The loud cry for justice rises against stark silence and turning away. Some seem consumed with raising issues and demanding action while others are contentedly blinded – unwilling to know because it might mandate some sort of pain, change, or response. Feelings and opinions divide communities and churches.
Phrases like social responsibility and social justice are rampant in current Western culture, but what do they mean for followers of Christ? Sons and daughters of the king? Parents determined to raise children with meaningful faith? Members of local neighborhoods, nations, and citizens of the world?
Looking Through Lenses
While I normally begin sorting through these types of questions by searching Scripture (always a great place to start), I wonder if an honest and heartfelt exploration of the self as it relates to both social justice and the Bible is an appropriate place to begin.
Here’s what I mean.
Each of us has presuppositions – Deeply-rooted ideas and ideals about the world we may not even know are there. Understanding how we think and interact with others begins by posing questions about ourselves. Who are we, and why? What are the beliefs and values we cling to and how have they been shaped by past experiences, upbringing, family history, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, cultural background, trauma, relationships, ethnicity, country of origin, church, social circles, and/or theology?
Our past experiences work together to create personalized lenses through which we see – Like a pair of glasses we don’t know we have on. These lenses not only cause us to assess, evaluate and assume things about the world and people around us, but also affect the way we interpret Scripture. We can understand the Bible and the great God it speaks of when we better understand how our personal perceptions shape the way we approach its content. This is why studying Scripture to learn the intended audience, context, culture, history, and author of a particular passage is so important (read more about the Inductive Study Method here). Employing rigorous Bible study strategies and uncovering our own biases can help us better determine what Scripture actually says rather than what we want it to say.
Justice and the Human Story
Recognizing how our own story contributes to underlying assumptions not only helps us rightly handle God’s story in the Bible, but better prepares us to listen to and connect with someone else’s. Empathy (a key part of justice) is manifested when we willingly take off our lenses to see other people more clearly.
I believe stories are a doorway to justice and mercy. Hearing or reading about a person or people groups’ experience helps us understand and empathize. Taking time to immerse ourselves in a story about another’s plight, a justice/injustice themed event in history, a narrative that challenges pre-conceived ideas or yields an empathetic response are all valuable to understanding social justice as followers of Christ. Our goal in listening should not be to evaluate someone’s personal story and deem it right or wrong, nor to follow up with “but” or comparative statements. We read and listen to gain perspective. To understand. To begin to know the teller and value his or her experience, regardless of whether or not we can relate to it.
As a teacher by trade and reader by passion, I have a storehouse of books in my home and garage. While I regularly sift through them to get rid of ones we no longer read, those about social issues and human rights will likely remain with me forever. There are joy-inducing stories celebrating differences and the will to overcome, and others that pose questions about injustices in our world such as racial inequality, the Holocaust, Japanese Internment, our response to the poor, and refugees. There are stories that evoke empathy, and others that simply make me think, grieve and wonder. There are stories for young children, school-aged students, and young adults. Few of them are deemed “Christian” books by the publisher, but the nature of their content draws us to call on Biblical truth and initiate a response in both thought and action (scroll down to see some of my favorites).
I believe God thinks stories are a key way to understand His precepts, tug at our heart-strings, and reveal His plan. It’s why the Bible is so full of them – A glorious and inspired collection of stories about the character of God, His creation, Israel, and the Messiah.
Micah 6:7-8 is one of the most well-known scriptures about justice and kindness in the Old Testament. We’ll unpack it together in a moment, but I’ve included a printable download with more Scripture for further study and some suggestions to guide your investigation. You can access it here, or by clicking on the image below.
Do Justice, Love Kindness
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
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? (Micah 6:6-8, ESV)
Micah asks hypothetical questions on behalf of Israel: Lord what do you want from us? How can we please you? We’ll sacrifice. We’ll offer our firstborn children. Just tell us what you want. So God answers through His prophet, Micah. He tells them there are three things He requires, and infers that they should already know what they are:
To do justice
To love kindness
To walk humbly with God.
Semantics are important here. The Bible doesn’t say to love justice, or to consider just responses. It says to DO justice. It’s a practice. An action verb. We can’t simply think about it and call it good. We can’t cry a little and be done. We can’t post a few great images or catchy quotes to check a now-I-feel-better-about-it box.
Israel’s sacrifices and words meant nothing to God because they weren’t being just – upholding the laws of protection, dignity, and lawfulness made clear to them through Moses during the Exodus.
