I once listened to a man relate how he and his family were forcibly removed from their home and forced to settle in a ghetto on the opposite side of the city under the apartheid government in South Africa. I have met Kosovar refugees whose family members were rounded up and shot because they were from the wrong ethnic group. I have sat with refugees fleeing from ISIS living out a fragile existence in a makeshift camp in Lebanon. My wife and I have fostered children who have experienced domestic violence and have had to leave their family home and live with strangers.
But the effects of injustice are not far from any of us, if we have eyes to see it and ears to hear people's stories.
We know instinctively that we are called to help those who are suffering injustice. Justice is a godly pursuit. But nevertheless, there are Christians who still hold the view that pursuing justice is not a worthwhile endeavour for Christians or the Church. There are also Christians who talk about the justice of God but do very little demonstrate it. And there are Christians who have spent themselves in the pursuit of justice, and now feel tired out and disillusioned.
I want to give you five reasons to start pursuing justice if you are not doing so and to keep on going if you have become weary. These five biblical snapshots show why pursuing justice matters for the Church.
1. God is a just God
He is the Rock,his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
Upright and just is he (Deuteronomy 32:4).
There are a myriad passages we could look at to demonstrate that the God of the Bible is a God of justice. In Deuteronomy the appropriateness of God's actions is related to his steadfast character as one who behaves and acts justly. For Christians, our conception of right and wrong is not ultimately based on social norms or democratic decisions. It derives from the very character of God himself. God has made known his character to us through his words and actions in scripture. They reveal a God who is fundamentally concerned about justice. He gives laws that reflect his desire for society to be rightly ordered, constituted to ensure peace and equity and to protect the vulnerable. He gives his son, who, before he dies for our salvation, lives out a life of justice and compassion. If we are to be a godly people, imaging God's character to a watching world, we must demonstrate this same concern for justice.
2. God commands us to act justly
The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern (Proverbs 29:7).
There is a clear expectation that God's people will be in contact with the poor and needy and that they will help ensure justice for them. This concern is what separates those that are rightly related to God from those who are far from him. This is expressed not only in Proverbs but also in Matthew 25, in the parable of the sheep and goats. Its practical outworking enables the needy to work and eat (see Ruth and Deuteronomy), to belong to a family or a community (Psalm 68), to be treated fairly in a court of law (Proverbs 24: 24-25) or in a place of worship (James 1). God's people are commanded to do seek justice because this is a demonstration of true worship. Social justice is as important in our worship, if not more important, as sacrifices, gatherings and fasts (Isaiah 1, Micah 6:8).
3. Christ died to satisfy the justice of God
God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8: 3-4).
At the heart of the Christian faith stands the cross of Christ. The cross is the supreme symbol that demonstrates that justice is central to our faith. If God was not concerned about justice, the cross would not be necessary. If God was unconcerned about justice he could simply ignore our sins. But the cross only makes sense if God is a just God. Paul describes the death of Jesus as fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law. In order for God to forgive humanity his justice needed to be satisfied. The cross is also the place where the decisive victory over evil and injustice was won (Colossians 2:15). For Christians to live cruciform lives we would expect to see the same concern for justice, demonstrating Christ's conquering of evil. Fighting for justice in our world cannot add to what the cross has done, but because Jesus has died in our place and the Father has forgiven our sins, the Spirit now sends us out in the world to proclaim and to demonstrate the justice of God and his coming kingdom.
3. Seeking justice gives a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of God
'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven' (Matthew 6:9).
Some argue that working for justice now makes no sense when human souls and the word of God are going to leave this planet, while everything else is going to be destroyed and replaced by a new heavens and earth. But seeking justice is a way we demonstrate in this world the breaking in of the coming kingdom of God. This is what we are called to pray in the Lord's Prayer. We ask that our Heavenly Father's name would be honoured as God's kingly reign is revealed in the world. God is brought honour as God's reign is demonstrated in our fallen and broken world in the same way that God's perfect reign is demonstrated in heaven. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Christians are sent into the world to shine like lights in the darkness and to fight corruption like salt. As we shine and fight we preach to a watching world the Kingdom of God.
4. One day justice will prevail
'Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!' (Amos 5:23-24).
We long for the day when God's justice is finally revealed. Our longing may prompt us to action but often it feels that our action is in vain. Corruption and inequity persist. Wars and hardships and poverty persist. However disillusioned we may be in the face of overwhelming odds, the Bible insists that one day God's kingly reign will be fully established, God's character will be fully revealed and God's justice will rule over all the earth. The prophet Amos writes about the coming of the day of the Lord, when God's justice will be finally revealed. At that stage it is not singing or music that will be of value to God, but a people that will pursue justice come what may.
5. Seeking justice gives the world a taste of what is to come.
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17).
Some are worried that any attempt to pursue justice is an attempt to make the kingdom of God happen without God. But when we apply this logic elsewhere, it falls flat. For example, should a parent not wipe away the tears of their crying children because that may short-circuit the fact that one day God will wipe away every tear? (Revelation 21:4) Of course not. We can take responsibility for ministry without taking responsibility away from God. And so, even though we can only give people a partial glimpse of God this side of the return of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:12), we nevertheless persevere in sharing the gospel. And even though we can only give a partial taste of the justice of God, and only give a glimpse of the coming kingdom, we nevertheless persevere in pursuing justice.
There are many reasons to pursue justice as a Christian. Perhaps these five scripture passages will encourage you to look for more. My prayer is that your love of God and your hunger for his word will motivate you to give attention to the cries of the poor and the oppressed around us all.
Dr Krish Kandiah's latest book, 'God is Stranger' (Hodder) offers a challenging way to understand the role of justice and hospitality in our worship of God.