“He has shown you, O mortal, 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
Our concept of justice usually revolves around some vision of the law — whether that’s policing, court proceedings, or whichever version of Law & Order you prefer. According to Merriam-Webster, justice is “the maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” But if we look at the concept of justice from a Biblical perspective, we get to the heart of what justice really is.
Mishpat is the modern Hebrew word for law, and if I were more of a theologian or Biblical scholar, I’d probably say that its meaning from the Bible goes much further than just being the word for ‘law.’ The Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, detailed “mishpatim” as one of the main categories of Jewish law — mainly ethical precepts, and this is where mishpat gains its modern concept. Mishpat means to treat others as the image of God and to pursue what is right for others actively. Mishpat is a “justly ordered society.” If we look at the definition of justice from this lens, we go way beyond Merriam-Webster or Law & Order reruns!
“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the Earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” — Jeremiah 9:24
God gives us clear instructions when it comes to justice. Jesus not only means for us to follow Him, but we should also emulate Him. God calls us to pursue justice for others. Very early on, we learn that we have a responsibility to others; we are our brother’s keeper. God “delights” in practicing steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. And He delights when we do likewise. Part of our mandate as Christians is to not only do right ourselves but to pursue right for others who lack it. If we take a broader view of ourselves as Christians, we acknowledge that we are our brother’s keeper, and we must treat each other justly.
Paul gives us clear guidance to meet this requirement. In Romans 12:9–21, Paul lays out some instructions for us to follow. For me, two jump out. Verse 10 tells us to “Love one another with brotherly affection.” And verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
So what is our call to action? For too long, too many of us have remained quiet at our own expense. I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve often found physical courage more abundant than moral courage — not just in others, but myself included. We cannot allow injustice to persist because it’s too uncomfortable. We can start by speaking up and speaking out. It’s not enough for us to be just; we must actively counter injustice. On this note, every voice matters — your voice matters. Second, we have to act to end injustice where we see it when we see it. It could be on the job, working to change an unjust policy, or advocating for a disadvantaged person. Finally, we need to be the example. We, as Christians, can and should lead the march to justice. Moreover, as citizens of the United States, we have a responsibility to help our nation become a more perfect Union.