The words were written across a woman’s t-shirt in a rainbow of colors. It was just a shirt, but it clearly summarized Gen Z’s worldview on a simple piece of fabric.
Gen Z is the justice generation. We’re young and passionate with a rebel streak and a desire to see wrongs made right. So we take up our mantras—“Love is love!” “Justice for all!” “Black lives matter!”—and jump on the bandwagon of the social justice movement.
It’s not that the words on the t-shirt were wrong. Love and justice are virtues well worth upholding. Equality, unity, and diversity are all noble in their appropriate contexts. The problem is that behind those words is a skewed definition that upholds a faulty worldview. Justice is good…but culture’s definition of justice isn’t actually just at all.
Who Defines Justice?
How does Gen Z define justice? “Accepting everyone,” some may say. “Closing the gap of social divides,” others might affirm. “Rejecting white privilege. Policy reform. LGBTQIA+ acceptance and affirmation,” the list goes on. A simple Google search on justice answers, “The quality of being just; fairness. The principle of moral rightness; decency.”
Google’s answer demands a question be asked: who defines what is just? Who determines what is moral? To correctly understand justice, we need an objective source of origin for the definition. . It’s at the source of our definition of justice that cultural justice and biblical justice diverge down opposing paths.
The defining source of justice and morality for the majority of culture is ourselves. We determine what is just and moral. We have the ability to raise the injustice flag and sound the immoral alarm. Our perceptions of justice and morality are not defined by a written code, a higher power, or even a court of law, but instead by subjective emotions and the claims of individuals.
The defining source of justice and morality for the majority of culture is ourselves
Authentic justice requires a better source and more objective standard. One that stands above the world but can understand the world. One that is not the perpetrator of injustice, but holds the scales of justice perfectly. Only one standard fits that bill: God himself. The source of true, biblical justice is not emotions, humans, or even circumstances. It is God.
Yet even though Gen Z is one of the most justice-oriented generations, it is also one of the least Christian generations. What individuals believe about God deeply affects what they believe about justice. These two facts about our generation—justice oriented yet non-Christian—explains much of the wave of wokeness that has swept across our society and redefined our definition of justice.
Social justice could be described as a “religion” that is works-based, a hope that is self-based, and a goal that is human-based
Here’s how it works. The world is broken. There is a great deal of injustice and wrong committed on a daily basis. Every person has to decide how they’re going to think about the brokenness of the world and what they’re going to do about it. But the biggest piece of our worldview puzzle is not, in fact, the world. It’s God—who we believe God is and how we believe he interacts with the world. These beliefs determine our opinions on how the world became broken, what we should do about it, and how it will one day be fixed. But when we turn from God, our worldview is left with a gaping hole. We see poverty, abuse, human trafficking, and the cruelty possible within a human heart and we don’t know what to do with these issues. Because there’s not the biblical framework of a good God, broken world, and future plan of restoration through which to view these issues, we have to erect a new “god” to fill our worldview deficiencies. Enter social justice. Social justice could be described as a “religion” that is works-based, a hope that is self-based, and a goal that is human-based.
This kind of justice is insufficient, and in fact, antagonistic to true justice. To understand justice, we need to understand God. To do justice, we need to love God, love his Word, and love people as he does. To enact true justice, Gen Z needs to embrace the true heart of God.
The True Heart of Justice
God’s justice is far more beautiful and more life-giving than humanity’s version ever could be. In his book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth, Thaddeus Williams writes, “We shirk God’s commands and hurt his image bearers when we unwittingly allow unbiblical worldview assumptions to shape our approach to justice.”1
Justice matters for one simple reason: God calls himself just. If we claim to love and follow God, we must care about justice because it is an attribute of God. But our view of justice needs to be informed by God and not by culture.
So let’s take a look at what God says about himself, about us, and about doing justice in a broken and unjust world.
What the Bible Says About God and Justice
Scripture is God’s revelation of himself, and the Bible makes some bold claims about God and justice. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect,” Deuteronomy 32:42 says, “For all His ways are justice. A God of truth and without injustice: righteous and upright is He.”
