What is justice?
Depending on the context, the word could refer to fairness and equality, to honesty and morality, to punishment and retribution.
But what does the Bible have to say about justice?
A whole lot, it turns out. Anyone interested in a comprehensive look at the biblical concept of justice — or what ought to be, according to Ken Wytsma — should pick up Wytsma’s book Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things. (Disclosure: I received an advance reader’s copy of the book from Thomas Nelson for review.) Wytsma is the pastor of Antioch Church in Bend, Oregon, the president of Kilns College, and the founder of The Justice Conference, “a two-day annual event to promote dialogue around justice related issues such as human trafficking, slavery, poverty, HIV/AIDS and human rights.”
At first glance of the book’s subtitle, I thought that the book would focus on the list of issues in the previous paragraph, that there would be long sections discussing the statistics of modern day slavery or the plight of refugees throughout the world — issues that need to be brought to light, no question — and that Wytsma’s purpose would be to motivate readers to become involved in organizations working to help people around the world who face injustice. But his purpose in this book is so much greater than adding his voice to the many advocating for various peoples and organizations and causes — as he says in the book, social justice seems to have become a fad in certain circles, and a lot of us really don’t need another pet cause. What we need is a deeper understanding of what the Bible says about justice so that our heart and our actions line up as we seek to live out a right relationship with God and with other people. After reading the book, I feel challenged not just to continue finding ways to give my time, money, prayer, and efforts to serving in my hometown or around the world, but to look more closely at my personal relationships and how they are or are not a reflection of the gospel of Christ, how I am or am not considering others before myself (Philippians 2:3-4).
A few other main points that stuck out to me in the book:
* In the Bible the words righteousness and justice are often used as synonyms. We make a separation between the two in our English-speaking minds, but to God there is no difference. You cannot be righteous if you are not doing justly.
* Seeing the Imago Dei (image of God) in every single person spurs us on to live lives of justice. If every person on this earth bears God’s image, how can we not do what is necessary to bring about what ought to be?
* Justice involves more than my favorite cause — for me that would be teaching ESL to refugees or advocating for minority peoples in SE Asia, but for others there are countless equally important causes. I can’t have my little areas where I try to live justly, but then have gaps in other areas of life where I just don’t notice or care about the injustice right in front of me (even within my family or neighborhood). Wytsma poses the question, what am I blind to? What are the ways in every day situations that I am hindering people, making life more difficult for them when I should be trying to make it better?
* Justice brings joy to our lives. This is HUGE. It should be a major factor in changing our motivation for living out justice in our lives. We should not be compelled by guilt to help others. We should not be doing acts of justice as an attempt to gain favor with God. We should be living just lives and seeking to bring justice to the lives of others because Jesus says it will bring us joy, just as it brought Him joy. Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame because of the joy set before Him (check out Hebrews 12:2), and He invites us to live the same way. That, friends, is the call to live and die for bigger things. The joy we have in Jesus is worth so much more than anything we may think we’re giving up to live a life of justice.
If you want to be challenged, informed, encouraged, exhorted, I highly recommend Pursuing Justice. It will remain on my shelf as a book I refer back to in years to come.