And Current Vision For How Mankind Is To Live

We saw in our previous post that righteousness and justice are part of who God is and so they describe how he reigns over his creation and creatures. Psalm 89:14 words it this way: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.”

Since God made humans in his image (Gen. 1:26-28) he wants them to reflect his glory and resemble his character. This is part of what is meant when the psalmist wrote of God’s creation of humans (Ps. 8:5-6): “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet….” As God’s vice-regents, the King of kings created humans to show forth the greatness of God and be like him. This is another way of saying that from the very beginning of the creation of people God wanted us to live righteously toward him and thus to live justly in our interactions with, decisions about, and our love toward one another.

Another way to state this is that God wanted man and woman to live in child-like faith in and dependence upon him as their King, realizing God’s ways are best. This is at the heart of the command God gave to them in Genesis 2:16-17, not only to eat from and enjoy all the trees God had given them in the Garden of Eden, but also to exempt one tree from that enjoyment. They were to avoid it as a test: Would they trust in him and his way as best simply because he commanded them?

The fact that God saw mankind and all the rest of his creation as “very good” (Gen. 1:31), means that all his creation was in order and functioning as originally created and intended—and so humans were experiencing true and full life by trusting in, worshiping, and loving God. It is also likely intended that this good state in which they were created was opposite of what we see happening after they decided not to trust in God and they sinned. After that they experienced shame toward one another (Gen. 3:7), were separated from and thus hid from God (Gen. 3:8), lacked thankfulness to God for his good gifts (3:8), did not see self or others accurately and so did not treat them in accordance with truth—refusing responsibility and shifting blame (3:12, 13), and failed to love and so were hostile toward and hurt one another (3:16; 4:8). Sin, then, led to humans failing to live under God’s rule (his kingdom or dominion) and also led to their failing to live righteously toward one another (that is justly).

It is clear though that even after the fall God wanted his image bearers and wants us today to live righteously and justly underneath his rule and toward one another (e.g. Gen. 9:6; Exodus 20:3-17; Dt. 10:12-3; Rom. 13:8-10).

2. Part Of God’s Vision For Justice Among Humans Has To Do With Functioning As His Image Bearers 
We see this truth implied in the first point and the scripture with it we just examined. But we need to think a little bit more about why this is significant.

It is significant, to begin with, because we need to see that all of what God reveals about how he wants us to live flows out of who he is, his character, and so is part of righteousness and justice. Justice, then, is not merely about equity. It involves, as we covered in the previous blog, relating to God as more important than all things and people; finding our hope, happiness, significance, and security in him; and loving others by honoring them, obeying them when applicable, loving and not hating them, treating them in holiness and purity, not stealing from them, not deceiving them, and not resenting what God has given to them (e.g. Ex. 20:3-17). In other words, biblical justice deals with much more and also takes us in different directions than what is often meant by “social justice.”

Let me give an example of the difference. Suppose that a certain group of people in our town or city has been mistreated in the past, and in ways that have led to deep hurt. With this background there is either a police action or a legal decision that appears to open the wound again and take it even deeper. Would it be just for them to: Riot and destroy the property of others? Steal the property of others in the midst of their protest? Hate and disparage other groups of people simply because they have been mistreated? Would it be just for authorities to look at this group and say, “Well, we have to let them do what they are going to do, even if they are breaking the law; after all, look how they have been treated in the past”? Would it be just for the government to take resources away from other people, redistributing them to this group because of the previous disparity and the current situation, and to do this in a manner that would encourage this group to avoid work?

Even though some people would be tempted to answer, “Yes,” to all or most of these questions, the answer, in light of biblical wisdom, is “No” to all of them. To answer, “Yes,” and to act accordingly would hurt this group more than help them. Certainly, if injustices are being done to this group, then, yes, those must be addressed. Yet, they are not to be addressed by means of encouraging other injustices. 

Bottom-line, when we realize that biblical justice has to do with all that God reveals about how we are to function as his image bearers, we come to see the disparity between most versions of social justice and biblical justice.

The second way in which this truth is significant is to see that within the biblical teaching about God creating us in his image, there are some implications that have direct bearing on ethical issues of our time in which justice is typically turned on its head.