All of God’s ways are justice. Not half. Not even ninety percent. All. Why? Because he loves it. “For I, the LORD, love justice,” Isaiah 61:8 says. Psalm 33 adds to this, saying, “For the word of the LORD is right, and all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (vv. 4-5). Righteousness and justice—a pairing often seen in Scripture, indicating that God’s justice is rooted in his righteousness—are the foundation of God’s throne as Psalm 89:14 declares.
He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord
Lest we fall into the mistake of thinking that God’s justice is somehow passive, the Bible promises that God will do justice. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
God is justice. All his ways are just. And God does justice. So why do we see so much injustice? The answer to that actually has a lot more to do with us than it does with God.
What the Bible Says About Humanity and Justice
Once, there was a perfect world. Injustice didn’t exist. Then, everything changed. Suddenly brother rose against brother, the righteous sibling (Hebrews 11:4) slayed by the hand of his unjust brother (Genesis 4:8-10). Evil men boasted about killing another in vengeance over a simple offense (Genesis 4:23). Injustice thrived and all was “corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11).
What changed? Sin. Rebellion against God. When God’s creation rises up against him in defiance, injustice is bound to follow. Because God is justice itself, when humanity turns against him in rebellion, they are also turning their backs on justice and embracing all that is unjust. That’s why humanity can never be the solution to injustice. Because injustice is too deeply intertwined with the sin of our hearts. We cannot, in our sinfulness, determine what true justice is because our anti-God hearts hate true justice. We are all unjust people.
Because God is justice itself, when humanity turns against him in rebellion, they are also turning their backs on justice and embracing all that is unjust
Scripture says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We’re all in the same boat as hopeless sinners and the justice we deserve is Hell. God’s wrath against rebellious sinners is not unjust, but perfectly just, because he is the only one who is holy and we have all broken his law. “Is God unjust who inflicts wrath?” Paul asks rhetorically in his letter to the Romans. “Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?” (3:5-6). It’s sobering isn’t it? We demand justice, but when we’re confronted with the justice we deserve, our hearts cry out for mercy.
Thankfully, we have a God who intertwines justice and mercy. On the Cross, the justice we deserve was placed upon Christ so mercy could be extended. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18, emphasis added).
Far from being the solution to injustice, the Bible says that we are the problem. Yet God in his mercy invites us to join in his solution.
What the Bible Says About the World and Justice
Christians have a mission—to invite sinners into the mercy of God. With the reality of the justice we deserve staring us in the face, we are called to embrace mercy and share that mercy with others. Our mercy-driven mission to make disciples is the primary call of Christ-followers.
But what about poverty? What about human trafficking? What about racism? the cries go up. It’s not enough to just share the gospel! We have to do something!
There is no just about sharing the gospel. It is, in fact, humanity’s greatest need. For the Christian, our proclamation of the gospel should be bound to our care for the one with whom we are sharing it. Mark 12:31 commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Instead of justice as our primary motivator, the Bible commends love. Because we love, we share the gospel. Because we love, we care for needs. We love every individual without partiality, not making a distinction between social classes, skin color, or cultural differences, because James 2:9 says that showing partiality is sin. We dare not substitute our gospel-focus for mere humanitarian aid or social work. But at the same time, our gospel-driven love ignites compassion which overflows into practical action. It’s not either/or, but rather both/and. As I say in my book Stand Up, Stand Strong, “So we give them the gospel as we care for their needs and care for their needs as we point to the One who cares for them most.”3
For the Christian, our proclamation of the gospel should be bound to our care for the one with whom we are sharing it
James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” In case we become too worldly focused in our pursuit of justice, James tells us to “keep ourselves unspotted from the world.” In other words, we don’t live like the world and our justice will not look like the world’s justice.
Instead, may our justice carry the fragrance of heaven and bear the mark of God who is justice itself. As we live in an unjust world, may we seek to share the mercy of our God and live out his justice as we await his return to make all things new and bring about true justice on this earth once again (Revelation 21:4-6).
Sara (Barratt) Starkey is the Editor-in-Chief of theRebelution.com and the author of Stand Up, Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith in a Confused Culture. She recently got married to her husband, Matthew, and together they make their home in Michigan. Connect with her on her website: SaraBarratt.com.