Moving Forward with Biblical Justice

C. S. Lewis said, “[Christianity] thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”¹ We are not the politically pure bringing enlightenment to the masses. Rather, we the redeemed bear the good news to others who, like ourselves, are hopelessly lost without it. We love our neighbor not just by avoiding doing wrong things, but by doing what is in our power to make things right.

We are at a unique moment in history. Brutality, race-based discrimination, and lawlessness must be addressed, and biblical principles of justice can guide us. Here are some examples:

  • Does your worldview recognize that our worth as humans comes from God, not from our activities? Do you see others as distinct and inherently valuable persons regardless of size, age, gender, ethnicity, ability, or intelligence?
  • Have you mistreated someone based on their group identity? If so, ask for forgiveness. This is not a call to a generalized sense of guilt, but to identify and seek reconciliation for specific sins against specific people.
  • How has sin caused structural evil? What structures of society are broken that can be fixed? What role can you play?
  • Are your neighbors doing better because you are there? What concrete steps can you take to actively improve the lives of those around you?
  • Have you seen injustice occurring? If so, make it known by collecting evidence and presenting it to authorities, appealing to them to act justly. Don’t use shame or threats to force others to see it your way. Injustice cannot remedy injustice. It isn’t about punishment—it’s about restoration.
  • Do the actions of the judicial system and government show favoritism? What steps may be taken to hold those in authority accountable?
  • Are those accused of crimes being treated with dignity? Do arrest procedures, incarceration procedures, and trial procedures need to be changed? How can you as a citizen work toward needed changes?
  • Is restitution taking place for victims of specific actions that have caused injury or harm to their interests? How might government play a role in not just punishing the guilty, but restoring what was lost?
  • Are the societal changes being called for in a time of racial unrest based on a desire to secure the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or are they designed to exact revenge for wrongs?
  • Are you assessing blame for what is happening based on group identity—whether rich or poor, white or black, city or suburban, liberal or conservative? Instead, identify the individuals or legislative bodies or judicial authorities responsible for specific harms, and call for specific changes.
  • Have you observed wrongdoing and not acted? If so, commit to know what is right and wrong and determine to act the next time you see injustice occurring.
  • Are you a person who seeks peace, resolves anger, speaks forthrightly, resists retaliation for personal offenses, loves your enemies, and gives to those in need? It is not just about what “Washington DC” does; we are personally called to live out and displaying the way of Jesus.
  • Do you know God’s nature and character and his plan for history? If not, become a good student of Scripture who does not need to be ashamed by ignorance of who God is and what He is doing in the world.
  • What programs and organizations in your area can you support with your time, talent, and treasure that transform the poor in spirit into good stewards who bear fruit?

For believers who care deeply about injustice, there are many opportunities to dive into the nitty-gritty work of criminal justice. Christians are very much needed in law, criminal justice, and social work. Volunteers are essential, too. Given the number of opportunities, there is no reason for Christians to fall for politically-motivated redistribution schemes in the name of helping the less fortunate.

The Christian worldview makes a difference because it is rooted in the original idea of justice as pursuing righteousness, not just avoiding wrongdoing. To put it another way, the Christian worldview goes beyond rehabilitation to focus on transformation. Says Woodson, the former civil rights activist,

If I’m killing myself, I do not need to be rehabilitated. I need to be transformed. I need to become a new person. Therapy does not make you another person. Rehabilitation rarely removes bad stuff. Transformation, on the other hand, replaces the bad stuff with good stuff. That is the difference.²

Why does a focus on transformation work so well? Sociologist Byron Johnson spent six years studying the answer to that question. Through observation and interviews of participants in a program called the Innerchange Freedom Initiative, Johnson found that participants were truly being transformed. They saw themselves as genuinely loved by God and others, they recognized their reliance on God, they overcame blame and developed compassion, they developed resilience to face their hardships, and they expressed gratitude for their new lives.³

Transformation moves us from being tough to transparent, from being takers to being givers. It looks a lot like what the apostle Paul, the evangelist who was once an accessory to murder, described in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” It is through Christ that we have hope of seeing Amos’ prophecy fulfilled, for justice to roll down like waters (Amos 5:24). It’s not just about rightly ordered communities. It’s about the heart of God himself. God delights in justice. We should too.