Of late, this business of justice has been on my mind, probably because I’ve been concerned that the modern concept of “social justice” doesn’t seem to be very much about …
Of late, this business of justice has been on my mind, probably because I’ve been concerned that the modern concept of “social justice” doesn’t seem to be very much about justice at all. Therefore, let us dispense with any definitions of justice that involve appending other words to it that make it cease to be justice. The Institutions of Justinian define justice simply by saying that “justice is the set and constant purpose which gives to every man his due.” This is a very good definition for justice, and God’s word has much to say on the matter.
First and foremost, the Scripture declares of God himself that “all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) Therefore, we may trust that God alone is the ultimate judge of what every person’s due truly is. Further, as our creator, he has told us what our neighbor is due from us. He has never hidden this, and his command and instruction on the matter formed the foundation of our concept of justice in the West, until that concept began to be eroded in the last 200 years.
God gives us the measure of justice that requires a person to only answer for their own crimes (Deuteronomy 24:16). No one is responsible for anyone’s actions but their own. The beauty of America was that we never cared if your granddaddy was a horse thief — we cared who you were. As image bearers of God, we owe it to our neighbor to judge them according to the content of their own character rather than that of their parents and grandparents. That is their due.
The Lord also says that we are not to bear false witness, siding with the many to pervert justice (Exodus 23:2) nor are we to be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit (Exodus 23:3). In other words, the majority can be wrong, and a poor man is not right just because he’s poor any more than a rich man is right just because he’s rich. Justice is to be utterly blind to a person’s lineage, social status, color, ethnicity, sex, and any other identifier. If there is to be justice, there must be absolute equality under the law. One law for all or no law at all.
From Deuteronomy 24, we also find that every person is to be paid the wage due them for their labor in a timely manner, the sanctity of their home is to be respected and they are not to be stepped on simply because they are poor. As a matter of fact, the rich are not to keep the poor from gathering their daily bread. God did not demand that the rich harvest the daily bread of the poor and give it to them. He simply demanded that they be allowed to gather for themselves, for that is their due as his image bearers.
Ultimately, God insists that our idea of justice be guided by his command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 19:19), not a mass of faceless humanity but our actual flesh and blood neighbor. This is the law that is the ultimate summation of what should guide us in our thoughts on justice. So let us reason together: Do we think that it is justice for people who can afford their own security detail to call for the abolishment of the police force that serves and protects the single mother in the inner city or the remote county? Is that the debt of love?
Is it just to saddle a child born to a meth addict in Wyoming with some guilt about imaginary privilege simply because that child happens to be white? Is it just for rich CEOs, entertainers, bankers and lawyers to seek the impoverishment of those who have taken a stand to protect the most vulnerable and innocent of all from being slaughtered in the womb? Is it justice for social media platforms to rob people of free expression? Is freedom of speech every person’s due or is it not? Surely, we don’t think it just to have abandoned those who helped us in Afghanistan to their deaths.
What of things that may be a bit more nuanced? Is it justice for the state to sell a widow’s home just because she can no longer afford the property tax? Is it just for one group of citizens to be forced to pay for another group’s college tuition against their will? Is it just for the majority to vote for the state to plunder their neighbors on their behalf?
Obviously, I believe the answer to all of these questions is a resounding no, and it grieves me deeply when any of my countrymen practice injustice — either clamoring for or excusing anarchy, vengeance, oppression, censorship, teachery, theft, slavery or piracy under the pretense of justice. God help us all.
(Shane Legler is the pastor of Garland Community Church of God.)