What’s It (or He or She) Worth? Thinking about Justice, Part 1

I’d like to spend a few porch-sittin’ sessions here reflecting on justice, particularly in light of being a Jesus-follower in a world where over 30 million of my fellow humans are bought and sold (and typically abused) for profit, to do things like make yummy chocolate. In a world where there are more slaves today than at any point in human history.  I’d like to set out what I believe to be a foundation for understanding, practicing and pursuing justice in light of the Bible. I hope that the approach will be interesting to you, whatever your faith convictions (or lack thereof). We all need to have common language with which to stand against evil. At the very least, I hope to clarify some of the language that gets bandied about quite a lot these days. My concern is for victims of injustice… but we can neither identify who such people are, nor know what our responsibilities to them might be, without a clear understanding of what we mean by “justice.”

I’m not bringing this up to try to jump on any sort of trendy bandwagon, either in the name of politics or spirituality. I am not looking to get people to “do their bit” to help some “poor unfortunate souls”… there are deep reasons why I believe issues like human trafficking – contemporary slavery – and other issues of justice lay a special burden upon the global body of Christ. Many of these reasons revolve around the idea of justice, particularly God’s justice.

2015-05 IMG_20150523 IMG_0582 appalachian trail path (Large)
Appalachian Trail, May 2015

I’m not here to tell you the “right” or “proper” way to think about justice. Me, I’m just on a path myself, simultaneously following Jesus into the world and following through the implications of the Gospel in the world into which we’ve been sent. But I think it’s time to speak clearly about the things I HAVE learned to this point…

Justice - right order - retributionThere ARE two things people often think about when the word “justice” is mentioned, neither of which I’m all that interested in dealing with right now (though I’ll admit they both do have implications for opposing trafficking). One is the idea of “justice” as “the right ordering of society.” That’s Aristotle: and it underlies a lot of our political thinking about justice. Another is thinking about justice as “payback,” or retributive justice.

            Instead, I want to unpack some of the significance of three particular words.


VALUE | I am firmly convinced that every single human being is of inestimable worth. And that treating an individual justly must at least involve respecting the value he or she has. Everyone has a RIGHT to being properly valued.

imago deiSo from what are such rights derived? They are integrally connected to the individual as a human person, a bearer of God’s image… one who is created and loved by God.  

The Genesis narrative tells us that our worth is connected to our Creator. If God is of great and inestimable worth, then human beings made in his image must have immense value too. Even if we have diverse understandings of what constitutes this “imago Dei,” it is clear that to bear it is to be of great value, at least to the Creator. And there is no better ground for valuation than that!

worth weight in goldSo honoring of inherent rights is honoring the Creator. I believe it is up to each of us to concretely affirm the proper value of each member of each family in our church… in our community… in our world.

This entails spiritual warfare, since Satan, our adversary, is consistently out to devalue, discount, or otherwise tamper with this valuing of God’s image… since he can’t get at God, he’ll trample on His image-bearers.

flopsy bunny into sackIf you’re a fan of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books, you may recall Mr McGregor. In The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies he finds Benjamin Bunny’s six sleeping children and puts them in a sack to sell them for tobacco.. But he’s disappointed when the bunnies escape the sack, having been replaced with some old vegetables and a brush.

Similarly, Satan has claimed and is claiming the minds, the bodies the souls of millions of God’s image bearers. He slaps labels on them, labels that he feels devalue them, that enable him to score them on the cheap, to say “They are mine, Game Over,” drop them into his sack and head off looking for more. This he has no right to do. you shall not passI’ve seen this over and over again, all around the world. People living with AIDS turned away by the church as being “under God’s curse.” Roma being kicked to the curb in Europe for centuries to the point they become convinced that they were “created not for good things.” People with disabilities who are considered as not being of full value because they are takers instead of makers, useless eaters, or “life unworthy of life.” And the millions and millions of humans who are bought and sold to be used and abused and then discarded.

These are the very same people – individuals, families, communities, cultures – to whom we are sent, they are integrally involved in the mission which Christ has given us as His Church. If we allow this affront to pass unchallenged, we become complicit.

This post is the first in a series, which continues here.

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