Social justice is a loaded term, which is often used to describe objectives that are aligned with the Christian faith; however, it is also frequently used to describe objectives that are antithetical to Christianity. The Bible simply speaks of justice and injustice, with justice being inexorably bound to God’s righteousness and character. When we speak of justice, we must ask the question, “Whose justice; God’s or the world’s?”
For example, proponents of communism might see their agenda as one that is firmly rooted in social justice. In a nutshell, communism is the government being “generous” with other people’s money, whilst Biblical generosity is individuals (and communities) being generous with their own money. The former is not intrinsically linked to love and real generosity, whilst the later is completely reliant on a genuine love for our fellow human beings and the desire to obey God. The former is a worldly concept of justice, the later is commanded by scripture.
God is perfectly just, and scripture has a lot to say about justice. In the ancient world the Hebrew scriptures were at the cutting edge of justice, and the prophets continually expressed God’s displeasure at Israel’s idolatry and injustice towards the poor and the marginalised.
Jesus himself was deeply concerned with justice, but before we get to that, it is important to note that Jesus was primarily concerned with salvation through the forgiveness of sins. That is the very heart of the Gospel and everything else flows from it.
Those who repent and put their faith in Jesus are reconciled to God and filled with the Holy Spirit. Moreover, their heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11.19), and they begin the process of being changed and transformed into Jesus’ likeness. This means that, over time, the Christian will begin to see the world as God sees it, including God’s perspective on justice.
Jesus loved people regardless of their status, background, or circumstances, and he destroyed the notion that the healthy and wealthy are especially favoured by God. He showed compassion to the infirm, the hungry, the bereaved and the marginalised and he expects us to do the same. In fact, he said that feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute, caring for the sick and visiting prisoners are traits by which his true followers will be recognised (Matthew 25.31-46).
When asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22.37-40)
Jesus even calls us to love our enemies (Matthew 5.43-48), so there can be no-one beyond the scope of Jesus’ injunction to love our neighbour. Love for neighbour must surely include countering injustice on behalf of those who are oppressed and downtrodden.
That said, we need to be careful that our notion of justice comes, not from a particular outcome that we perceive to be right, but from a Biblically based morality. Moreover, our motivation should be rooted in our desire to serve God faithfully, by loving Him and by loving our neighbours as ourselves.
Christianity is about bringing sinful human beings back into a right relationship with a loving God and one of the inevitable byproducts of that relationship is a deep desire for justice. “Social Justice” is a loaded term; I would prefer to say that God’s justice and Christianity go hand in hand.
First Published on the St Andrew’s, Springfield website in July 2023.Jump to next article