Justice is Restoration

I just got back from a talk that was given at a Just Love Cambridge event, a student society run by Christians passionate about justice (this includes Lucy – she is the global rep on their committee).

The talk was given by Phillip Powell and was called ‘God’s Passion for Justice’ – he first illustrated how the Bible calls us to lead lives full of passion for justice, before then outlining what the lives of just people look like practically. The readings were taken from the book of Amos and Luke 4:16-21:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”[a]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

The Bible calls us to lead lives full of passion for justice

Our God is a God of justice who cares for the weak, the poor and the oppressed. Phillip pointed out that often we see the God of the Old Testament as the ‘God of justice’, and separate this from the God of the New Testament who is considered to be the ‘God of love’. But the God of the Old and New Testaments is the same God. We should not take God, under the name of him being a God of love, to be a God who is forgiving of those who oppress and cause injustice and draw the conclusion that he therefore does not care about injustice. This misunderstanding of the character of God is perhaps exacerbated by a partial mistranslation in the English New Testament; the Greek word for justice is translated as ‘righteousness’, which nowadays carries a connotation of inner ‘rightness’ of God, over that of combating the injustice in the external world.

But we are not to ‘do justice’ in any other way than fully embracing the calling to be fully obedient to God in the way we live. Living as a Christian is to live justly, to be concerned with all forms of injustice and to work to make changes which reflect something of God’s kingdom and his love for all people.

This includes pursuing justice in our personal choices – with money and where we spend it, with the things we buy and where we buy them – in our local area – caring how we interact with others, participating in local elections – and in institutions – campaigning for structural changes, acting to shape political policies. This is why students in Just Love doing things such as partnering with local charities to combat homelessness and joining the Zero Carbon Cambridge campaign asking Cambridge University to divest from fossil fuels.

Importantly, justice is always to go hand in hand with mercy.

Without mercy, justice too easily becomes retribution. If mercy is not the hand that wields the sword of justice, there will only ever be more injustice. It is in this way that our pursuit of justice cannot be separated from God’s love, and our fight against injustice must first start from knowing God’s love.

As part of this, we must recognise that rather than being about retribution, justice is entirely about restoration. Restoring individuals, relationships, and whole institutions, to the way God intended them to be. Justice in us, the way God disciplines us, is always for the purpose of restoring us to him and this restoration is also the purpose of pursuing justice in the world.

How to Pursue Justice

Powell discussed these three ways justice is marked on a just person’s life:

  1. Speaking the truth even when it costs you – put yourself in the right, and correct yourself when you exaggerate, practice living openly and honestly and with integrity.
  2. Lamenting before God – remind God of his promises, yearn after salvation for the world in the here and now, express hope to God in hopeless situations, call upon his presence when it cannot be seen, be passionate about seeing injustices being put right for the glory of God.
  3. Acting with courage – participate in good rather than only standing against evil. Act not just for the church’s good, but act to show God’s love to everyone regardless of who they are and whether or not they are working for justice. Expect spiritual oppositions because spiritual powers are opposed to God’s way of justice. Hold fast to the hope that we have.

If we want to be a just people, we are to commit to becoming people who lament before God, who care for those who are oppressed, in the mess and the bureaucracy and the weariness of doing so – tackling pay gaps and differentials, structural racism, poverty, climate change, issues in the criminal justice system, everything that doesn’t reflect the heart of God.

This will always be a challenge, but we are to believe that justice will start with us. This prayer was said at the end, and I think it’s suitable to finish what I’ve written here too:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort

about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger

at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears

to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,

so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness

to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,

so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

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