Other Old Testament prophets speak to this concept as well. Through Amos, for example, God absolutely rebukes Israel because of the way they treat their own people. They repeatedly subject them to poverty and oppression for their own gain (Amos 5:11-12, Amos 8:4-6). While Old Testament justice is often the simple act of upholding the law (being fair and not taking advantage of the poor), New Testament scripture takes this a step further. The apostle John implores that “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth “ (1 John 3:17-18). James makes a similar claim:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-17
Our faith saves us, but the way we treat the poor, oppressed, needy and hungry is evidence of that faith. It gives proof of what we believe and who we serve.
Social Justice Vs. Biblical Justice
While social justice shows diligent concern for people, the earth, and doing what one deems “right” or moral, biblical justice takes this a step further. As followers of Christ, we are to study what God says about pertinent issues, then view each and every person involved as deeply loved and made in the very image of the God we serve (Genesis 1:27).
We care for people because He cares for them.
We extend grace and mercy because He has done the same for us.
We come alongside the broken because we understand our own brokenness in light of our Father’s holiness.
We see others in the same way the Lord God has seen and found us – desperate for healing and in need of restoration.
We understand that He has justified by no merit of our own, so we serve for the justice of others – Even if we feel it’s underserved.
We seek restitution.
We apologize with genuine humility and work hard to become part of a solution.
We actually have to do something, friends, and with love and empathy. We can’t blind ourselves and our children to the hurt and oppression in the world, and we can’t strive to protect ourselves without protecting others.
So what do we do? How do we respond? It’s a difficult question because there isn’t one answer. Each of us has been given different gifts, situations, strengths and resources that the Lord will ask us to use for His Kingdom purpose and glory. So have our children. It’s complicated and complex, but here are a few suggestions to begin the journey toward living with a Biblical justice mindset.
What Now? A Few First Steps
- Wipe off our lenses: Do the hard work to uncover the biases and presuppositions that frame the way you see the world and justice issues. Review the questions outlined above and prayerfully surrender the process to the Lord. Be patient. This will take time, effort, tears and struggle.
- Know the needs: We can’t turn a blind eye to the suffering around us. It’s imperative to know and allow ourselves to feel. A great place to start is by reading and listening. Check a variety of news sources (they have biases, too) to determine what’s going on in your community and in the world. I like to read and listen to both local and international commentaries for a more well-rounded perspective. Books are a wonderful way to educate yourself and begin the discussion of local and global issues with your kids. Scroll down to get some of my personal recommendations.
- Study the Word: Use the attached resources to determine what God thinks about justice and kindness. The Scripture I’ve included in the link above is really just a launching point for your study. The Bible is packed with stories about God’s response to justice and His expectation of ours.
- Engage: Get started! There are incredible organizations who have identified needs and are responsibly coming alongside fellow humans to provide for needs, freedom, justice, and empowerment. While we need to be mindful of ways we can actually hinder development and cause more harm than good (click here for helpful resources about this concept), step into empathetic, thoughtful action and relationship if/when you see a need around you. Teach your children that these can be as simple as asking personal questions and genuinely listening to the response, bringing a meal to someone, advocating for someone who is often teased or bullied, helping a friend with his or her homework, volunteering for a non-profit, walking in a march, or saving money to donate and assist a reputable organization. There are many needs, and many ways to make sacrifices and come alongside those either requiring or providing assistance.
Oh what a refreshing and glorious day it will be when, in the words of the Old Testament prophet Amos and quoted by Martin Luther King Jr. in his powerful I Have a Dream speech, we “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
With great expectation,
Recommended Resources & Stories
The following are books I’ve personally read and own. Not everyone will agree with the concepts expressed in each one, but I believe empathy begins with openness to anothers’ experiences and perspective. You can click on the image to order a book directly and support that author’s effort (we receive a small commission from Amazon and are grateful for that, too), but I’m happy to lend any of them out if you live near me and need to borrow one instead.
Children’s Books About Appreciating Differences
Children’s Books About Human Rights, Suffering & Oppression
Children’s Books About Refugees
Children’s Books to Promote Empathy, Understanding & Personal Potential
Youth / Young Adult Fiction
Books for Adults
About the Author: Lisa DaSilva is a wife, mom of two teenagers, teacher, and advocate for women to love God with their heart, soul and mind as they engage in responsible study of His Word.
Loving Jesus and making Him known really is her everything.