20 Apr Maintain Justice, Do Right (Part 1)
By Ps Pax Tan
AsiaCMS Board of Trustees
This is what the Lord says, “Maintain Justice and Do what is Right…” – Isaiah 56:1
What is Justice?
The word Justice (Righteousness) or Just (Righteous) occurs over 1300 times in the Bible. It is usually associated with “doing what is just or right” – it has to do with judgment, of the judiciary, of the functions of the government, and of law and regulations. Therefore, justice has to do with our rights and duties in a lawful society, where there are norms and rules that govern us. So, where there is conformity to the norms, then it is just and justice prevails, whereas actions that are not in conformity to the norms or rules are unjust or injustice has occurred…
God and Justice
Justice is a very important word in the Bible. It is more than a concept. The people of the Old Testament knew that justice has to do with God. The writers of the Bible conveyed the message that God is Just and Righteous and that he sets the standards and rules by which all human behaviour is to be measured and judged.
“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good.” – Nehemiah 9:13
“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” – Deuteronomy 32:4
“Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” – 2 Chronicles 19:7
God is Just; it is his very nature, he cannot pervert justice, yet he serves justice and calls us to work with him in carrying out justice.
“But let him who boasts boast about this: That he understands and knows me, That I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” – Jeremiah 9:2.
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” – Isaiah 30:18.
Since God has revealed the laws and norms of interaction in society, he thus defines what is just and what constitutes justice for our living together.
“He has showed you, O man, 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” – Micah 6:8.
Doing Justice in Society
Justice then is doing what is just and right as revealed by God in the Scriptures. God’s laws and norms are the supreme standards by which all others are to be judged. It calls for obedience that must be translated into works and action unto ourselves and others. It is interpersonal and it is to and with your neighbour.
You cannot have justice in a vacuum, it must be relational. To live justly, you need to do just things, to think justly, to look for the just norms to measure against, lest unjust norms become the default. Laws of the land can be made and passed by the lawmakers or legislators, however, it may not conform to God’s law and norm.
For example, laws that incarcerate persons indefinitely without due process or a trial would be unjust when measured against the legal justice system in the Old Testament, where judges and rules of evidence were called for, to provide a hearing so that legal justice may be carried out (Deuteronomy 17:2-7, 8-11).
As with individuals in society, the Bible also spells out laws for a just community to function. Judges are to be fair, show no partiality and accept no bribes (Deuteronomy 16:18-20). Even the king is subject to the laws (Deuteronomy 17: 18-20).
Spiritual disciplines like worship, reading and studying of the Bible, fasting, giving, prayers are not only personal and corporate, which are fundamentally needful – but these worthy exercises must be translated into actions of being just, righteous, fair, compassionate and caring to others. In fact, the former without the latter is not acceptable to God!
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” – Amos 5:21-24.
“Is this not the kind fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” – Isaiah 58: 6,7.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.” – Matthew 23:23.
So, the structures of a political, economic and social system are to be set up so that the needs of the poor, oppressed and marginalized can be looked into and maintained in accordance with the justice and righteousness of God. It is both an individual and the community’s responsibility to carry out justice. Getting involved through the local associations, societies and community gatherings, bodies of governance and administration, are all channels by which we can influence and act.
The Church as part of society and nation-building, need to be seen and heard as people who are serious and active in justice and good governance issues, as well as morality, social and communal concerns; in order that it can be continually relevant and connected, respected and consulted by the citizens and authorities alike.
The clergy and laity, as leaders of the churches or as a federation or inter-denominational councils ought to speak and act out on related contemporary issues especially pertaining to justice and righteousness and morality. These prophetic and advocacy roles of the Church is underemphasized, and at times silent and constipated.
[Read part 2 of this article on Thursday this week to see the important role that justice plays in the light of the current global crisis and pandemic]