This year I have explored the topic of social and environmental justice. I stumbled upon this interest when reading an unrelated faith-based book on feminism. One book led to another and here I am, writing a three-part series on the self-reflections and practical changes I’ve started to make based on my readings about justice.
In this three-part series, I will elaborate on the definition, context, and application of social and environmental justice.
What is Justice?
The term “justice” in popular culture is often associated with words like judgment, retribution, or vengeance. Justice can sometimes be understood as the righting of wrongs, or giving someone what he or she deserves. Although justice has and can be defined this way, this is not the justice to which I am referring.
I’m concerned with biblical justice. The Hebrew word for justice is משׁפּט (mishpat), which means “concrete actions to correct injustice”¹. Specifically, justice is “seeking out vulnerable people who are being taken advantage of and helping them.”². Notice here that justice is a behaviour – something that we do, rather than something that we simply think, feel, or believe. Biblical justice is often connected with the Hebrew word for righteousness צדק (tsedeq), which refers to an ethical standard of “right equitable relationships between people despite social differences.”¹
But how do we know what constitutes justice and right equitable relationships? This requires us to understand some foundational biblical truths.
First, God is love (1 John 4:8). In other words, the character of God is the perfect depiction of what true love is meant to look like: God is patient and kind. He does not envy or boast, and is not proud. He honours others, is not easily angered, and is self-less. He keeps no records of wrongs, forgiving us without condition. He always protects, trusts, hopes, and rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). From this love, God selflessly sacrificed himself to replace the brokenness in this world with life and relationship with him (John 3).
Second, all of humanity is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Regardless of status, position, race, gender, or orientation we are all seen as equal before God and loved by God. We have the capacity, when operating in love, to reflect the character of God.
Third, we are called to love God and to love people (Luke 10:27). My role as a follower of Christ is to live in such a way that reflects the image of God. This means that I am called to love others in the same way that God loves me. As Victor Hugo put it, “to love another person is to see the face of God”.
Finally, God gave humanity the responsibility of ruling his creation (Genesis 1:26). In Genesis, the concept of ruling, subduing, or having dominion over creation was associated with the idea of cultivation and creativity. Adam and Eve were given the task of making God’s creation grow and flourish. We are called to do the same. Our example of how to “rule” the earth should be taken from the character of God, who is love. Moreover, our ruling over creation is intricately tied to our relationship with other people³ such that our environmental decisions often have social implications.
In summary, justice is the action we take as image-bearers of God’s love to establish right relationship with all of humanity and creation. I love the way the following clip lays out the meaning and purpose of justice.
Justice, from a biblical standpoint, can seem like a tall order. But don’t panic! In the next post, I’ll be talking about how justice can begin in the seemingly unimportant events of our everyday lives.