What does God think is just and what does God want you to do about it?
Justice is a social reality
In the Biblical view, justice is a state of equity and fairness, integrity and righteousness, peace and wholeness, at all levels of society. It's a state that ensures the rights and dignity of all, particularly the most vulnerable.
God intends for all people to experience “abundant life”, experiencing peace, wholeness and righteousness in our daily lives and in all our relationships – with one another at every level (locally, nationally and globally), with selves that are healed and made whole, with creation, and with our Creator and Judge.
The Old Testament speaks of this abundant life as shalom. It's a state of harmony and rightness in social relations, justice in the courts and the marketplace, of material sufficiency, peace and security in local communities and among the nations, a flourishing and productive creation, and of right relations with one's Creator.
Justice is personal for God
The Bible makes clear that God is deeply grieved by the dehumanising poverty which consigns women, men and children to violence and vulnerability, struggle and despair, and which stunts and prematurely ends the lives of tens of thousands of poor people every day.
Yet God is not merely grieved by poverty, but also deeply angered by the arrogance, greed, indifference and deep-rooted injustice which causes poverty. Poverty is not accidental, it is not a fact of life, but is the result of human sin as some seek to dominate or exploit others, to claim for themselves – and exclude others from enjoying – material and social resources (wealth and power), and to create and enforce the rules and mechanisms that allow this to become self-perpetuating.
“When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."
In our world, some are enriched vastly beyond any just or sustainable measure while others are pushed towards and beyond the brink of survival. The atmosphere and resources of our common home are polluted and plundered to enrich some, while exposing many others to increasing threats and hazards in a disrupted climate.
“Woe to you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!” Isaiah 5:8
We know that all people – women and men alike – are image-bearers of the true and living God, creative stewards of creation, with inherent dignity and worth. Yet poverty and injustice silence the voices of people in poverty, deny them rights, respect and dignity, and exclude them from the social, material and physical resources required to realise that created dignity.
God takes the defacing of His image personally.
Justice requires action
To act in line with God's vision for justice requires all people (and especially those in positions of authority, or with social and economic power) to act and make decisions to ensure fairness, integrity and the well-being of all.
When this doesn't happen, the wealthy and powerful may secure further privilege and power at the expense of the less powerful. Vulnerable groups might find themselves caught in entrenched poverty, insecurity, debt and vulnerability that leaves them with little hope or opportunity for change.
“Hear the word of the LORD, O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David — you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the LORD: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood.” Jeremiah 22:1–3
This inequality and injustice can be enacted at an interpersonal level – for example between employer and employee, large company and small supplier, landlord and tenant, but it can also be enacted at the level of social, political and economic systems and structures – such as politics, the courts and law enforcement, tax laws, or systems of international trade and finance – so that they work in favour of a powerful few and against the interests of less powerful people and groups. Sometimes this is a matter of the formal rules of the system – which favour the wealthy and the powerful. Sometimes this is a matter of how the powerful make use of these systems to corrupt or turn them to their own advantage.
Justice is love in action
Christians, in faithfulness to Jesus, seek to “love our neighbours as ourselves”. We do this directly, in face to face encounters with our neighbours, when we offer a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on.
We also love our neighbours indirectly when we seek to ensure that the laws and rules, systems and processes that operate in our economies and societies protect the rights and dignity of all, particularly the most vulnerable.
We love others, and act in line with God's justice, when we raise our voices together, challenge our leaders, choose to purchase ethically, call companies to act so that people and planet aren't ground into the dust beneath their bottom line and when we seek to live lightly in God's creation and pursue policies that preserve a safe climate for all.
To download a Micah Discussion Paper on Poverty and Biblical Justice, click here.
Ben Thurley is the National Coordinator of Micah Australia.