The first ethical issue is the fight against material poverty. It has become very common in many parts of the world, especially in the United States, to fight poverty in ways that discourage the poor from working and from being part of the solution to their own situation. Before I go on I want to clarify that providing a safety net for the poor and, as the old saying goes, “giving them a fish,” when they lack basic needs is something to which Scripture calls us (e.g. James 2:14-26; 1 Jn. 3:16-18). However, the Bible also clarifies that part of being created in the image of God is that we are creators (implying also we are problem solvers who can order our world) and we are workers (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; Ps. 8:5-6). In fact, this is part of our dignity as human beings (Ps. 8:5-6). This is why Scripture suggests that if a person is able to work and won’t, material provision is not to be given to them (2 Thes. 3:10) and that the poor are to be helped in such a way they also work (Dt. 24:19-22). Such not only opens up the way out of poverty for them, but also preserves their dignity as humans. To have earned success, rather than merely given provision is part of how people flourish. Bottom-line, it is not just (in the biblical sense) to discourage people from working.

The second ethical issue is that of sexual orientation and gender identity. We are not only told that God created mankind in his own image, but also “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). One of the purposes of this binary creation was that they might marry and in that marriage procreate (Gen. 1:28; 2:24). This was important because, as Paul affirms in Ephesians 5:32, from the very beginning God designed mankind to function best in this manner as a picture of Christ (the bridegroom) and the church (his bride).

What this second ethical issue means is that any decisions, actions, or messages that would either encourage gender confusion or that would encourage same-sex marriage (or even merely romantic actions) could never be just. Of course, this does not mean that it would be just to mistreat persons with gender confusion or to mistreat same-sex couples. It would not be just to pay a gay or lesbian less on a job simply because of their sexual practice. But biblical justice would never include making sure same sex couples can marry or that transgender people should have transgender surgery covered by health care.

The third way in which this truth is significant is to see the different relationships that image bearers of God have that must be considered in sorting out justice. The first chapters of Genesis show that there are four main relationships people have that should be taken into consideration when it comes to justice (i.e. treating them in line with God’s divine-character-revealing will): 
·         To begin, is their relationship with God. Mankind was created in fellowship with God (Gen. 2:16; 3:8). Sin brought separation from God (Gen. 2:17; 3:22-24; Rom. 5:10). Salvation involves being brought back into fellowship with God (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18; 2 Pt. 3:18).

·         Next, is their relationship with self. Though mankind was created to operate with full life, which would involve peace with self (Gen. 1:31; 2:7), sin brought about a state of brokenness and lack of peace at the very depth of our being (cf. Is. 61:1). This peace and wholeness are returned through salvation (Lk. 4:18; Gal. 5:22).

·         Additionally, there is the relationship with other people—relationships that were whole, healthy, and flourishing before the fall (Gen. 1:31), broken after the fall (Gen. 3:12, 16; 4:8), but which are redeemed after the fall (Eph. 2:11-22; 4:1-16, 17-5:2, 18-6:9).

·         Finally, there is the relationship with the creation, which flourished prior to the fall (Gen. 1:31), was cursed and broken after the fall (Gen. 3:17-19), and through the work of Christ will one day be fully renewed and restored (Col. 1:19; Rev. 21:3-7).

Any decisions or actions that would try to bring justice or help in a manner that would suggest reconciliation with God is not necessary (short-changing the relationship with God and self), that a person would not need to work (thus twisting the relationship with creation) or that others can be taken advantage of since a person has been mistreated all fall short of full biblical justice.

Of course, we have already seen that mankind sinned and all creation fell and so this leads to the third major truth in the biblical narrative, which we will take up in our next post. 

Joyfully Pursuing Justice With You,

Tom

[1] All but the bracketed clause and the last clause of this definition is taken from Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, The Kingdom, And How We Are Stronger Together (Chicago: Moody, 2011), 260.

