I think Judge Judy has tainted my idea of justice and I’ve never even seen a full episode.
I’ve come across the feisty brunette while flipping through channels. She’s usually glaring, shaming, or shouting in order to…you know…deliver justice. As I continue flipping, I see show after show that confirms it…“This is what justice looks like.”
Unfortunately, this idea has unintentionally affected the way I view God. After all, God is nothing if not just. He talks about it all the time. But, the more I study the justice of the Bible, the more I realize the type of justice God displays is different than the picture I’ve been painted.
The Hebrew word for justice, mishpat, occurs over 200 times in the Old Testament. At its core mishpat means “giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.” Jesus and Biblical writers describe how God practices and calls us to this type of justice. Take Micah 6:8 for example: “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.”
While that verse makes an awesome tattoo, what does it actually look like in our day-to-day lives?
Stay with me here—in Generous Justice Timothy Keller states, “The term for mercy is the Hebrew word chesedh, God's unconditional grace and compassion. The word for 'justice' is the Hebrew term mishpat. In Micah 6:8, mishpat puts the emphasis on the action, chesedh puts it on the attitude or motive behind the action. To walk with God, then, we must do justice, out of merciful love.” (emphasis added)
God is all His qualities at all times. He is always just and He is always love. So, it makes sense that when He calls us to justice it must always be from a place of love.
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other." – Zechariah 7:9-10
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." – Proverbs 31:8
I started wondering…if we as Christians are commanded to this type of merciful justice, why is this call so often overlooked in the Church?
I frequently hear churches say, “Justice simply isn’t our focus right now—we’re trying to grow the church body first.” Or, “Missions just isn’t our priority.” (I’m using the term “missions” to refer to work being done locally or globally here.) How is this possible? How is a command that is so close to God’s heart not our priority?
I think it’s because, as a Church, we’ve gotten good at ignoring the reality that neglecting the call to justice is in fact acting unjustly.
Now, justice can look different in different seasons—it doesn’t necessarily mean traveling to another country to build a well. But scripture is clear. Justice absolutely includes caring for the widow, the orphan and those in poverty.
Recently the Barna Group did a study asking Christians if they feel a strong sense of responsibility toward helping the poor. The results showed “more than four in 10 practicing Christians under age 40 (44%) strongly agree that Christians have a particular responsibility to help solve global poverty; three in 10 of those over 40 say the same.”
Barna views these results as relatively high: I disagree. The Bible is a book about justice, for a people who are called to be just. How is it that less than 100% of Christians feel a strong call to help the poor—to give them their due?
As you read your Bible over the next week, I’m praying the same prayer for you as I pray for myself—that we may see God’s passionate heart for justice and His direct call on our lives. Because as Timothy Keller says, “The Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need—motivation, guidance, inner joy, and power—to live a just life.”