The primary goal of government, we said, was to seek peace by doing justice. Several times I’ve mentioned 1 Kings 3:28, which gives us the political philosophy of the Bible in a nutshell: “Israel stood in awe of the king [Solomon], because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” We need wisdom for the sake of pursuing justice. So what exactly is justice?
Politics is a tough topic for a number of reasons; among them, it raises many morally, spiritually, and pragmatically complex questions.
- Does a wealthy nation have a moral obligation to provide universal health care?
- I see the God has given the sword to the state, but does that mean we should support capital punishment if there are demonstrable racial inequalities in the penal system?
- Must I vote Republican because they are the pro-life party? What if I agree with the other party on every other matter of justice?
- To what extent can I work for a politician, a lawyer, a lobbyist with whom I disagree on a significant minority of the issues?
- Does affirmative action respect individual rights by equalizing the starting point between different groups, or does it transgress those rights by knocking qualified individuals out of contention?
- What about ethnic profiling at the airports and being sure to screen certain ethnicities?
- With illegal immigrants, how do we balance the seeming tension between the rule of law and humanitarian concerns?
- Where is the line between encouraging hard work and personal responsibility, and protecting the people who have been institutionally disadvantaged?
- When does the tax rate become unjust? Can they tax me for 40 percent? 60 percent?
I’m not going to try and answer each of these questions. First, because I don’t think there are easy answers. Second, because I want to give you the beginning of a framework for how to answer them yourself. All of them revolve around the idea of justice, which is what we’re going to think about today.
These days, “justice” and “social justice” do seem to be increasingly popular rallying cries among the politically engaged younger generations. And praise God for the burden to pursue justice. At the same time, there are at least two questions we should ask ourselves:
- Does my understanding of justice root in a certain ideology or in biblical principles?
- Does my pursuit of justice account for a right anthropology of sin and fallenness, or could it be that I’m trying to bring heaven to earth now? If so, we will create other justices in our pursuit of justice.
Last week, I built a Christian doctrine of government off a number of texts, but most foundationally Genesis 9:5–6, where God says he will require “a reckoning” for the life of a man. The text does not use the word “justice,” but I think that’s what he means with the term “reckoning.” God requires a reckoning. He requires justice.
The primary goal of government, we said, was to seek peace by doing justice. Several times I’ve mentioned 1 Kings 3:28, which gives us the political philosophy of the Bible in a nutshell: “Israel stood in awe of the king [Solomon], because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” We need wisdom for the sake of pursuing justice.
So what exactly is justice? That’s what we’re going to consider in today’s class.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT JUSTICE?
1. It is the goal of government.
- 2 Samuel 8:15—So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and righteousness to all his people. (See also 1 Kings 3:28; 10:9; Ezek 45:9)
- Pslam 72:1–2—Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!
- Proverbs 29:4—By justice a king builds up the land . . (see Ezek. 45:9).
2. God is just, and his governance is just.
- Psalm9:7—But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice.
- Psalm—89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. (see Is. 5:16; Jer. 9:24; Zeph. 3:5).
3. Justice on the earth ultimately comes from God.
- Proverbs 29:26—Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice. (see Prov. 28:5)
4. It is a requirement of righteousness.
- The word “justice” is used in 133 verses in the ESV. It’s used together with “righteousness” in 52 of those verses. We see this in the examples of above. It’s what rhetoricians would call hendiadys.
5. It characterizes the messianic kingdom as well.
- Isaiah 9:7—Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (See also Is. 16:5; 32:1-2; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15)
6. It involves the implementation of impartial and fair judgments.
- Deuteronomy 16:19–20—You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow . . . (Ex. 23:2, 6; Ps. 99:4; Prov. 16:11; Lam. 3:35-36; Ezek. 18:5-9)
7. It upholds the cause of the weak and disadvantaged.
- Psalm 140:12—I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. (Deut. 24:17-18; Ps. 10:19; 82:3; Is. 1:17, 23; 10:1-2; Jer. 5:28; 22:13-16)
- Psalm—103:6: God works righteousness and justice for the oppressed.
8. God expects and requires it of his model people.
- Isaiah 1:17—Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (see Is. 1:23; Jer. 7:5-7; Ezek. 22:29)
9. It is predicated of institutions and not just people.
- Isaiah 10:1–2—Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
10. Blessings and prosperity come through it.
- Proverbs 29:4—By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down. (Ps. 106:3; Prov. 2:9, 21:15; Eccl. 5:8-9; Is. 32:1-2)
11. It gives life and is accompanied by mercy.
- Psalm 119:149—Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life (see Ps. 112:5; 146:7; Prov. 8:20-21; Is. 30:18).
12. It accomplishes redemption.
- See messianic kingdom verses above. Also…
- Isaiah 1:27—Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. (see also Is. 30:18; 42:1,3-4; Hos. 2:19-20; Matt. 12:18)
13. It results from rightly ordered love.
- Isaiah 16:5—Then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness. (See Ps. 37:28; 99:4; 119;149 Hos. 12:6)
14. It requires wisdom.
- Proverbs 8:20–21—[Wisdom calls aloud…] I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries. (See Prov. 2:9; 1 Kings 3:28)
15. God requires it of his people.
- Micah 6:8—He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (See Prov. 21:3; 28:5; 29:27; Amos 5:22-24;)
- Matt 23:23–24—Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.
16. Injustice is common; justice was denied to Jesus.
- Ecclesiastes 3:16—Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.
- Acts 8:33—In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation?
I hope this biblical review does several things for you. Three practical take-aways:
First, know that your God is a God of justice—and worship him for it. Know that he is a God of justice. I hope you see what a big deal justice is in the Bible and what a big deal it is to God. It is a desire of God’s heart, and the foundation of his throne.
- Psalm 89:14 does not read “Liberty and prosperity are the foundation of your throne.” No, it says “Justice and righteousness are the foundation of your throne.”
- Isaiah 5:16 does not read, “But the Lord of hosts is exalted in free markets, and the Holy God shows himself holy in maximizing happiness.” He is exalted in justice. He shows himself holy in righteousness.
Praise God for his justice.
Second, pursue God-like-ness in your private life by seeking justice.
Third, frame your thinking about politics around the idea of justice. When it comes to politics, Christians should be passionate firstly not for free markets or a rising tide of prosperity or equal rights or liberty, but firstly for justice. “An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,” says Proverbs 29:27. The primary goal of government, biblically speaking, is not to facilitate wealth creation or freedom. God established it for the purposes of justice. These other values must be secondary for us.
I think this third point offers a helpful corrective to those who say Christians should just get out of politics altogether. Today’s younger generation of evangelicals especially point to the excesses of the Religious Right, to the capitulations and social gospel of the Christian Left, so they want to declare themselves post-partisan. Young evangelical voices advocate leaving the culture wars behind by transcending the partisan and political fray.
I understand aspects of what these voices are reacting against, and am somewhat sympathetic. At the same time, I don’t think this course of action is right, among other things, because God’s people should care passionately about justice.