What Christians Should Know About Social Justice
There is obviously a lot of turmoil and upheaval going on in our country right now. As people, it is easy to judge, look down on, or condemn anyone who acts differently than us or tries to upset the status quo. The term social justice is brought up often, yet what does that word really mean and why should Christians be concerned about Social Justice? The usual answer to the second question is we should be concerned because God is concerned about Social justice (that is obvious form all of the reference throughout the story of scripture). But what does that really mean. Here is a great explanation from respected author and Pastor Tim Keller
“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.”
But to understand the biblical idea of justice, Keller says, we must also consider tzadeqah:
“We get more insight when we consider a second Hebrew word that can be translated as “being just,” though it usually translated as “being righteous.” The word is tzadeqah, and it refers to a life of right relationships.
When most modern people see the word “righteousness” in the Bible, they tend to think of it in terms of private morality, such as sexual chastity or diligence in prayer and Bible study. But in the Bible, tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity. It is not surprising, then, to discover that tzadeqah and mishpat are brought together scores of times in the Bible.
These two words roughly correspond to what some have called “primary” and “rectifying justice.” Rectifying justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else. Therefore, though tzadeqah is primarily about being in a right relationship with God, the righteous life that results is profoundly social.”
When the two Hebrew words tzadeqah and mishpat are tied together—as they are more than three dozen times—the English expression that best conveys the meaning is “social justice.” Social justice, then, would be not only a biblical concept, but also a subset of biblical justice. Claiming that we need only “biblical justice” and not “social justice” is an error, for they are both tied together.
One of the biggest struggles that Christians in America have is in thinking that what happens to other people doesn’t really effect my relationship with God. We individualize everything. The Bible tells a different story. My relationship with God (thus my experience of God) is very much connected with my community around me. They are tied together. My relationship is not made right (just) if others around me are not also experiencing Biblical justice (which includes social justice). We tend to live blind lives – not concerned with the injustice all around us – having minimal experiences of the Gospel, simply because it is too uncomfortable or risky to care. But at the heart of the Gospel story is a God who risked everything so we could experience reconciliation, forgiveness, and right relationships. The cost to us has always been giving up our old lives and old ways of thinking and instead seeing the world as God sees it. Living in the world as Jesus did, with love and concern and a deep desire to see social justice happen so that people can encounter this Good News.