(Originally published on Issue 63 Sep/Oct 2018)
The subject of justice points us first and foremost to God himself. In the Old Testament, God describes himself to Moses as: “I am who I am”. Throughout the Old Testament scriptures, God’s people have had insights into the various aspects of God’s character. These include: Everlasting God, Mighty God, Most High, the Lord of Hosts, the Lord our Shepherd, the Lord our Peace, the Lord will provide, God Almighty, God Creator Mighty and Strong, the Lord our Rock, and the Lord our Healer. To this partial list, we can add from Jeremiah 13 verse 16 the description of God as “The Lord our Righteousness.”
Now in several Bible passages, there is a strong link between God personified as righteousness and God personified as justice. This is put very powerfully by the psalmist in Psalm 89 who discerns that righteousness and justice are at the very heart of God’s being. He puts it in this way:
“Righteousness and Justice are the foundation of your throne, steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.”
Similarly, in Isaiah (5:16), we discover that the Lord of Hosts is exalted in justice and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. Or in Deuteronomy (32:4), God is described as The Rock whose work is perfect; all his ways are just. He is a faithful God who does no wrong. He is upright and just.
I particularly love the psalmist’s description (Psalm 36) of the magnitude of God’s righteousness and justice when he says: “Your Love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like a great deep.”
Christians see in Isaiah 16:5 a prophecy that these twin aspects of God’s character – faithfulness and justice – will be the hallmarks of the promised Messiah. “In Love, a throne will be established. In faithfulness a man will sit on it – one from the house of David – one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness”.
Psalm 9:16 affirms that God is known by his justice, and in verses 8-9, this psalm perfectly encapsulates another aspect of justice that runs through the Old and New Testaments – namely, that God will judge the world with righteousness and will govern the peoples with justice. St Paul speaking in Athens helps us to understand that this judgement of justice will take place through the Risen Christ.
God’s justice is particularly seen as justice for the oppressed. This is beautifully expressed in Isaiah 61, which describes the year of the Lord’s favour. Let me just quote the very first verse: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the blind. “
This is a hugely significant prophecy for Christians because, when he preached in the synagogue, Jesus told his listeners that he was the fulfilment of this prophecy. Indeed Jesus not only sees justice for the oppressed as central to his mission and ministry, but goes even further by identifying himself with the hungry, with the thirsty, with the stranger, with those without clothes, with the sick, and with those who were in prison.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me” (Matthew 25).
Jesus was scathing in his criticism of the religious elite of his time – the Pharisees. Outwardly they were faithful in their religious observances, but they had neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. The Pharisees, who saw themselves as religious role models, must have been shocked to be described as hypocrites, as wicked, as vipers, and as blind guides.
So a compassionate and just concern for the world, for society, and for the individual and a practical and pro-active expression of that concern are absolutely central components of what it means to follow God as a Christian.
I’m now going to quote from a passage that I discovered on the Christian Enquiry website. These are not my words, but they are words that sum up my understanding of this particular aspect of justice.
Millions of people have kind hearts and want to help those who are poor or in distress. But when men and women start to follow Jesus earnestly, they discover that deep within them their view of the world is changing. Seeing the world through God’s eyes they recognise that there is an urgent need to change the world so that justice is done and peace is achieved in the way that God desires.
It is central to the Christian faith that God desires a world in which justice is done. However, the past hundred years have revealed the scale of injustice in the world to be greater than anyone had previously imagined. Global forces that are deeply unfair determine the destiny of the world’s poorest people and cause damage to the planet’s environment. War and suffering follow.
Striving for justice and working for peace, particularly for the world’s poorest people, are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The good news that Jesus came to announce was that suffering and oppression could be brought to an end. Christians believe that their faith should lead them to be the people who help bring that about.
As we have already seen, justice is intimately connected with righteousness, mercy, compassion, and peace. When Christians pray to God “thy kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven” we are praying for a world where justice, righteousness, mercy, compassion and peace are experienced and enjoyed by everyone.
Finally, I should not end without saying that God’s justice is intimately connected with God’s judgement. Christians believe that we will all be accountable to God for the way in which we have lived our lives. This in itself is huge subject, but it is worth noting that the parable from Matthew 25 (that I quoted in part earlier) on Jesus indicates that our judgement will be based precisely on whether or not we have worked for justice for the poor, justice for the disadvantaged, and justice for the suffering.
To end with I would like to end with a quotation from the prophet Micah (Micah 6:8) which seems to me to be a rather lovely mini-manifesto for life:
“God has shown you, O people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years. Download the full pdf here: