Week 10, Day 1: Called to Justice
Justice is caring for those in need,
and addressing the causes
of those needs.
March 19, 2008 was the day God broke my heart for justice, when it became not just “God cares about justice,” not just “we should care about justice,” but I, Justin, am called to the work of justice.
I was sitting at a coffee shop at my seminary, reading the Bible, and I found myself in Isaiah. I had read Isaiah 58 and 61 before, but they had never impacted me the way they did that day. It was a perfect storm: the book I was reading ( Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution) and the songs I was listening to (Jars of Clay’s “God Will Lift Up Your Head,” Lifehouse’s “Broken,” and U2’s “When I Look at the World”) at the same time all lent themselves to a moving of the Spirit in my life, opening my eyes to read this passage in a new way.
READ: ISAIAH 58
I say that God ‘broke’ my heart for justice. It certainly felt like a breaking, a shattering of some of the presuppositions and presumptions of my life. No longer could I allow myself to simply follow a God of justice; now I had been made aware of the call to justice on my life, on every believer’s life.
Moreover, being ‘for’ justice could not simply mean that I agreed intellectually with things and said the right things, just as believing in Jesus could not be about intellectual assent and saying the right things; believing in Jesus — and learning to live from the Jesus who preached justice — means that my deeds and my life must also speak of the justice of God, must also point to the just kingdom of God.
LOOK & LISTEN: The Bible Project, “Justice”
The concept of justice can seem immense and nebulous, larger than we can be responsible for or beyond what we can attain as individuals. Perhaps it seems like something only those in power or with political influence can achieve. And it is true that some injustices require larger societal gears to turn or laws to be enacted; the Thirteenth Amendment, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act were all necessary milestones on the road to racial justice. It is also true that some injustices, being the outcome or consequence of collective or systemic or generational sin, require more than just an individual effort to redress; the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, exposing sexual abuse outside and inside the church, required multiple people taking a risk and bravely speaking up.
But justice can also be understood as just another angle on what we have already been learning about — who God is and who we are. God says, “I the Lord love justice” (Isaiah 61:8); and as those made in his image, we too are called to justice. If “the Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6, NIV), then it is a characteristic of God’s kingdom and, consequently, a defining characteristic of kingdom citizens. If, as Abraham’s descendants of the faith, we are likewise blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3), then we cannot simply not do bad, we must pursue good; we cannot simply avoid evil, we must work against it. From another angle, the pursuit of justice is merely the application in the public sphere of the greatest commandments — to love God and to love our neighbors: willing the good of even those we may never meet. As Cornel West puts it, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Many others have offered their own definitions of justice, but this is how I think about it, based on my reading of Scripture: justice is caring for those in need and addressing the causes of those needs. True justice is not only dealing with systems and structures — it is too easy to disconnect ourselves from the plight of people and lose touch with the persons affected. Nor is justice only caring for those in need — charity and compassion are important, but, to use an analogy I’ve heard so many times I can’t remember who came up with it, we should definitely keep pulling drowning people out of the river but at some point we ought to go upstream and figure out who’s pushing them in!
One of the burdens that God has laid on my heart since that day at the coffee shop is the need to identify the injustices around us today. It is one thing to look back at the struggles for justice throughout history and think that we would, of course, be supportive of the abolition of slavery or the campaign for civil rights. But there were Christians who supported and advocated for slavery, who used the Bible to justify it and to rationalize white supremacy; there were Christians who believed that segregation was part of the divine order, who were opposed to the civil rights struggle. At the time of his assassination, Dr. King had a 75% disapproval rating.
Over the course of this week, we will consider just a few iterations of what doing justice might look like: for the poor, for racial justice, for immigrants and refugees, and for creation care. This is far from an exhaustive list, and I may not explicitly address the cause you care about the most. There are any number of issues we could look at; the ones we will look at this week are a few areas that have presented themselves most saliently in the course of my journey with Jesus and justice. Even then, we will only be scratching the surface; we will not be examining them in great depth (though you are encouraged to).
You may also have lots of thoughts in response (which is great!); I encourage you to have conversations with your friends and/or small group, and to also channel that energy toward greater listening to why God seems to be speaking to you through that issue, and how you can better understand it, pray into it, and sense God’s will for your action in response to it.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: How would you define justice and how do you understand your participation in God’s work of justice?
Heart: In what ways do you struggle “to do justice” (Micah 6:8)?
Hands: What are some of the injustices in the world that rest heavy on you? Write down three, and note how you came to care about them.
Let my heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.
- Bob Pierce