What does that word “justice” mean and what does the bible say about it?
I was recently invited to speak about biblical justice at an event. And of course I said “yes.” And of course I had no idea what the word “justice” even meant.
I knew it was in the bible, but it’s not a word I actually use. It’s a word I more closely associate with politics than with Jesus.
But the more I studied the more I realized there really is no better word for the right-making of God and God’s people than “justice.” So much meaning in those seven letters! Here’s a little of what I learned.
• Deliverance out of oppression into freedom
Oppression, in scripture, is when a system is preventing a person or group of people from living the full and meaningful life God wants for us all.
When any education system, political system, legal system, religious system makes full and meaningful life more difficult for a person or group to attain, that system is unjust.
Justice is brought about by correcting or abolishing that system, or by rescuing out of that system those who are held held back or harmed by it.
• Deliverance of the outcast into community
In Jesus’ day, leprosy was not just a physical ailment but a social malady as well. Relationships and flesh were destroyed.
A leper, declared “unclean,” was ostracized by society – including his religious community. Just as rotten flesh was cutoff from a limb, so a leper was cutoff from the Body.
Justice is brought about when outcasts are brought into community. This requires healing – ours or theirs or both.
• Deliverance from physical poverty into enough
Throughout the bible we are taught about the necessity of daily bread – to pray for it, give thanks for it, work hard for it, and share it.
Injustice occurs when the land is abused to the point that it won’t produce, work is not compensated fairly, bread is stolen or hoarded.
Justice is brought about when everyone has enough – land is cared for, workers are payed, we enjoy the fruits of our labor, we equip others to work, we provide them with opportunity to work, and we share.
• Deliverance out of violence into equality
Biblical justice is brought about by God’s people through nonviolent means.
When we refuse to act violently we elevate our enemy to be our equal – as valuable to God as we are.
Justice is brought about when we choose to see all people – regardless of their beliefs, actions, or nationality – as equally deserving of a full and meaningful life and of the opportunity to have a relationship with God through Christ.
The bible says in Isaiah 58, that genuine worship of God is accompanied by justice. As Tim Keller has said, “Justice is the grand symptom of a genuine faith.”
If you’d like to learn more about biblical justice I highly recommend these resources:
The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen (president of International Justice Mission)
Kingdom Ethics by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee (seminary textbook)
Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (memoir)
The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder
Just Peacemaking by Glen H. Stassen