MIGHT SOCIAL JUSTICE NOT BE THE SAME AS BIBLICAL JUSTICE?
- To preach moral duty without the underlying power of the gospel is moralism that is both pathetic and powerless; to preach a watered-down gospel as that which tips us into the kingdom, to be followed by discipleship and deeds of mercy, is an anemic shadow of the robust gospel of the Bible; to preach the gospel and social justice as equivalent demands is to misunderstand how the Bible hangs together (Don Carson).
- The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else (Oswald Chambers)
- The foundational way we can persuade skeptics that the Bible is truth is to experience and manifest that truth in our lives (Jim Denison)
- The devil knows that if he can capture your thought life, he has won a mighty victory over you. His great business is injecting thoughts, but if you are pure and holy you will instantly shrink from them. God wants us to let the mind that was in Christ Jesus, that pure, holy, humble mind of Christ, be in us (Smith Wigglesworth)
- When man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything (G.K. Chesterton).
TEXT: Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
The question of whether social justice is the same as biblical justice could be more than semantics which is related to word meanings. On the surface, social justice and biblical justice are similar in that they seek to ensure that the oppressed are freed from oppression and their needs are met. The words just and justice are often used to describe the God of the bible. While this appears to agree with the biblical meaning of justice, a closer examination of the terms will show they are starkly different. The justice as described in the bible is different from the social and economic justice advocated by those who do not revere the Lord. My observation has been that when the meeting of social needs becomes a priority, the greater good of having the word of God as a lamp to the feet and light to the path is squeezed into a corner. Might there be danger in assuming that ideological social justice is the same as biblical justice? Is it possible to have biblical justice and social justice?
THE ORIGINS AND DANGERS OF MISTAKING SOCIAL JUSTICE AS BIBLICAL JUSTICE
While social justice and biblical justice desire the same end, to feed the hungry, rescue the oppressed and eliminate injustices, the beliefs underlying them could be different.
Social justice focuses on equality, diversity and inclusion. It is also known as economic justice because of the redistribution of wealth for the good of all. Scott David Allen explains how a set of ideas rooted in postmodernism and neo-Marxist critical theory merged into a comprehensive worldview labeled “social justice”. The emphasis is on equality, diversity and championing the cause of the oppressed. The term social justice was coined by a Jesuit priest Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio in the 1840s to refer to the ordinary and traditional conception of justice applied to the constitution arrangements of the society. In the 20th century, some Christian got interested in progressive social causes. ‘Christians interested in alleviating only eternal suffering implicitly deny the place of love here and now; Christians who by their failure to proclaim the Christ of the gospel of the kingdom while they treat AIDS victims in their suffering here and now show themselves not really to believe all that the Bible says about fleeing the wrath to come. In the end, it is a practical atheism and a failure in love’ (Don Carson). Though the concept of just and fair relations between the individual and the society is biblical, the difference arises from the motivation. At times, social justice is motivated by narrow, deceptive and partisan self-interests that focus on a temporal view of addressing injustices in society.
Biblical justice is a relational term that calls for people living in the right relationship with God and one another. ‘And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ (Zechariah 7:8-10). Justice from a scriptural perspective is rooted in the character of God and that means loving God wholeheartedly and loving the neighbor as one loves himself. It is the just and loving God who calls those who trust Him to live in love.
Biblical justice starts with the eternal in mind. It starts by seeing people as God sees them – recognizing that we are all created in the image of God. Biblical justice operates within a biblical worldview that guides people to true justice where the New Covenant is established. This is because without the lordship of Christ in the hearts of men and women, justice is temporary. It is those who know freedom from sin and unrighteousness, filled with the Holy Spirit, who engage in issues of justice and relationships that recognize the image of God in His people irrespective of their race, gender, geographical location or age. It is the genuine disciples of Jesus Christ who in obedience to His leading pursue physical and spiritual freedom of the oppressed so others can become what God created them to be.
