Monday, December 15, 2014

Biblical Justice, A Christian's Responsibility

Over the past several years, my desire to eradicate modern-day slavery has led to an exploration of the social justice issues that undergird it. Seeing some disturbing approaches used to address these issues has begged the question, "What is biblical justice?".

The main Scripture verse frequently cited by justice proponents is Micah 6:8: 

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?" (NASB)
The Lord requires his people to "do justice," however without a proper context that phrase can guilt people into getting involved with agendas that aren't necessarily biblical. "God's going to hold you accountable," some justice advocates say. And, they're right. We will all face the Lord one day, and there's a real danger in ignoring biblical admonitions. But "doing justice" is not nearly so simple as some make it out to be. 

Who defines what justice is? And how should each individual live it out? Could using Micah 6:8 as a simplistic foundation for justice set people up to be judgmental of those who don't appear to meet the "right" standard?

These complexities are the main reason I've struggled for nearly five years to understand how biblical justice differs from the world's concept of "social justice." Does it? And, if so, how? Should every believer take care of orphans? America's foster care system certainly contributes to the problem of human trafficking. 

Scripture is also quite clear on God's expectations to help the poor (another contributing factor to human trafficking). Is one person expected to do it all? Wouldn't that responsibility place a tremendous burden on an individual's shoulders?

Justice Starts with The Man in The Mirror
 My friends have helped me wrestle with these issues. A former Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader came to the conclusion that.biblical justice begins with a "just" God--so much so that it required the sacrifice of His own Son for our sins. Otherwise we could never see God's image fully restored in us. Rather we'd be stuck with man's evil for eternity. 

Biblical justice must start with God's character--and His character development in us. Through His incarnation, resurrection, and ascension Christ gave astonishing gifts to humankind--the Holy Spirit's transforming power shaping God's character traits in each person who trusts in Jesus.

Whether he understands this concept or not, I don't know, but the image of God was certainly at work in Jeremy Green when he made this video a few days after the violence in Ferguson, Missouri.


Green said:
 "With all of the negativity and violence going on in the world right now, I felt the need to do this video."
He wanted to bring visibility to the viola and make a positive difference in the lives of others. The song Green chose reminds us to first look to ourselves, starting there to make the world a better place. For Green that means encouraging other kids to play an instrument. Music is a powerful equalizer bringing people together for good.

Though not all of us have such an obvious talent, the image of God has been stamped upon our souls making us yearn for justice. And Jesus Christ can help each individual figure out a way to make the world a better place. As the light of the world, Jesus brings understanding and truth into the midst of the most unjust situations. In a multitude of ways, in every sphere of society, He's the one with the answers we seek. No finite human being has the complete story or the whole solution. Starting with this biblical worldview reminds us of two key pieces of the justice puzzle: (1) I need God's wisdom to do my part and (2) when the body of Christ works together we can impact every sphere of society.

It's About Me
In his book Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?, author and founder of "One Day's Wages," Eugene Cho suggests that the only way to genuine justice is through discipleship. Of all the books I've read on justice, his makes the most sense. He said,
The inescapable truth about justice is that there is something wrong in the world that needs to be set right. Sometimes the things that need to be set right are not just in the lives of those we seek to serve. The things that need to be set right may also be in our own lives.
We need to pursue justice not just because the world is broken, but because we're broken too (p. 52).
From the time I became a Christian, God has been using the practices that Cho recommends to heal my broken life and develop my desire to be just. Over the years I've learned to:
Never stop learning. Study the Bible. Read the news. Devour books. Engage people. Ask questions. Be a critical thinker and active practitioner (p. 161).
That in no way means I've arrived. In a recent sermon, "Responding to Ferguson: Violence, Justice, and Jesus,"  my pastor Dan Franklin raised some additional insights that remain an ongoing challenge. Too often I react to perceived injustice rather than listen, ask questions, and try to understand different perspectives. If I respond appropriately it decreases emotional reactions and increases communication, understanding, and reconciliation. This is yet another reason to depend on the Holy Spirit's ability to empower us as believers to do things God's way instead of our own (Galatians 5:16).

This past few months I've been writing a column for Shattered magazine about my transformational journey. This month's article focuses on how my awareness of social justice started on a cruise ship. But for many years the issues were so overwhelming that the best I could do was occasionally help feed the homeless, work with teens at risk, and donate money to help the poor. 

Working With Others Shoulder to Shoulder
After connecting with the Transform LA/Transform World movement, I've come to understand how personal transformation can turn the Body of Christ into a catalyst for transforming society.

By addressing seven challenges, the Church can impact every societal sphere:
  1. ideology (hyper-sexuality, materialism, various belief systems)
  2. relationships (broken families), 
  3. orphans, (foster care, adoption)
  4. poverty (the homeless and disenfranchised)
  5. human rights (the right to life, the persecuted Church)
  6. missional (evangelism, outreach)
  7. celebration (worship and prayer)
The first five of these challenges undergird human trafficking, which is why that remains a central focus of this blog. The last two are the solutions for societal problems such as modern-day slavery. Alone, no one person can possibly meet all these challenges. It's as individuals stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other believers that we can best learn, grow, share our burdens,and hold each other accountable--in essence, discipleship. 

Believers can't just do social justice. Those wanting biblical justice must be disciples of Christ. We need to keep reading authors like Cho, listening to pastors like Franklin, and learning from friends such as the former BSF teaching leader. Together, as we strive to develop godly character, we'll become increasingly just. And the Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth of what to do, when, and how. Becoming just, we won't be able to do anything less.
  Note: Key Links in the right-hand column will direct you to a variety of organizations involved in justice issues. And, if you'd like to follow "Shoulder to Shoulder" by email, there's a place to subscribe immediately below "About This Blog."

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