Christian Values: Justice
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The second most referenced value mentioned in the Bible is justice, according to research done by Ben MacConnell. Dictionary.com defines justice as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness,” with a secondary definition of “the administering of deserved punishment or reward.” Justice is often symbolized as a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales in one hand and a sword in the other. She is blindfolded to indicate that justice is determined the facts of an issue and not its appearance. The scales designate the unbiased weighing of the evidence from both sides. The sword is for punishment, should a proceeding find the accused guilty. Thus, justice is the product of an objective consideration of the facts, at least in theory.
The prophet Amos writes about the justice of the Lord as a day of reckoning, along the lines of the second dictionary definition above. He warns that the Lord’s application of justice will not be pleasant experience for us. Further, he says the justice of the Lord is not something we can escape. The image of fleeing from a lion only to run into a bear is a revealing image. Amos portrays an unavoidable judging of our decisions on earth.
There is another aspect of justice expected of Christians, however – social justice, which is assuring that every member of society has access to opportunities for life, liberty, and happiness. For the body of Christ, social justice is a mandate. We are to care for the disadvantaged members of our communities. Several years ago, I visited with a nun who had worked beside Mother Teresa for a time. She and her fellow sisters felt guilty for having cots to sleep on, food to eat, and shelter from the elements, when many they were serving had nothing. Why should those “necessities” not be given to the unfortunate folks they were to help? Mother Teresa explained that disadvantaged people needed to see a better life to reach for, to grow into. The sisters’ purpose was to help the people to an improved and sustainable state for themselves, in ways that could be continued once the sisters were gone. Mother Teresa told them we cannot lift another up unless we are in a higher position relative to them – sinking to their level makes it that much harder to assist. At times we argue over whether justice and mercy require us to give people a “hand up” or a “hand out.” The fact is that justice for folks in need often requires both. Certainly, we are to seek just and sustainable solutions. And we will almost certainly be held accountable for the justice we work towards in this life.
Come home to church this Sunday. Let justice roll down like waters…