We know God calls us to do justice. In the last article, we discovered what justice is and why we need to respond. But still the question is: how? How do we do justice in an effective, biblical way?
We need to recognize that there are both right and wrong responses to injustice. Let’s start with considering the wrong response.
The Wrong Response
In responding to injustice and trying to set things right, we also need to be informed by the word and spirit of God. Though we should always value simple obedience and uncomplicated acts of compassion, we must also be careful not to set about doing justice in ways that cause more harm.
One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:11-12).
Moses grew up in a place of privilege and safety in the Egyptian palace, but was in actuality a Hebrew. Perhaps he felt a sense of guilt that he had been spared the suffering of his people. In any case, he went and saw for himself how the Israelites were being treated, how Pharaoh had ruthlessly forced the Israelites into slavery, and made their lives “bitter with hard service”, stopping at nothing, even mass murder (Exodus 1:13-14).
In the spur of the moment, Moses saw and Moses reacted. He witnessed a horrific beating and in that moment of identification his emotions must not have allowed him to do nothing. He thus acted impulsively, repaying the Egyptian’s violence with more violence by taking his life. What did Moses achieve as a result? Nothing, really. His actions did not help his people or contribute to their eventual redemption and deliverance.
The impulsive reaction, the reaction born out of emotion and individual will, is something that can be dangerous. This reaction is often one that pushes us towards vengeance, repaying an “eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21, Matthew 5:38). Scripture, however, teaches us that the violent and punitive response isn’t the one God desires us to have as followers of Jesus.
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
A good rule of thumb is that we are not to repay evil with evil. Instead, our response to evil should be actions that are good and merciful and that demonstrate love even for those in the wrong (Luke 6:35-36; Matthew 5:44-48). We are to follow in the way of Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost.
In Christ, the eternal and amazing breaks into our human paradigm of justice as getting our “just desserts”, whether blessing for obedience or punishment for disobedience. While the world before Jesus existed in endless cycles of injustice and retribution, Jesus broke the shackles of humanity’s violence and vengeance in suffering for us and extending us grace and forgiveness while we were His enemies (Romans 5:7-10).
Justice under the New Covenant thus means bringing the love and mercy of Jesus’ Kingdom into a harsh, vengeful world where there is none, even at the cost of suffering injustice ourselves. This was manifested with Jesus and on the cross when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This was also exemplified in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), where God is revealed to us not as an absent judge waiting to deal out punishment but a present Father longing for a relationship with us and to welcome, forgive, and restore.
The Right Response
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?
Considering the right and wrong responses to injustice could perhaps leave you slightly confused. Is justice a very complicated thing? Do we have to worry about acting impulsively and making mistakes like Moses did? Do we have to stress about whether we’re in God’s will or not? I don’t believe so.
Perhaps the best response to the problems of the world is obedience to God. Obedience is not a complicated thing but is actually very simple. It simply means having a relationship with God and living out that relationship. It means asking God for His heart and then letting His compassion and love be the “rule” for our lives. Good works, after all, are what God prepares for us to do and prepares us to do (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 2:21). We can trust God to do so even when we don’t know how, or when, or where, or even if we doubt our own abilities.
We will always make mistakes, as Moses did, but that doesn’t mean God can’t use us. God used Moses powerfully, even though Moses thought himself a useless failure. Time and time again, in the Bible, God chose to use incomplete, flawed human vessels to bring about redemption. Looking at the Scriptures, we don’t see anyone who never made mistakes, never failed, and who was on a constant trajectory of success. The Christian life is about growth and pursuing God; even our failure, like Moses’s failure, can build our character and help us be used by God. After all, it is in our weaknesses that God’s strength shines through; we have nothing in ourselves to boast about (2 Corinthians 12:9).
As a young person, you might feel like you’re limited in what you can do and accomplish. You can’t solve the big problems of the world and you may feel overwhelmed. Here’s where you can start:
First, we should pray. When we pray, we are filled with God’s spirit and thus His love and compassion which are pre-requisites for any action. When we pray, we also consider all the fields of the world that are ripe for the harvest, more fields than we can individually impact. Thus, in prayer, we tune into God’s overall work. Even if we can’t go and do things specifically in an area where there’s human suffering and injustice, we can pray for God’s work and God’s workers in those areas (Matthew 9:37-38). It then becomes the Lord’s work as the Master Planner to send different laborers to different places, supported in prayer by believers everywhere.
Secondly, we should be “Faithful in little” (Luke 16:10). The greatest work a disciple of Jesus can do is to lay down our lives and serve others. It is this spiritual quality (what God sees) rather than the outward value of an action (what humans see) that matters first. For example, when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, he was performing a practical rather than exciting or notable task. Yet, this event is recorded for us and actually teaches us an amazing and mind-blowing lesson about justice and power in God’s upside-down Kingdom. Another example is that of David, whose faithfulness to tending his father’s sheep and solitary worship was noticed by God and formed the prelude to his being used mightily.
We should therefore not despise the day of small things but look for every opportunity to extend mercy and compassion to the people around us. We are, after all, little members of a large body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) and we work best in that body when we play whatever role we’re given with faithfulness.
In short, discipleship just means being “Jesus” to the world. It is perhaps in the most mundane circumstances, where the unfairness and injustice of human existence are manifested, that we begin to enact the new, radical, supernatural, reality of Jesus’s justice. This justice, as Jesus proclaimed, is the good news of the gospel and liberation for the oppressed (Luke 4:17-19).
“Doing justice” may sound like it involves acts of charity or perhaps even playing “savior” to people in need, but something we should also be aware of is that it will probably be costlier, more challenging, and “messier” than we expect. We cannot really anticipate the actual needs of people and communities nor the injustices we might have to overcome. Faced with reality, we might feel overwhelmed and think, “Oh dear, this is more difficult than I thought!”
That is, however, the whole point. We should not give up, but persevere. After all, no one turns the world upside-down doing the natural, convenient thing but the *cough* hard thing – the very hard, the pretty-much-impossible-without-supernatural-grace thing. This requires strength beyond any natural compassion or goodwill we could muster.
At the end of the day, “Take up your cross and follow me” is more than just a call to cast aside selfish cares and pursuits and to live sacrificially for Jesus alone. It is also a call to participate in God’s work of redemption and experience the joy and reward of this work. Every little, everyday challenge is a new opportunity to love others in new ways and thus participate in the healing and restoration that flows from Jesus.