SOME WAYS OF DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN BIBLICAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE WORLDVIEW
Source of injustice – Social justice blames external factors, such as history, organization systems, and nature as the sole cause of the injustice. While it is true that there are injustices caused by the existing mindset, the bible is categorical that the human heart is evil. ‘The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time’ (Genesis 6:5); ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). What Social justice activists need to know is the need for the healing of the heart. It is those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, forgiven and know the indescribable love of God, that are able to love others that way.
The role and status – Social justice deconstructs relationships in a way that the basic relationship of male and female is marred. Power differentials that ignore the word of God end up as abuse. For example, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ (Exodus 20: 12); ’But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving’ (Ephesians 5:3-4); ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34). There are cases where equality has meant eradicating the God given order for what human beings assume to be the just order. It is dangerous and explosive when insecure people remove relationship fences. “Self-realization leads to the enthronement of work; whereas the saint enthrones Jesus Christ in his work. Whether it be eating or drinking or washing disciples' feet, whatever it is, we have to take the initiative of realizing Jesus Christ is in it’ (Oswald Chambers).
Selfhood and identity – Identity that is constructed sense of being based on shared beliefs and behavior is external and consequently temporary and divisive. ‘Truth and reason outside group identity are deemed constructs of oppressive class’ (Thaddeus Will). Biblical worldview holds that the sense of self is derived from one's relationship with Christ. Selfhood rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ anchors thinking in loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and mind (Matthew 22:36-40). The result is a mind renewed and transformed by the word of God. Transformed minds make the people more effective in their communities. George Washington Carver (1861- 1943) whose innovations provided economic liberation for many people credited his work to God’s revelation in prayer. Carter revealed what motivated him: “Well, some day I will have to leave this world. And when that day comes, I want to feel that my life has been of some service to my fellow man’.
Ethnocentrism – The tendency of social justice activists is to use their own standard to evaluate and judge what is just. Hunger, nakedness and oppression are evaluated according to what one knows. ‘The social justice ideology holds that one’s meaning and purpose is defined by himself/ herself, thereby making anyone who differs an oppressor’ (Thaddeus Will). Thinly veiled prejudices that exist among people are increased as those in power share the form of justice as they know it. Families and communities are fractured, confused and frustrated as they try to align what they know with the diverse beliefs of others.
Every believer needs to reconcile with and seek to understand biblical justice and how it differs from social justice. The Lord who has called us to do justice and live in love is just and loving and enabling. ‘For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face’ (Psalm 11:7). He expects those who have come to consciousness of bearing His image and likeness to live in the right relationship with Him and to love the neighbor. Prayerful engagement with cultures that nurtures God given abilities and results in people by seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness transforms every sector of their living conditions. Where the difference between social and biblical justice are not distinguished, time is spent in a counterfeit liberation where forgiveness, mercy and human dignity are illusive. For example, a church or a Christian can come up with a school or hospital as a way of helping the needy. The students may do very well and the health of the people improves, however, if that is all that is social justice. As C. S. Lewis said, ‘Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil’. To be in good health, or have good governance ,though very good, is short term if at the end of this fleeting life you have no assurance of eternity with God. Biblical justice acknowledges that though good health, quality living standards are good, they are not an end in themselves. Jesus Christ asked ‘ For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Matthew 16:26).
When Christians advocate for justice, using the gospel message, every fiber of the society, including relationships are viewed from a divine perspective. The gospel sets one free from performance based ‘ministry’ whose focus is to look good before people. The gospel that sets people free inclines them to God consciousness. ‘Redeemed humanity is likelier to care about justice than unregenerate humanity’ (Mark Tooley). Biblical justice includes all forms of God-ordained justice, including different forms of governance, organizations and individuals. Jesus Christ's life and person was the ultimate example of justice. He healed the sick, defended the weak, showed God’s love to all and turned no one away, and ultimately paid the price for our sins and freed us from our oppression of sin and death. Every believer is called to represent God in his/her community, cast out demonic powers and communicate the gospel that has eternal implications. Do you realize that if you seek to know Jesus in everything you do, you will make him known in everything you do?
We need the Bible to find a unifying, God-centered, and gospel-centered expression of justice and righteousness that Christians can live out” (Jessica Nicholas)