What is Biblical Justice?
The last four words of the Pledge of Allegiance says, “and justice for all.” In recent years we have seen the chants, “no justice, no peace” when people of color have been attacked and killed needlessly. We certainly hear that word bantered about in almost any context where people believe they have been treated unfairly. As Christians the question we need to ask is “what does the Word of God say is Biblical Justice?”
When I was doing research, I discovered around 100 verses that talk directly about the subject of justice. There are two Hebrew words that are translated to the English word justice and mean “to treat people equitable and give them their rights.” The words are relational terms with people living in right relationship with God and one another. Ultimately they mean to “make right”.
Interestingly the concept of justice or God’s righteousness is not only on a personal basis but a societal basis as well. I will discuss more on this in a moment.
The first and maybe the most significant aspect of justice is that God is a god of justice! Some examples from Scripture are Psalm 37:28, “For the Lord loves justice and he will never abandon the godly”; Isaiah 61:8, “For I the Lord, love justice…”; and Jeremiah 9:23-24, “this is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches. Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!’”
As a result, God commands his people to pursue justice. Amos 5:21-24 is a powerful declaration to this point. “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grains offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry.”
Micah 6:8 also declares, “No, O people, the Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right (just), to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
So when we talk about justice, who does the Bible specifically say we are to advocate for? Overwhelmingly the answer is the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. Proverbs 31:9 declares, “Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Isaiah 1:17 implores, “Learn to do good, Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.” Deuteronomy 10:18-19 instructs us, “He gives justice to orphans and widows. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. You, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”
Showing justice has to start on a personal basis. A Christian should unreservedly do right by people. We should treat everyone with kindness and love. When someone has been done wrong, we need to align ourselves with their need for justice and stand with them.
On a societal basis we need to look at systems that are unjust and lobby for change. This should include inequities in the educational system, where poor schools get less money than rich schools. When financial systems unfairly discriminate against people of color, our voice should join their chorus to demand change. When free speech becomes polluted with unjust cruelty and lies, believers should line up to say, “no more.”
Just today I watched as a jury in Connecticut awarded almost a billion dollars to Sandy Hook families who were maligned by right wing conspiracist Alex Jones. These families may never see all the money awarded, but the message of justice was clear.
While I don’t support the onslaught of people trying to illegally get into the United States, we still need to treat them with respect and dignity when rounded up. Remember they are coming here because of cruel and harsh conditions in their home countries. While I don’t know fully the best way to deal with the crush of desperate people, Christians can do their best to help them feel human in any way possible.
It is time for the Body of Christ to be aligned with the marginalized, instead of supporting bizarre conspiracy theories and worrying about phantom issues that are being promoted as the end of American civilization. There is a lost and hurting world that we should be focused on helping.
Christian, stand up for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant. Be their advocate! Then, our lives will be full. As Matthew 5:6 puts it, “God blesses those that are thirsty and hungry for justice…” This is a blessing that I truly long to have.