Defining Justice

A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon on Luke 18:1-8, one of Jesus’ many parables. The story he tells his disciples, in brief, goes like this: A widow goes to a judge in order to get justice from her adversary. Unfortunately, the judge is a cranky, perhaps corrupt, old guy who doesn’t respect God or men, and he could really care less whether she actually gets justice or not. Despite his apathy, she keeps persevering, and is eventually granted justice by the judge just because he had gotten sick of her perpetual nagging.  Jesus concludes the story by reminding his disciples that if a widow can get justice from an uncaring judge, how much more is God our Father ready and willing to answer His children’s cries for justice on the earth!

Well, needless to say, I was excited when the pastor finished reading this passage: “Wow, this is so great! A passage on the importance of persistently seeking justice, and God’s faithfulness in answering our prayers! Now the pastor will tell us all about God’s heart for justice and remind us what role the church has in seeking justice on earth!”

My enthusiasm was short-lived.

The pastor continued his sermon with an acknowledgement that our lives are tough, and sometimes things don’t work out like we’d like them to. He told us of the troubles he’s had as the owner of two homes, trying to keep up with the mortgage payments on the one here in Idaho while being unable to sell the first one in Michigan because of the economy. He concluded that although these things are tough, if we just keep asking God to help us, it’ll be better soon.

By this time, I was fuming internally. “I can’t believe it! He just took this inspiring, call-to-arms passage about  courage, justice, passion, and God’s faithfulness and reduced it to a mere reminder to pray more often for what we want. How consumerist, how completely short-sighted, how American!” Granted, in hindsight, I was probably too harsh on the pastor. As my parents gently reminded me on the way home, pastors preach on what their congregation needs to hear, and for all I know, maybe this particular group of Christians does need to hear again that God is big enough to answer their prayers and supply their needs/wants.

But, this brief internal burst of frustration did remind me again of the importance of definitions. If you’re familiar with my generation, you know that we have a certain penchant for the phrase ‘social justice.’ We throw it around a LOT, and use it to describe all sorts of things. I could spend a whole blog post talking about the nuances in our ideas of social justice, but my point right now, is this: I don’t think the American church at-large knows how to define the Biblical concept of justice.

Too often in our minds, justice is simply what happens when the world works like we think it should – which can include things as big as bringing freedom to the 27 million people enslaved around the world today, and things as little as getting our money’s worth for a meal at a restaurant. And so our understanding of justice is too-often cheapened, diminished, and easily dismissed. As long as the American church keeps operating with a haphazard, generic definition for justice, it’s not surprising that we hear sermons which reduce justice to mere fulfillment-of-what-you want.

So, my fellow Christians, Americans, young 20-somethings, justice-seekers, whatever you are: figure out what you mean by justice. Leave a comment on my blog if you wish to share (I know you all have good things to say, and I promise I’ll be more gracious with you than with I was with the pastor!)  😉  Later this week I’ll post a blog on my understanding of Biblical justice – I figured you should know what I mean when I talk about justice, since I’ll probably be throwing that word around a lot for the next 12 months.  🙂


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5 responses to “Defining Justice

  1. Hannah B.

    Good stuff Krista! That is a great passage, it always strikes me as a little different that some of Christ’s other parables, i don’t know why. But it’s definitely thought provoking, as is your questions on justice. Such a huge concept that we just toss around and it’s good to be reminded to go back to it every now and then and really think about what it means!
    Hope you’re doing great 🙂

  2. Kendrick

    God inaugurated the kingdom with Jesus and will consummate it upon His return. God’s kingdom is the now and the not yet.

    There are a million right answers. One attempt at a holistic definition, from an inaugurated eschatology perspective:

    Justice is a reversion to the way it should be.

    Justice seeking is futuristic. God’s consummated kingdom will be such where all promises are preserved, all diseases eased, all evil exorcised, all sins forgiven, all wrongs righted, and all injustices justified.

    Kingdom-seeking discipleship presently displays these future realities. Christian duty to seek justice links with a grander call to seek God’s kingdom.

  3. Doug Hanson

    Justice broadly defined would be right actions based on right reasons. From a biblical salvation standpoint, unsaved man is doomed (right action) because of his sin (right reason). However, Christ died on the cross (right action) to satisfy God’s demand for payment for sin (right reason).
    It seems though that our topic is more narrowly focused on social justice. Social justice could be defined as helping those taken advantage of (right action) in obedience to God’s Word (right reason). I think that is part of what is behind Scriptural passages such as caring for widows and orphans. In many cultures, such as Papua New Guinea, they can be socially mistreated. The Luke narrative the pastor preached on echoes this. Someone was being unjustly taken advantage of and the situation needed a remedy. The message is that God cares for those being unjustly treated, and we should too.

  4. Unkie Ron

    Krista- your current post makes interesting reading—-What is justice to me? Well, unfortunately, my answer has changed with time. This is both expected (we continue to grow in grace and knowledge) and disconcerting (Jesus is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow).

    This reminds me of a quote from Dr. Cooke, my history prof at NNU. He was discussing the turbulent Sixties in America and suggested that the root of the problem was simply a matter of perspective. This is a rough paraphrase but it was something like, “i wouldn’t give a nickel for anyone who was not an Idealist by age 20 and i wouldn’t give a nickel for anyone who was not a Realist by Age 50.”

    I am not yet 50, but i am getting close!

    You are in our Prayers.

    • but Uncle Ron – I don’t want to be a realist when I’m 50!! (insert: whiney pout). 🙂 That is a good quote, I’ll admit. But what if idealism really is the real realism (like, sure the world is horrible right now, but the coming Kingdom is gonna be so perfect – how can we NOT be idealists forever and ever!?!!) 😉 I’m sort of joking – but I do think it depends on how you define idealism. Idealistic in the idea that humans alone can change the world into a just society? No, I’m not that. Idealistic in the idea that God is in control and His plan for the world is so much better than any ideal I’ll ever have on my own? I sure hope I’m always that sort of idealistic! 🙂

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