[2] For the main direction of this narrative I am dependent upon Steven C. Roy, “Embracing Social Justice: Reflections From The Storyline Of Scripture,” Trinity Journal, 30, 1 (Spring 2009): 3-48, especially the conclusion to the article (47-48). 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Defining Justice

I love entrepreneurial spirits and also seeing what happens when such persons flourish in business. I don’t say this as one who has started a business, who has that spirit, or who has an expertise in a particular service or product. I say it as one knows the benefit of entrepreneurs and their businesses to our society. So, unlike the person who has had one or more successful business start-ups, I merely love the general idea without being involved in the pursuit of specific outcomes daily. That would certainly have to change if I decided to start a business. I would need to zero in on a specific goal.

I am like many people, especially Christians, who are advocates of justice or social justice. They love the general idea that things should somehow be right, equitable, or fair. In other words, things should be just. However, they are not always clear on what that means. So, it is hard to hang out a specific target at which they should aim.

To offset this lack of clarity, what I want to do in this post is help us define justice with the outcome that we know what the bullseye is. To do this I want to set forth seven truths from the Bible that will walk us through justice.

As a reminder, we are taking this up since this is part of a series of blog posts titled “Live For A Great Cause, Not A Great Comfort: Move Toward Need.”[1] With each post it will become clearer why this title aptly describes where we are heading in this series.

Here are the seven truths.

1. Justice And Righteousness Are Closely Related.
This can be seen in a sample of the many places where they appear together. Consider: 
·         “For I have chosen [Abraham], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen. 18:19)

·         “You shall not do unrighteousness in [decisions of justice].” (Lev. 19:15)

·         “Keep justice and do righteousness.” (Is. 56:1)

·         “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the [justice] of their God; they ask of me righteous [and just decisions]; they delight to draw near to God.” (Is. 58:2)

·         “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away.” (Is. 59:14)

·         “I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” (Jer. 9:24)

·         “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

We need to file this truth away and state some others before its importance is seen. Let’s move on to the second truth.

2. Righteousness Is That Which Conforms To God’s Character.
We see this in the following biblical texts: 
·         “The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness' sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious” (is. 42:21). Elsewhere in Isaiah the phrase “for the sake of” is used with the LORD’s name (37:35; 43:25; 48:9, 11; 66:5), that is for his reputation or glory, to speak of the purpose for which he does things. Most likely “righteousness” here, then, speaks of that which conforms to God’s glory, his reputation, or character. 

·         “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mt. 5:10-11, emphasis added). Here we discover that being persecuted “for righteousness’ sake” is parallel to being persecuted on account of Jesus. Righteousness, then is very closely connected to Jesus, the Son of God, which is a similar truth to what we saw in Isaiah. Righteousness is that which conforms to the divine reputation or character.

·         “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be [righteous] and the [one who declares righteous] the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26) Here we see a key purpose of the cross of Jesus Christ—it was to declare the righteousness of God, which in the Old Testament often means he judges sinners who do not repent, and he saves sinners who do (cf. Pss. 98:2; 132:9, 16; Is. 24:14-16a; 46:13; Zech. 9:9). In other words, God operates according to his character, his attributes, as an all holy God who hates sin and yet loves sinners.

The conclusion we come to, then, is that if a person is righteous or acts righteously, then they conform to what God is like (1 John 3:7-10), i.e. we will be like our Savior (1 John 2:6).

Now on to number three.

3. Justice Is Righteousness In The Public Square. 
In other words, it is righteousness (conforming to the character of God) in treatment toward and decisions about people. Justice is righteousness or God-likeness in the public square, which is why righteousness and justice are so closely linked so often. This is uncovered in the following texts: 
·         “You shall not do unrighteousness in justice-related decisions. You shall not lift up the face of the poor and you shall not honor the face of the great. In righteousness you shall make just decisions about your people.” (Lev. 19:15, my translation)

·         “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. 15Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.” (Isaiah 59:14-15)

·         “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42) Here we see the close connection of justice and love (the latter of which is the summation of the Law or will of God, Mt. 22:37-40). We also know that our love of others is an imitation of God’s love for us (cf. Mt. 5:43-48; Eph. 5:1-2). Justice, then, consists of actions toward others that are God-like.

The first three truths have set the stage for the fourth.

4. Righteousness And Justice Are Part Of Who God Is. 
God always acts in accordance with his nature (i.e. he is righteous) and he always acts righteously toward others (i.e. he is just). As such, God is the origin of and standard for righteousness and justice. We see this in the following texts: 
·         “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18) Though not using the word “justice,” this describes God as just.

