The recent turmoil that was triggered by the killing of George Floyd has put a focus on justice in our country. In a sense, justice is on trial. Racial justice is the primary focus, but justice generally is implicated.
Most people are focusing on racial justice right now, but I have seen people with signs at rallies with messages aimed at “police brutality” generally. The spark of emotional reaction has ignited the flames of passion in all people who believe that injustice exists in our systems of justice.
One good example of that more general focus on justice is the “autonomous zone” created by protestors in the City of Seattle, WA. (Seattle protesters set up ‘autonomous zone’ after police evacuate precinct by Danielle Silva and Matteo Moschella for CBS News June 11, 2020) The police have abandoned the East Precinct in response, and the protestors have replaced the sign on the police station to read “Seattle People Department”.
Many Christians, especially evangelicals, who tend to be conservative, having traditional values and respect for authority, react negatively to such extreme radicalism, and for good reason. In doing so, though, we fail to see, ignore, or gloss over real justice issues that should be addressed.
Our God is just. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s character. (Ps. 89:14) Righteousness and justice should be priorities to us as they are to God.
We might think of justice in terms of punishment, but that is a very warped and inaccurate view of biblical justice. “Biblical references to the word ‘justice’ mean ‘to make right.’ Justice is, first and foremost, a relational term — people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the natural creation. From a scriptural point of view, justice means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves and is rooted in the character and nature of God. As God is just and loving, so we are called to do justice and live in love.” (What does social justice really mean? by Adam Taylor, World Vision February 20, 2012)
Many Christians get tripped up by the term, social justice, because of secular baggage associated with the term. Indeed, social justice has taken on connotations that might by antithetical to some biblical principles. Because justice is a primary characteristic of God, however, we can’t let competing visions of what justice looks like to get in our way of doing justice.
God desires for us to be salt and light in the world. That means getting involved. Jesus warned us that weeds would grow up with the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30), but the fields are ripe for the harvest. To be involved in the harvest, we need to venture out into the fields, weeds and all.
I like the term, Gospel justice, because it puts the focus where it should be for followers of Christ. Jesus died for all men’s sins so that we can have right relationship with God, now and forever. God is primarily concerned with our relationship with Him – that’s the Gospel. Hand in hand with our right relationship with God is His concern that we have right relationship with each other – that’s justice.
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That sums up all the Law and the Prophets. That is righteousness and justice.
Jesus came, he said (reading from Isaiah) to preach good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, and to set the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18) Why the poor? The prisoners? The oppressed?
Given the context in Isaiah 61, Jesus was not just talking about the spiritually poor, captives, or oppressed. He was talking to the spiritual and physical conditions of people on earth. In the same passage (verse 8), it reads:
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.”
In Isaiah 58:2-3, we see that Isaiah is calling out the people in his time for their rebellion:
“For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’”
They are asking God for justice, but they aren’t interested in doing justice (Isaiah 58:3-4):
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.”
Then he makes clear what doing justice looks like (Isaiah 58:6-7):
“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?”
This is what God wants of us. Not all the religious sacrifices we give, but a sacrifice of justice, which requires the sacrifice of our very selves (taking up our crosses, considering others, spending ourselves for others – loving others). This is where God promises to meet us (Isaiah 58:9-11):
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.”
As Christians, we can’t allow the world to hijack our responsibility for justice. Just because Black Lives Matters, the organization, takes positions contrary to Scripture in what they stand for does not mean that we should not agree that black lives matter, for instance. Christians need to stand up in times where injustice is rightfully identified and agree that God’s heart is for justice.
We will encounter weeds, but that should not keep us from working in the fields where the wheat stands side by side with the weeds.
It isn’t for us to discern the weeds from the wheat either. God will do that at the end of age. Meanwhile, Jesus warns us not to judge people that way because we will inevitably pull up wheat with the weeds. (Matt. 13:29). Some of the people we might view as weeds are wheat waiting to be harvested.
We can leave those things to God. Meanwhile God wants us out in the fields doing what Jesus did: proclaiming good news to the poor and freedom to prisoners and loosening the chains of oppression. God wants us do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him. (Micah 6:8) Love God and love your neighbor.