“Giving your money to the poor is not justice; it’s mercy. Taking other people’s money by force (whether through the government or any other means) and giving it to the poor is neither justice nor mercy; it’s injustice—it’s taking what someone else has earned, against his will, for either yourself or others. Does this mean giving to the poor is wrong? Of course not! Should the rich man give to the poor? Absolutely!”
(Amy K. Hall – Stand To Reason) Our ability to explain the gospel to people in our culture depends on our culture’s ability to understand the concept of justice. Because of this, over the years I’ve become concerned about a drift in the meaning of the word “justice”—even in Christian circles (see here for a recent example), among respected friends I usually agree with—as the term “social justice” is increasingly embraced and used.
I appreciated Kevin DeYoung’s words on this topic last week:
I have my concerns with the term “social justice” and with all that it connotes. But what if we press for a less culturally controlled and more biblically defined understanding? Several years ago, I worked my way through the major justice passages in the Bible: Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25,Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22, Amos 5, Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46,and Luke 4. My less-than-exciting conclusion was that we should not oversell or undersell what the Bible says about justice. On the one hand, there is a lot in the Bible about God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. There are also plenty of warnings against treating the helpless with cruelty and disrespect. On the other hand, justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. Doing justice means following the rule of law, showing impartiality, paying what you promised, not stealing, not swindling, not taking bribes, and not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you.