Inspiring Christian students
to stand against injustice.
Social justice is a huge theme throughout the bible. It crops up in thousands of verses. Books and books have been written on the theology of social justice. What follows is just a very basic framework setting out some key themes, but we’d encourage you to explore deeper. A good place to start would be our longer guide to the theology of social justice.
It makes sense to begin by asking what we mean when we talk about social justice.
A Hebrew word which informs our biblical understanding of justice is tzedek, which can be translated as righteousness or justice and contains within it the idea of right relationships. We were created for four interwoven relational dimensions – with God, with others, with self and with creation. Sin has fractured and distorted all of these relationships, but Christ is reconciling them to, through and in Himself – and this restoration of the relationships that we were created for is central to our understanding of what it means to seek justice. When we talk about social justice, then, our focus is especially on seeking to restore between people the kind of relationships that God intended us to be in, whilst acknowledging that our social relationships cannot be addressed in isolation from our relationships with God, ourselves and creation.
But why should Christians care about this?
The church’s mandate to work towards justice is rooted in the character of the God that we worship. God is just in the way that he related to His creation. The God revealed to us in the bible, and ultimately in the person of Jesus, is a God who cares about justice – about his creation living in right relationships. God reveals Himself in the Old Testament as being opposed to those who perpetrate injustice and as siding with the victims of oppression. The prophets repeatedly challenged both idolatry and social injustice among God’s people. In the New Testament, Jesus embodies this concern for the poor, and He calls the people who worship him to reflect His character. If we are seeking to be more Christ-like, we will care more about justice.
God created us in his image to echo his character and steward his creation. The implications of creation on working for justice go beyond the beginning of Genesis, right through to Revelation. After the fall broke our relationships with God, each other, ourselves, and creation, God put into motion what Tim Keller calls ‘an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely, and spiritual joy and connection to those isolated from God.’ Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were at the centre of this mission, and foreshadow the renewal of creation that will come at the end of it. When we do justice it is not only joining in with God’s mission to redeem all things, but it is eschatologically prophetic. It points to the New Creation, when Jesus will return, creation will be renewed, and social injustice and inequality will be no more.
Throughout scripture, God repeatedly commands His people to work for justice – caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner; loosing the chains of injustice; demonstrating our faith by what we do. He tells us that whatever we do for others we do for him.
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and love you neighbour as yourself.’ He used the parable of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate that the call to generous, self-giving love for our neighbour crosses social, religious and racial boundaries to those in need.
The great commandment demonstrates that loving our neighbour is inextricably bound to loving our God. Working for justice, therefore, is impossible to divorce from worship.
So, we work for justice, first and foremost because we serve a just God, who created us to be in right relationships with Him, each other, ourselves and creation. The curse of sin has fractured those relationships, resulting in horrific injustice in our world. But, through Christ, God is reconciling all things to himself, including those broken relationships. God opposes injustice and calls us to follow Him in his mission to restore creation, and to point towards the New Creation.
God and justice.