Last week I wrote a blog post reviewing the new book Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma. Before you go on, please check that post out. It lays the groundwork for what I’m going to continue to talk about (and it includes a chance to win a copy of the book!).
Pursuing Justice really broadened my horizons on the concept of justice. Specifically, biblical justice – what God intended the word to mean & how it’s been twisted and misconstrued. Most people associate the word justice with the criminal justice system, or with “getting justice for someone/something.” Passed that, and for Christians specifically, I think we often fall into 2 camps:
- Those who view justice as some fringe concept mentioned from time to time in the Bible, but think that it doesn’t really apply to living our lives.
- Those of us who do value the concept of “justice” but who may have a much more narrow definition of justice.
I fall into the latter. I work for a Christian nonprofit that even has “justice” in our name. But, as we describe ourselves, we are focused specifically on fighting against violent injustice against the poor. I think that’s what most of us in category #2 think of – battling against sex trafficking, land rights for widows, slaves trapped in brick factories, the wrongly imprisoned, etc. These are all crucial and totally encompassed in what God intends by the term. But Wytsma helps open our eyes to a much broader definition also.
I think the vast majority of Christians still fall into the first category. They neither understand what justice really means nor do they understand how much a part of God’s heart justice is and how He’s calling us to live.
Wytsma points out that there are nearly 2,000 verses in the Bible that are directly related to justice. It’s clearly a priority in God’s word. Wytsma illustrates justice as being like the idea of shalom, which he defines as “the intended state of peace and wholeness that all of God’s creation is meant to experience… an active presence of what is right, true, nourishing, joyful, and the like“. In short, it’s how God says things ought to be. Justice is the golden rule at it’s finest. It’s everything from feeding the hungry, to helping everyone get access to education, to stopping sex trafficking, to caring for the widow among us, to not gossiping about our neighbor. It’s about treating others as creations of our loving God.
He also shows the reader that the New Testament word used for righteousness & justice are the same. Eye-opener! We often emphasize the former & ignore the latter(because we don’t understand it). We get so caught up in the idea of personal morality (not sinning, being good) that we often lose sight of the importance of doing good. But see this eye-opener played out here in one example:
Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness [dikaiosune: being right with God and with others, justice], and all these things will be given to you as well.”
We are not told to seek His kingdom simply by not sinning. We are told to seek His kingdom first by being right with God and with others. This requires us to act, to go good toward others. To treat them as God intended all of His children to be treated. To give ourselves and our lives for others just as Christ did for us.
He gives many more examples, but the long & short of it is: “We can’t separate justice from the gospel any more than we can separate thunder from lightning“. We must be good & do good. We must “live uprightly and walk justly”. Micah 6:8.
One more eye-opener... Why did God cast judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah? What was so bad that God destroyed Sodom? Most of us will jump to immediate conclusions. But this is what God says, through the prophet Ezekiel:
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49
Does that sound like us today… going about our comfortable, prosperous lives? Ouch, right?
There is still a lot that I’m mulling over & re-reading, but I’m definitely feeling stretched from my former notions of justice & hope that you are feeling a bit inspired too.
I’ll leave you with two more great quotes from the book:
“Justice. Righteousness. God calls us to walk as He walks, to go where He goes, to care as He cares, and to walk morally by doing justice. True morality requires justice. God’s righteousness is predicated on His active pursuit of justice in the world, and He requires those who would seek and know Him to do the same.”
“Justice, however, makes demands at all times and in all places – not just where our attention is focused. It requires us to see beyond our own walls & make changes in our lives and perceptions of the world that go beyond moments of charitable giving. Charity can be intermittent, while justice seeks continuity. Justice can inform and challenge both what we see and what we don’t see in the world.”
And a random sampling of further scriptures to check out: Isaiah 1:15-17, Isaiah 58, Psalm 112, Psalm 146:6-9, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Luke 4:18-19, James 1:27
Definitely check out Pursuing Justice. You can still win a copy of the book from my previous post (through Sunday, Feb 24).
And I’m really excited to be going to The Justice Conference this weekend, which Ken Wytsma founded a couple years ago! I’m eager to continue the conversation.
Any immediate reactions or thoughts? How have you been challenged lately “to live & die for bigger things”?