Justice is the moral principle of equally observing the rights of all people and treating them fairly. Justice is not made real by “my truth” or “your truth.” It is an objective reality. Indeed, it is one of God’s attributes. Jeremiah 9:24 says, “‘I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight.’” We ought to care about justice, and not just because there is sin in the world. Justice is important, period. We might even go so far as to say that because God acts justly and delights in justice, it would have been an important thing for us to pursue even if we were not fallen creatures.
In a world of sin, the cause of justice takes on great urgency. The doctrine of original sin says that humans are so thoroughly fallen that nothing remains unaffected by our fallenness. Bad people are not the only ones who do very bad things and make life miserable for the rest; each of us falls short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23).
When we are gathered in community, our individual sin natures can morph into “structural” evil, in which historical and cultural patterns, expectations, and habits are established that perpetuate sin from one generation to another. Chattel slavery is an example of a structural evil. Ideas have consequences, and many Americans still suffer today in its aftermath.
We might be tempted to excuse ourselves from our part in structural evil. The biblical approach is that although we humans are stuck in a web of social evil we did not create, we ought to act intentionally against such evil. This involves speaking up. When a friend makes a racist comment, for example, or tells a racist joke, we should say something instead of making excuses for the person (see Matthew 18:15). Opposing structural evil involves more, however, including taking actions to ensure a just society and helping bring the ministry of reconciliation to hurting communities. As theologian Cornelius Plantinga Jr. points out, to not act intentionally against sin is to perpetuate it.¹