Finance Can Be a Means of Justice and Love

Article / Produced by TOW Project
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Finance makes certain activities of justice and love possible. We are using Wolterstorff’s conception of justice wherein persons are to be treated with due respect for their rights as humans.[1] Wolterstorff’s theistic account bases these human rights solely on the fact that every human is bestowed the honor of being loved by God. Thus “on account of God’s attachment to human beings, one wrongs God by injuring a human being.”[2] This God-human relationship is what gives rise to human rights, which in turn forms our conception of justice. We are also using Wolterstorff’s “care” idea of love which he calls care-agapism—that is seeking to bring about the flourishing of another human as an end in itself, and with due respect for that person as a human.[3] His argument is that love as care is the best way to understand biblical love (agape), because care incorporates justice into love. “Care includes seeking that the beloved be treated justly. And care is the sort of love that is typical of love for oneself, that Jesus attributes to God for us, and that Jesus enjoins on us for God and for our neighbor. Understanding love as care gives us a unified understanding of these four manifestations of love.”[4] Care includes action, probably involving some risk or sacrifice on the part of the lover.

Love manifested in care is consistent with other Christian conceptions of justice and love. For example, Chris Wright shows that the major biblical themes of righteousness and justice are closely related concepts meaning “what needs to be done in a particular circumstance or relationship” to restore things to what they ought to be.[5] Wright goes on to argue that God chose Abraham specifically as a way to advance his mission of blessing the nations with justice and righteousness.[6] It follows that the reason God chose us was to bless those around us with justice and righteousness. Wright’s argument gives us the reason to actually practice this love. We are mandated by God to bless those around us by showing love, that is by bringing about their flourishing in a way that respects them as people loved by God.

And to whom do we show this love and justice? Jesus said his most important teaching is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 10), which echoed Moses’ earlier teaching.[7] Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan illustrates that our neighbor is anybody we can show love and justice to, even those with whom we do not have a prior relationship. Or as Wolterstorff says, “I take Jesus to be enjoining us to be alert to the obligation placed upon us by the needs to whomever we happen on.”[8]

Wolterstorff’s concepts of justice and love are useful for understanding God’s intended purpose for finance for two reasons. First, finance can be useful for bringing about the flourishing of another human, with due respect for that person as a human. Finance provides access to resources. The resources that finance allows to be reallocated can help people flourish, and sharing resources in a mutually beneficial voluntary way is an excellent way, although not the only way, to show due respect for another human. This is the essence of justice. If you don’t have resources you need now in order to be productive, and if you are willing to share some of the increase with me later, then it is only just that we would lend, borrow and repay out of respect for each other. Second, finance can be a means to love neighbors—in the sense of caring about their flourishing—with whom we do not have a personal relationship or who do not live nearby. Well-constructed financial arrangements—along with a good legal system—make it possible for strangers to borrow and lend with confidence of a proper return. In this way, we can share resources for mutual benefit far beyond our personal circles. Not all financial arrangements embody justice and love in these ways, but they could and they should. Chaplin urges us to transform institutions, perhaps radically, so they “embody the central norm of love” and so they serve as “conduits” for love and justice.[9]