·         “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

·         “For I myself, Yahweh, continually love justice….” (Is. 61:8, my translation)

·         “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 9:23-24)

·         Peter, speaking of God the Father, writes: “…who judges impartially according to each one's deeds…” (1 Pt. 1:17)  Though this does not use the word “justice,” it describes part of what justice is and attributes this to God.

The fifth truth closely follows.

5. Justice is God-likeness Applied To Relationships And the Public square. 
This is seen with clarity in Deut. 10:17-19: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Here we see that God is impartial and this is part of justice; God especially seeks justice for those who are the weakest and most vulnerable; and God calls his people to do the same in regard to justice. Hence, the doing of justice is the doing of righteousness, i.e. following God’s lead.

Justice, then, is part of being created in the image of God and thus called to resemble him and reflect his glory. This helps us to give detail to what justice will be like. It also sets the table for the sixth truth.

6. Justice Is Applying God’s Will To Relationships And the Public Square. 
This is true since God’s will reflects his character and justice is treating others righteously (i.e. in line with God’s character).

We also see this truth stated explicitly. Consider the following two examples:
·         Isaiah 51:4, in a context of speaking of God’s future salvation and a good news that will go out (cf. 40:9; 52:7), reads: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”

·         Jeremiah 5:4: “Then I said, “These are only the poor; they have no sense; for they do not know the way of the Lord, the justice of their God.”

Since justice is treating others in line with God’s character as revealed in his will, justice means that we will treat others in a manner that we: 
·         Encourage them to prioritize God as above all people and things, worship him rightly, and not belittle him (Ex. 20:3-7).

·         Do not set them or their desires above God, his desires, or contrary to his will (20:3-7).

·         Encourage them to find their rest and hope in God, not us or others, and we do the same toward them (Ex. 20:8-11).

·         Encourage them to preserve the honor and perform the duties belonging to others who are in authority over them, including parents (Ex. 20:12). This means that whatever unjust things have happened to them, we do not encourage them to be lawbreakers or to disrespect authorities.

·         Encourage them not to hurt, hate, or be hostile toward others, but instead to be patient and peaceful, pursuing even enemies in love (Ex. 20:13). This means that whatever has happened to them we do not conclude that the end justifies the means and so they are allowed to retaliate.

·         Encourage them to avoid sexual immorality and to live purely and faithfully, whether in marriage or single life (Ex. 20:14). As such, to suggest to someone that cohabitation, adultery, same-sex romantic relationships, or same-sex marriage are fine and/or just—if one of these is what they want—would be false and destructive.

·         Encourage them to work, if at all possible, to earn their living, as well as not to take without permission what does not belong to them (Ex. 20:15). This means that any welfare programs that discourage work or any economic systems such as socialism or communism are not truly just by definition. Additionally, if we employ them, we will pay them what is owed to them.

·         Encourage them to tell the truth and to treat others in accordance with truth (Ex. 20:16). This means that we will treat them impartially if rendering a decision toward them—not favoring them in a way that gives them preference or that puts them at a disadvantage, will not judge them in ways that do not match reality (such as merely by the color of their skin), and we will tell them the truth and treat them in ways that match the truth. See also Dt. 10:17-18; 1 Pt. 1:17.

·         Encourage them to be content with what God has done in their lives and with what he has given to them, not envying others, or resenting what God has given the other persons or to them, and this even while they may need to stand against injustice (Ex. 20:17).

As can be readily seen, biblical justice is quite different than what many people today think is justice, especially many who are seeking for social justice.

7. Justice is What is Best For All. 
Our final truth follows from the reality that justice is that which conforms to God’s will and the following of God’s will is always what is best for all involved. Consider these biblical passages: 
·         “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Dt. 10:12-13)

·         “Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life; he who despises his ways will die.” (Prov. 19:16)

·         “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

Conclusion: A Definition And The Importance Of Justice
Now that we have looked at the biblical material for what “justice” is, we can offer this definition: “Justice identifies the moral standard by which God measures human conduct…[his own character as reflected in his moral will]…. Biblical justice, therefore, is the equitable and impartial application of the rule of God’s moral law in society…the understanding and application of God’s moral law within the social realm,”[2] with the understanding that this justice is what is best for all.


