This sermon is based on chapter 9 of ‘Good and Beautiful and Kind’ by Rich Villodas.
We often speak of “putting God first,” but this can imply that we give something to God and then move on to the rest of life. We need God to be in it all. To love our neighbour is to give to God what is due. This love for neighbour is to be lived out in the larger, public world. Justice is one of the primary ways to love God.
We love and encounter God through people, especially those on the margins of society, the edges of our awareness or the wrong side of a conflict. Justice is what love looks like in public.
Justice is a word that can mean different things to different people. Some think of their own rights and freedoms. others associate it with socialism. It is thought of by some as faithfulness to the gospel, or as forsaking the gospel, or as punishment for crimes committed, or as karma.
The starting point in understanding justice is the Bible, where we see that God’s love is not neutral; God takes sides. God loves everyone, but he pays particular attention to those who society overlooks. God’s justice is expressed through giving fair treatment to all regardless of their ethnic identity (eg. Ex. 23:6-8), caring for the disenfranchised and disadvantaged (eg. Ps. 103:6), and coming to the aid of those who could not protect themselves (eg. Ps 104:12). God’s people are called to show this same justice (Is. 1:17). Religion without justice is worse than worthless (Amos 5:21-24).
Justice is not just something that God does; he IS just in his very essence. Justice refers to the power of God to make right what has been wrong. This is made true through Christ on the cross. God’s justice and love were revealed as Jesus dies and God dealt definitively with sin.
Justice, biblically speaking, is more relational than individual. Wherever there is abuse or neglect, God calls for a practical restructuring of concern, plus punishment of those in power. Prioritising the poor and powerless does not mean agreeing with every theological conviction that purports to represent them; it means to join our voice to theirs, especially when they are on the receiving end of mistreatment. Poverty does not imply a lack of competence, and we should trust that the poor often know best what they need to climb out of their condition. Justice is aimed at restoration, not simply retribution.
Obstacles to justice:
- Meritocracy – The belief that individual effort is what is ultimately responsible for one’s success. This is the essence of the American Dream with a dash of myopia. Even Christians who believe in grace not merit sometimes get formed by this. It can especially the case when it comes to the treatment of people of colour.
- Me-Oriented Catharsis – We often name the problems on social media. But there is more to justice than just naming the problems without pursuing solutions. Our renouncing must be tempered with humility.
- Theological Sidestepping – We can spend time on minor points of theology and at the same time miss the big call to justice (see Luke 11:42). When we use the Bible to critique calls for justice but at the same time allow injustice to persist, we have made an idol of orthodoxy.
We are not called to fix the world, but we are called to faithfully respond with the resources, strength and faith we have (Matt 25:21).
Ways we can practice justice:
- Our Dignifying Attention – We see this in Acts 3 as Peter and John give their attention to the lame man. Justice requires us to attend to people, to see them and to truly recognise their presence.
- Our Local Focus – Justice isn’t something that primarily happens behind keyboards and smartphones. It necessitates engagement. Local engagement.
- A Countercultural Community – The church needs to model otherworldly community like we see in Acts 2:42-47. This is a community marked by justice, in which we see compassion, generosity and wholeness.
Working for justice is not a way to justify ourselves before God. It flows from our justification.