What is Biblical justice?
God’s Creation & the Establishment of Justice
In the beginning, the triune God – Father, Son, & Holy Spirit – created the heavens and the Earth. Furthermore, he created humans in his image, establishing within them the sacred imago Dei – affirming the infinite worth of each human being he has created. He established four fundamental relationships at the beginning as well: God-human (Gen. 1:27; 2:5-9), human-self (Gen 2:25), human-human (Gen. 1:27; 2:18-25), and human-creation (Gen. 1:26-30). Each of God’s creations on its own was good, but it was in the beautiful, harmonious, life-giving interrelationships – the shalom – between all his creations that God called “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
The Fall of Humanity & the Inception of Injustice
The Fall of humanity broke the four fundamental relationships God instituted at the beginning – God-human, human-self, human-human, and human-creation. Injustice, poverty, oppression, violence, disease, and death in all four dimensions is the result.
God Promises Restoration
God, showing his persistent love for humanity, chose to bless all nations through the nation of Israel, arising out of the line of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah, and Jacob/Israel & Leah and Rachel (Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 12-50), establishing a kingdom of justice. God promised to restore his world to how he originally created it to be.
God Establishes a Nation of Justice
The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, and experienced tremendous injustice, including hard forced labor and state-sponsored infanticide (Ex. 1:8-22). God heard their cries, and hears the cries of the oppressed today (Ex. 2:23-25). He brought them up out of Egypt and gave his people a new Law that would allow the people to draw near to God and that would establish a system of just relationships between God-human, human-self, human-human, and human-creation. He called his people to live lives and create a society of righteousness and justice. Righteousness is the Hebrew word tzedekah, which refers to right relationships between people that affirm their God-given dignity as his image-bearers. Justice is the word mishpat, which is understood as restorative justice – a justice that actively seeks out the poor and marginalized to help them. It involves advocating for “the least of these” and working to change social structures so that injustice ceases to exist. Together, these two concepts clearly tell us that God desires for our lives to be radically selfless, putting others first (especially the poor, orphans, widows, and immigrants), seeking their well-being as image-bearers of God on both interpersonal and society-wide levels.
God’s People Perpetuate Injustice & Turn from God
The people of Israel, for centuries, consistently turned away from God’s commands to love all people. They worshipped other gods and committed major injustices. As a result, God sent many prophets to his people, lovingly calling them back to himself, sometimes with dire warnings. God’s call to justice is found all throughout the Bible, especially in the prophets. “Thus says the Lord: Bring about justice and righteousness. Rescue the disadvantaged, and don’t tolerate oppression or violence against the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow” (Jer. 22:3). “The Lord upholds justice for the oppressed, and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. He loves the righteous, but he thwarts the way of the wicked” (Ps. 146:7-9). Despite this call, injustice was perpetual, leading to exile for the Israelites.
Jesus Comes to Establish His Kingdom of Love & Justice
God knew that humanity would never be able to restore the relationships that were broken at the beginning, and he also knew that humans would never be able to stop perpetuating injustice. So, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to bring his kingdom to Earth – a kingdom full of loving, life-giving righteousness and justice. Jesus began his ministry quoting from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus experienced death and injustice when he was murdered on the cross, but defeated them both when he was raised from the dead three days later, ushering in a new kingdom of life and justice. He offers his life to us, broken humanity, so that we, and all our relationships, can be again made whole.
The Church Joins in Jesus’s Mission to Establish His Kingdom of Love & Justice
The Holy-Spirit-filled Church has been tasked with the mission of doing and preaching the loving and justice-filled Gospel of Christ in its local, national, and international contexts until Jesus returns again. As Teresa of Avila once said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” The Church is to continue his kingdom work of bringing the Good News to the poor and the marginalized until he returns gloriously to restore all creation and all humanity as it was meant to be. “‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:3-5) “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
Biblical Justice Resources
Q-Commons Sacramento – Engaging Biblical Justice
By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD – Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
Want to know more? Watch this video from The Bible Project about a theology of biblical justice.
Slavery, Racism, and Abortion: Fruits of Evil
By Brad Hughes: Board Director, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice; Fellow/Worldview & Economics, Centennial Institute