Now that we know what justice is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that justice is a major and importance biblical theme. This is seen by the following:
·         The frequency of the related words. “Righteousness” and “righteous” are found 809 times (273 and 536 respectively) in the English Standard Version. The word “justice” is found 138 times and two words in the Old Testament that are almost always the same word behind justice and are related, “judgment” and “judgments” are found another 187 times.

·         “Righteousness” and “justice” are found in key ethical texts in the Bible. Consider Amos 5:24: “ “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. There is also Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Also, in Romans 1:18 we find out why God’s wrath is poured out on mankind: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all…unrighteousness….”

·         “Righteousness” and “justice” play a key role in the overall narrative of the Bible, which includes why God created us, what his purpose is for us, and what redeemed life should look like. When we grasp this, we come to see that living out righteousness in our relationships and in the public square (justice) has a great ability to glorify God. This is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:6 that people who are part of the kingdom and genuinely happy hunger and thirst after righteousness, even to the point of a willingness to suffer because of it (Mt. 5:10), for they know this results in the glorification of the Father (Mt. 5:16).

In our next blog post we will look at how righteousness and justice play a major role in the biblical narrative and how this has great potential not only for increasing our biblical understanding, but also motivating us to live on mission.

Joyfully Pursuing Justice With You,

Tom


[1] This title is taken from John Piper, Bloodlines. In his Introduction (“William Wilberforce: The Importance Of Doctrine And ‘Coronary’ Commitment”) to Part Two (“God’s Word: The Power Of The Gospel”) he writes: “One of the ways I think about the aim of this book, and the aim of my ministry, is that I labor to multiply a certain kind of person—persons who are committed to live for a great biblical cause, not a great earthly comfort. Over the years I have tried to wave this banner: to be a Christian is to move toward need, not comfort. Christian life means to get up in the morning and go to bed at night dreaming not about how to advance my comforts but how to advance some great God-centered cause.” (emphasis added)

[2] All but the bracketed clause and the last clause of this definition is taken from Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, The Kingdom, And How We Are Stronger Together (Chicago: Moody, 2011), 260.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Social Justice

In June the twenty-eight year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked not only New York, but the nation, by upsetting a seasoned politician, Joe Crowley in the New York primary. Crowley has been a U.S. representative from the Empire State since 1999. For eleven years before that he served in the New York State assembly. For the past couple years he has served as the chair of the House Democratic Caucus. He had a long history of service and was a rising star in the Democrat party.

Yet, what some see as even more shocking in this upset is that Ocasio-Cortez is affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America. As a socialist she favors the redistribution of wealth in order to achieve equality in the United States.[1] She advocates this economic and political approach since she believes it will achieve “social justice.”[2]

Thus, this candidate for congress from New York represents what many in the United States have come to value: this thing called “social justice,” which is why she and her like-minded colleague, Bernie Sanders, have engendered excitement among no small number of people. Who could be against justice, and especially as it is applied to the entire population?  Surely this is a good thing, right? Many think so. In fact a Christian ministry that is over forty years old, Sojourners, affirms that social justice is a large part of what it is all about.[3]

Yet, we must ask what is social justice? One might think that it is merely about pursuing justice in the social sphere, i.e. in society. However, it appears that the phrase has come to mean something more specific. Michael Novak explained: [4] 
“Social justice” is defined as follows in today’s culture:  …a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth,[5] opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges…. In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice…. [In other words,] “uniform state distribution of society's advantages and disadvantages.” (emphasis added)

Elsewhere we find an even more detailed definition and history: 
Social Justice as a concept arose in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution and subsequent civil revolutions throughout Europe, which aimed to create more egalitarian societies and remedy capitalistic exploitation of human labor. …early social justice advocates focused primarily on capital, property, and the distribution of wealth.

By the mid-20th century, social justice had expanded from being primarily concerned with economics to include other spheres of social life to include the environment, race, gender, and other causes and manifestations of inequality.[6] (emphasis added)

The current problem is not merely the history of the phrase and what it has come to mean for some. It is also that many are either unclear about what it means or at least unclear in articulating what it means.[7]

What is more, as Tony Evans highlights, for those who have greater clarity about what it is, there is a great deal of baggage not consistent with biblical truth.[8] William Lane Craig agrees and adds to the problems associated with social justice when he explains that critical theory undergirds the social justice viewpoint.[9] Craig highlights the following four anti-biblical premises that make up critical theory: 
·         “Premise 1: human relationships should be fundamentally understood in terms of power dynamics, which differentiates groups into ‘oppressors’ and the ‘oppressed.’”

·         “Premise 2: Our identity as individuals is inseparable from our group identity, especially our categorization as ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed’ with respect to a particular identity marker.”

·         “Premise 3: All oppressed groups find their fundamental unity in their common experience of oppression.”

·         “Premise 4: The fundamental human project is liberation from all forms of oppression; consequently, the fundamental virtue is standing in solidarity against the oppressor.”

It is easy to conclude, then, that social justice can easily become equated with absolute equality that is helping the oppressed to catch up. Let me offer an example to help us understand what is meant and to introduce the question, is this really a good idea, after all?

In 1930, because of the rubber industry in Akron, Ohio, a man named Carroll Roush and “Chick” Morrison founded a trucking company named R and M Transportation.[10] What they hauled at first by drivers who owned their own trucks was almost exclusively tires manufactured in Akron to automobile companies. Shortly after the company was founded, Carroll’s brother, Galen, joined the company and by the end of the year the company was re-named Roadway Express, Inc.

Though many companies suffered during the Great Depression, Roadway prospered—both due to the growing need for tires in the U.S. and the business prowess of Morrison and the Roush brothers. After World War II, with more and more cars on the road, the improvement of roads, and trucks becoming the preferred means of transporting goods, the company flourished even more. They purchased their own fleet of trucks, hired more drivers, and have grown throughout the decades.

The history of this company is particularly significant for me since my dad, uncle, and my brother were all employed by Roadway Express, Inc. for many years. It was a means of providing for several families close to me (including my own). And, of course, it was not just our family that benefited, but thousands through the decades who lived well above the material poverty level because of their employment with Roadway Express.

Now, imagine that the United States in the 1930’s decided that it was unjust or inequitable for a company to own more than ten trucks. So, in the 1940’s when Morrison and the Roush brothers purchased a fleet of trucks, a government agency we will name the Social Justice Enforcement Administration informed Roadway when they had thirty trucks that they must get rid of twenty of them. So the SJEA took the twenty trucks and distributed them equally to five different men who had no business or entrepreneurial prowess. Though these five men meant well and may even have worked hard, they never really grew and flourished. And every time Roadway went over ten trucks the excess was taken away. Eventually Morrison and the Roush brothers would have quit trying to expand and would simply maintain where they were. They would have never been able to grow into the successful company they did and to employ my dad, uncle, brothers, and thousands of other employees through the years. So, would such social justice equality have been a good or a bad thing? Would such “equality” have been the road out of poverty and to greater material provision for a great number of people (as was the case with the flourishing of the company)? Would such equality have truly been just or not?

This example introduces some issues we must face in regard to social justice. First, absolute equality may not always be the best thing. We all understand this. We do not believe that all people without exception should have equal access to driver’s licenses and we have good reason for this. For example, we exclude those who are blind and we exclude small children.

A second issue that is raised in the example is this:  Who decides what justice is? This is a huge issue. Though persons who are blind and who are pre-schoolers do not have equal access to driver’s licenses as most of those do who are sixteen years and older, would it be the compassionate or socially just position to take to advocate for such persons to have equal access?

A third issue that is raised in the examples is this:  What is the standard for justice? If there is no recognized and agreed-upon standard, then the sky can become the limit for what we term “social justice.” It might simply be this: “I perceive you have more resources or more opportunities than I do and this needs to be equalized. After all, it is not fair!” The end-result can be individual persons or voting blocks or even a government advocating for their piece of the pie and whoever can make the most noise (or have the greatest power) can get more resources and opportunities. If that is the case, would it really be just?

