Doing Justice as an Invitation to Emerging Generations
Micah 6:8 famously says, “He has shown you, O mortal, 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.”
But what does it mean to act justly, or to do justice?
I listened recently to an address given by Timothy Keller, “The Justice of God.” He explains many of the ideas found in his book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, an excerpt of which you can find here.
Keller defines justice this way:
The Hebrew word for “justice,” mishpat, occurs in its various forms more than 200 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty.
But mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights. Deuteronomy 18 directs that the priests of the tabernacle should be supported by a certain percentage of the people’s income. This support is described as “the priests’ mishpat,” which means their due or their right. Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.
Keller argues that the Bible calls us to do justice, but also to be a people of grace. Both reflect the heart of God, and a right understanding of the Christians gospel shows us God is both loving and just.
In the podcast I linked above, Keller remarks that oftentimes Christians pursue evangelism as separate from justice, but when we do so, skeptics see us largely engaged in recruitment efforts. They perceive Christians as enlisting to increase in power or influence. More members equals more status, more money, and more people by which to amplify the Christian message.
But when Christians pursue justice and proclaim the gospel while serving the poor, they are giving of their time and resources in ways that cannot likely be reciprocated. Humble Christians, when they serve, give of themselves freely without any expectation of return apart from the gladness that comes from obeying a God who is good, a God who, in Jesus Christ, has done justice and offered us mercy in a manner that we neither deserve nor could ever repay.
That’s a powerful argument. If Christians pursue justice in order to be more invitational to emerging generations, then it is likely those false motives will eventually be exposed. But if Christians pursue justice as the outflow of their understanding of the gospel of grace, it is at least possible that emerging generations could be compelled to ask what it is about God that could lead someone to lead a life of loving service.
Doing justice and extending mercy may be the very thing that would authenticate our witness when we speak of the radical nature of God’s forgiveness and grace. It may be the very thing that makes our invitation to come and to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ something that emerging generations would not only consider, but wholeheartedly embrace.