Our God is deeply interested in integrity and justness, but being an agent of those virtues in the world as a believer can be a troubling task.
What do you think of when someone mentions “social justice”?
Is it affordable healthcare for everyone? Better education for students and higher salaries for teachers? Food for malnourished children? Access to clean water? Uncensored internet?
The Heritage Foundation defines it this way: “Originally a Catholic term, first used about 1840 for a new kind of virtue (or habit) necessary for post-agrarian societies, the term has been bent by secular ‘progressive’ thinkers to mean uniform state distribution of society's advantages and disadvantages.”
This view of social justice brings up some serious problems.
Trying to Live Out Egalitarianism
The term égalité became a kind of rallying cry during the French Revolution, symbolizing to many freedom from their oppressive noble class.
Many idealists during this time believed that everyone ought to be on the same level with the same opportunities and difficulties. Obviously, their efforts to transform France into this kind of state ended poorly. For those who snoozed through history class, this portion of France’s past was punctuated by the guillotine.
While indiscriminately making heads roll is frowned upon these days, the concept of social justice as the great equalizer persists.
The issue with this view, however, is who should decide what standard all people must live by and how would this average be enforced? What should be done with extraordinarily gifted people who simply bob above the waterline of humanity? What about those who always seem to struggle economically or socially?
Check out any Marxist society to see how people have historically handled these problems, and the picture isn’t pretty. This system struggles because a generic average can’t take people’s individual abilities and circumstances into account.
Another issue is this viewpoint insists that social justice must originate from and be enforced by a government or national institution and trickle down into society.
On that matter, the Bible takes a rather different view.
If Government Takes the Back Seat
In Relevant Magazine, Tim Keller described a crucial difference between types of justness in the Bible, one that many people misunderstand. “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.”
In this view of social justice, government takes a back seat.
First, God determines the standard everyone must meet and the rules. Second, people live in a loving way with their God, themselves and their neighbors. Finally, governing forces administer punishment for those who break the rules and hurt themselves or others.
True social justice sprouts out of a right relationship with God and invities others into the transformation he’s making in our hearts.
If it starts anywhere else, it’s ultimately doomed to fail.
A Solution to the Social Issues
Founder of the Liceo Cristiano School Ministry, John Bueno described the biblical process of creating justness in a society on the Gary Wilkerson podcast.
“I just was in El Salvador last week, and we dedicated another school that World Challenge helped us finance in the building part. We were talking and saying, ‘It's a shame that this little country can't get rid of these gangs and some of these things that are hindering the peaceful process here.’
“Someone said, ‘Yeah, but think what it would be like if we didn't have these 37 schools.’”
The Liceo Cristiano School have seen 400,000 students pass through their doors since John Bueno and his wife helped to create the school, and currently about 15,000 children are enrolled.
These numbers represent nearly a third of El Salvador’s child population—those from infancy all the way up to 14 years old—who now have at least a high school education.
“While I was seeing the kids and their innocence and their uniforms,” John explained, “I thought, ‘These kids, where would they be if it weren't for the ministry of godly teachers who are instilling in them not only the faith in Jesus Christ, but the knowledge they need to prepare themselves for life?’
“I know this for a fact: you won't find our children—speaking of kids from the schools—in gangs.… I think it's a big thing, and maybe it's a way that we could solve some of these issues that are so prevalent in our world.”
Bringing Heaven to Earth
Faced with heartbreaking issues like racism or rampant sexual abuse or a hundred other social issues, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and think, “I wish someone would do something. If we had better legislation… If only major organizations would enforce better rules… If the courts weren’t so crooked…”
Fortunately, we do know someone who can bring the change we’re longing to see.
Gary Wilkerson said, “When we throw out these phrases like, ‘Jesus is the answer,’ you can sound like a cliché to people that don't understand what we're talking about.
“But you're putting real meat on the bones when you talk about how Jesus is the answer to the gang problem, the drug problem, the poverty problem, the problem of refugees, immigrants coming into a country, legally or illegally….”
Real social problems demand a real savior, and a lasting solution will only come when the children of God begin working and, through us, our Father brings heaven to earth.