I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “justice” lately. Perhaps it’s because justice doesn’t appear to be done as readily as it should. It’s a notion that alludes more often than not as evidenced by this broken world in which we live. Villains go free while those most vulnerable are left alone without an advocate, a protector. In reading the Psalms, King David uses the term “justice” throughout, many times in an imploring manner almost reminding himself and God that, “Hey, just in case you forgot, God, you promised to be ‘a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows’” (Ps. 68:5). That’s really the heart and soul of justice. Protecting those who cannot protect themselves. But that’s what God promises to do. He has it covered. I don’t have to get my hands dirty, right?
In researching the original use of the term, I came across an article by Pastor Tim Keller in Relevant Magazine. He explains, “The Hebrew word for ‘justice,’ mishpat [in] its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty.” Alright. That makes sense. It’s basically rule of law. Whether you are a king or a pauper, you do the crime you do the time or pay the fine or however that saying goes. Yet, Keller continues, “Mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights. This is why, if you look at every place the word is used in the Old Testament, several classes of persons continually come up. Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor–those who have been called ‘the quartet of the vulnerable.’” But wait. Take up? Care? That makes it sound like I have to get involved. As Keller warns, “Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we.” Hmm. That seems pretty clear. And rooted in Biblical truth, too.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.”Proverbs 19:17 (NIV)
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”Micah 6:8 (NKJV)
Get ready for the clincher.
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.”Isaiah 10:1-4 (NIV)
Ouch. I wouldn’t want to be an enemy of God. But not to worry. It’s not me being discussed in this passage. I’m not depriving anybody of their rights. It’s other people. The crooked, cowardly, abusive, and vile. It’s ISIS, a frighteningly organized group of militants who uses rape as a weapon and justifies it by pointing (mistakingly) to the Quran. It’s Boko Haram, a miserable batch of thugs who steal girls and bring violence wherever they go. It’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda who remains a threat to the world community. It’s Joseph Kony and others indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. I certainly don’t belong on this list. Or do I? While I am not oppressing people actively, am I truly an advocate for the marginalized in society? Do I use my position and possessions in a way that might alleviate someone’s pain? Does my heart do more than just break because of the injustice I see? Do I simply shake my head in disbelief, raise my fists in righteous anger, shed tears of horror and despair, and leave it at that?
It dawned on me that I am all about justice when it’s convenient and on my terms, when I can have a good cry and then go back to my clean and comfortable life. But that’s not what Jesus calls us to. That’s not what Isaiah meant when he brought God’s words to Israel, instructing them to, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV). That’s not how James encourages those who call themselves “religious” to live. “Religion,” he reminds readers “that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27, NIV).
So what is my response? What can I do? The choices are clear. Comfort or inconvenience? Orderly or complicated? Concern or indifference? Mishpat or corruption? Justice. It must be justice. So what does that look like? What does that mean? For me, in this season of life, it looks like prayer. It means committing myself each day at noon to pray for those in desperate need of protection, love, and justice, especially the precious daughters of God in Syria and Iraq. It means laying those fleeing tyranny and abuse in Syria at the feet of Jesus, asking that “justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24, NKJV). It means gathering with a sisterhood of believers across the globe, no matter the language, no matter the color, no matter the timezone, to storm the gates of heaven as champions of justice for the oppressed. It means raising a holy cry so those who feel forgotten know they are not and so Satan remembers his fate is sealed. A day of reckoning will come and when it does, the Devil will pay.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”Romans 12:12 (NIV)