Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What is Biblical Justice?

The term "social justice" has come under heavy scrutiny over the last few months, especially from Glenn Beck and others on the Conservative political Right. Beck even went as far as to say
I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!
Some Christians simply dismiss Beck as a lunatic or shill for the Republican Party. But there are other well meaning Christians who hang on this man's every word like it was Gospel. I am writing to those Christians, not in anger or judgment or with an air of intellectual superiority, but honest and earnestly in love.

Beck and others, both on the Right and on the Left, define social justice, and I also think Biblical justice, as redistribution of wealth with a government as the means of that redistribution. I reject that definition outright. First, no Biblical sense of justice would use the United States government or ANY government as its sole means of action. Jesus rejected the idea of a worldly government doing the work of God. He told his disciples to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. He also told Pontius Pilate that HIS Kingdom was NOT of this world. At no point do Jesus, Peter, Paul, or any apostles endorse a government doing the work of the Kingdom. The work of the Kingdom of God, part of which is working toward justice (Micah 6:8), is the exclusive responsibility of the followers of Jesus Christ, the Church.

Second, I do not believe that Biblical justice is about taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Jesus was not Robin Hood. Instead, I take my view of Biblical justice again from Micah 4:3-4
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

The first difference is clear, the means of this justice is Almighty God. No government can do the work of the Almighty, it has tried and failed with terrible and violent results. Secondly, this view of justice is based on work, but it is not work in order to acquire wealth or property, but work in order to live with one other in peace. The weapons of war are turned into the tools of agriculture. The people are not reliant on a government, but on God alone. That is the only true way of justice. When we rely on human strength we get greed, corruption, and injustice. There is no government in the history of humanity, including the United States, that has not suffered these things. We cannot rely on government to provide justice. But when we rely upon God we get true and lasting peace and justice.

The Micah 6 idea of justice provides everyone gets an equal chance to do for themselves. Everyone has their own vines and their own fig trees to tend. But it is not about who has the biggest vines or the most fig trees, Biblical justice is always about full-inclusion. Biblical justice means no one gets left behind and no one falls through the cracks. Everyone gets enough, not too much and not too little, but enough. The idea of competition and hoarding, "I got mine and I don't care about yours" is not of God. Instead, Biblical justice means we share willingly and without pretense. When you start talking about how much should you tithe and give and whether the 10% is before or after taxes, you have miss the entire point. You do not have to give all your belongs to the poor to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but if you are a follower of Jesus Christ you would not really care either way. You would give everything you own because you know that it is not about how much you own, but about where your heart is.

What does this all mean for us in 2010? The good news is this, we will see this justice come into fullness and fruition one day. We have that promise. We will all sit on the banks of the River of Life and we will eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life and we will worship Almighty God forever. The bad news is that in this life we only catch glimpses of this justice. Those glimpse come in people like Mother Teresa who gave her life to helping those thrown away by Society. We see justice when a single mother gets help with day care and food while she works her way up or goes to school to make a better life. We see justice when a church helps unemployed people find work with a living wage. We see justice those who are differently-abled are integrated into Society not as objects of pity, but in full inclusion.

But now we find ourselves in a catch-22 because we cannot dissolve the very government that is so corrupt and filled with greed. The bad news is that in this life we have to work with the faulty, corrupt system. I feel that we need the government to make those glimpses of justice. The Church has delegated its responsibility to the government and now the government is the only entity equipped to help those who need it. There are too many people for the Church to help them all. But it does not mean that we stand idly by while corruption and greed, on BOTH sides of the aisle, reign freely. Greed and corruption are not limited to those in Congress, but also with all of us. There are those who abuse the system that is meant to help them. There are those who become unjustly reliant on the government for their complete existence. This is not justice, but an abuse of justice. So we must work as imperfect people with an imperfect system to try and help those who need it. This is the reality of our situation, but we continue to hope and pray for the day when "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

1 comment:

Ron Goetz said...

One of my favorite passages regarding justice is in the book of Proverbs.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice." (Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT)

Who are the victims here? People being crushed.... the poor and helpless.

Furthermore, they are people with no voice. They cannot speak for themselves.

What sorts of people can't speak for themselves?

First, try undocumented laborers, easily threatened by employers to not complain about substandard working conditions and pay.

Second, look at gay and lesbian students, suffering in silent isolation that comes with hearing "that's so gay" a dozen times a day for their whole school career, that comes from being told from the pulpit that they are destined to burn for eternity.

Third, consider victimes of all varieties of abuse: the very young, the very old, submissive people with brutal partners.

Consider the command to speak up and see that they get justice. Who are we speaking to? To those with the authority to see that justice is done. Who are they?

Justice, by definition, deals with laws and their enforcement. So those of us who do have a voice must address the people in charge: legislators, judges, the police, school administrators--anyone tasked with making and enforcing policies, regulations, and laws.

I can speak up for myself. Many of us can. We are commanded to speak up for those who cannot.