Why we confuse justice

This is a post that’s been on my mind for some time. The term social justice is loaded with meaning, but I think for many evangelicals we miss out on the term justice because we are looking at social justice from a lens that doesn’t help us think biblically.

For many, and I’m aware this is a caricature of sorts, social justice is equated with the use of government to forcibly right a wrong. Therefore saving government social programs that protect the poor is social justice or ensuring the rights of the downtrodden or abused is social justice. What’s so interesting about the common use of the phrase is like so many ideas there s truth in what is being said. Working for the civil rights of the mistreated and falsely accused is a form of social justice that we should all get behind. Ensuring a basic level of protection for those without means or relations is critical to our national character.

But when we start moving in other realms the use of the word social justice quickly fails us. I am not saying that Christians should not argue for robust social protections, but our views need to be grounded in a sense of true justice.

You see in God’s economy justice is the foundation of our life together. It is a justice that God secures through his nature and upholds in His Son. Justice is the foundation of His throne and ensures that the reign of God is perfect and equatable by every standard.

Human justice isn’t like this. Justice for every society is relative. We work for a more equatable society when others are fundamentally left out like when African Americans were literally left out of our society. Justice does not oppose itself so there are no fears that the justice of one impacts the justice of another. If justice robs another of justice it is never justice but tyranny.

This side of heaven we will not create the perfect society, but we can reflect the heart of the Father by engaging some of the great injustices of our day. Take urban poverty a condition that impacts the lives of millions of Americans. Is it just in God’s eyes that one child has access to a well funded school while another attends a school where half the students will never graduate? That is not in keeping with the heart of God, especially when we live in a free society where people of good will can work to address such issues.

Now in America justice is served more so than in many parts of the world. Across the scriptures God takes up the cause of the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed for this too is part of his nature. We who are able should take up the cause of many without voices the world over. We can walk faithfully with many who will experience severe injustices throughout there lives. We do so in keeping with the heart of God the Father.

For the Christian we know that even in a free society like ours there are real limits to the ability of governments to bring change. Governments are important players, but as Christians we need to separate the notion that all social justice means government as a lead actor. Justice can mean civil government action or a government supported safety net, but basic survival is not the idea of justice or restoration found in the bible. True justice is transformative, bringing darkness to light. It’s the sort of justice that we ought to work and pray for. Knowing we may have to wait until the return of Jesus, but also knowing that in the power of His Spirit much can be done which is line with who He is and who He would have us be.

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