The first three posts on justice avoided dealing with “retributive justice” (justice as payback) and justice as “proper order in society.” I did that not because they are unimportant, but to avoid getting entangled in political, cultural, and philosophical elements that often seem to get us into the weeds. Instead we’ve used “value,” “complicity,” and “redemption” as our entry points. Even though I’m weaving these threads on a Christian loom, I honestly hope the discussion is helpful in bringing clarity, regardless of your own particular starting point. With that being said, let’s dig in and talk about “justice”…
As we consider issues like human trafficking, marginalization of minorities and the disabled, etc., I think it’s best to do so in light of what we understand about justice. To be just must at least involve honoring of the rights that arise from that which God, the Eternal Creator, has personally placed upon each member of the human community: the value that comes from being an image-bearer. And acknowledging that value involves honoring the responsibilities that come from that recognition.
There are forces afoot in today’s world that are in direct opposition to this divine justice. We have a choice either to be complicit in such injustice, or to challenge it the name of GOD.
A passion for this sort of justice is not a surface affectation, which motivates only self-effort. Instead, it is a heartfelt involvement that grows out of a deep knowledge of and relationship to God. It may call us to stand up for others, to get involved, engaged, advocating. It can call us to sit down (to listen, learn from them). And it may call us to lay down improper attachments to things of this world, elements of privilege.
But it is not about us being or becoming “justice heroes.” Faithfulness is better. As Brennan Manning said in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “The temptation of this age is to look good without being good.” We want to do justice. We want to BE JUST. Being a true “hero,” though, is not about the single acts or exploits that make headlines, but persistence, determination and hard work. Having an urge to be heroic can go seriously awry… While we certainly would like to know that we’re “making a difference” in the face of injustice, it’s more important to be faithful.
If we are not willing to pursue the process of continuing to die to self, and respond to our own complicity in injustice with repentance and lament, then we have no business trying to excel in the lead role of the White Knight or Caped Crusader…
As nice as it seems to us to identify the true “bad guys” in life (particularly when we’re not among them), dividing the perpetrator from the victim from the rescuing hero doesn’t really get us where we need to go… because an element of each resides in every one of us. What is better is to see all three turn to become their “brother’s and sister’s keeper.”
At some point, though, it’s hard not to just scream, “This is so unrealistic! How can our efforts change something like the system that enslaves and buys and sells millions of people around the world?” We may not be able to fix the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it for the better in Jesus’ name and according to His example.
Be realistic, you might hear from the pragmatists among us – don’t punch yourself out fighting global issues that you can never solve. You’ll just tire yourself out. Here’s where the heart comes in: If we identify – and truly commune with – those who suffer, we don’t ask whether justice is worth it, whether it’s worth fighting for. That question becomes offensive. Those who ask such questions are not those who truly are tired from fighting, or even have a reason to be tired… but those who tire of the idea of fighting for justice. The thing is: You never stop fighting for your own. Because you love them, you never quit.
My motivation for opposing injustice is not guilt, nor pity… just love. Just doing what is right.
Love and justice connect at a deep level. We need to understand both to see how they mesh. Justice is grounded in rights, what is due. Rights are grounded in dignity and worth. Rights are what respect for dignity and worth requires. The “agape” love that Jesus incarnates involves advancing a person’s good – it’s not just a feeling.
What’s the essence of “the law”? Jesus said it’s to “Love your neighbor…” (Lev.19) Do you know the context of that original command? Check it out, don’t oppress, rip off, judge unjustly, show partiality, abuse the disabled, slander, hate, kill, take vengeance… These detailed injunctions lead to “love your neighbor” – it’s almost a sort of summary statement! How can love and justice possibly be opposed?
Treating someone justly is a way of, an example of, loving them. Honoring the dignity of your neighbor expresses love for him. Rightly esteeming the worth of your neighbor is justice.