It appears that for many people this is what social justice has become—a fight for equality by my own standard against your standard or by the government’s standards—and the end result doesn’t appear to resemble true justice. For example, if you are a photographer or baker and serve all kinds of people who come through your door, yet do not want to photograph or bake a cake for a same-sex wedding since your religious convictions about marriage would be violated, there is a strong push in the country to say the couple has the right to force you to serve them, but you don’t have the right to hold to your convictions in the public arena. Is this just?  By whose standards?  Who decides? Which definition of justice wins the day and is best for society as a whole?

This raises another problem with the current social justice viewpoint. It has been recognized for decades centralized governments that advocate socialism tend toward authoritarianism and the removal of personal freedom.[11] And yet, though there is this recognition, socialism is gaining popularity among younger adults: 
When Bernie Sanders backer Kara Eastman in May became the Democratic nominee for a Nebraska congressional seat centered in…[Omaha]…, many conservatives took that as one more indication that America is oozing toward socialism.
Eastman, born in 1971, upset an older liberal, former Congressman Brad Ashford. Fretting conservatives added that data point to another: Millennials (sometimes defined as those born between 1977 and 1996) are going politically left rather than right by an almost 4-1 margin.
Other data points were also troubling. One poll showed half of American millennials saying they prefer socialism to capitalism.[12] Membership in the imaginatively named Democratic Socialists of America has grown sevenfold since the 2016 election. The number of chapters has almost quintupled.[13]

It has been my observance that even young Christians are open to socialism since it appears, on the surface, to provide a means of bringing about social justice. Now, I believe we can show the problems of a social justice approach that is undergirded both by critical theory and socialism by looking at their history and the results they bring. However, even more important for the Christian should be the query, what does the Bible teach about social justice?

That is the question I want to take up and answer in this series of blog posts. What I will do in the next post is to define “justice” according to the Bible (i.e. biblical justice). Then, in the following posts we will discover how true biblical justice should shape all we do and how it should move us to, “Live For A Great Cause, Not A Great Comfort: Move Toward Need,” which is the title of this series of blog posts.

Along the way, what we will discover is that true God-honoring biblical justice is different than the social justice that most advocate.

Joyfully Seeking Biblical Justice With You,
Tom



[1] For these two sentences, see The American Prospect, June 27, 2018 (on-line).

[2] Alana Levene, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Championed Social Justice At Boston University,” Boston Globe (June 27, 2018, on-line).  

[3] Rose Marie Berger, “What The Heck Is ‘Social Justice’?”  Accessed 7/11/10 at sojo.net/magazine/february-2007/what-heck-social-justice.

[4] The following is taken from Michael Novak, “Social Justice Not What You Think It Is.” Accessed 6/17/18 at heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/social-justice-not-what-you-think-it.

[5] One cannot miss the presence of Socialism or Communism here. Merriam-Webster (on-line) defines socialism this way: “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”  Merriam-Webster (on-line) defines communism in this manner: “A system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed; …a theory advocating elimination of private property.” The difference is that with socialism there is still private property, but the government owns or directs means of production and distribution of goods. With communism private property is also taken away.

[6] “What Is Social Justice?” accessed 6/17/18 at pachamama.org/social-justice/what-is-social-justice.

[7] As Steven C. Roy, “Embracing Social Justice: Reflections From The Storyline Of Scripture,” Trinity Journal, 30, 1 (Spring 2009): 3-4, also affirms.

[8] Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, The Kingdom, And How We Are Stronger Together (Chicago: Moody, 2011), 215.

[9] William Lane Craig, “The Dangers Of Critical Theory,” at reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/the-dangers-of-critical-theory.

[10] This account of the founding of Roadway Express, Inc. (now known as YRC) is found at ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Roadway Express.

[11] See F. A. Hayek, The Road To Serfdom (Chicago: The University Of Chicago Press, 1994, repr., fiftieth anniversary edition).

[12] Merriam-Webster (on-line) defines socialism as follows: “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” Merriam-Webster (on-line) defines capitalism this way: “An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” Merriam-Webster (on-line) defines “capital” in this manner: “relating to or being assets that add to the long-term net worth of a corporation [such as] capital improvements.”

[13] Marvin Olasky, “Between Anywhere and Somewhere: An afternoon with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse,” in World (July 21, 2018).