Does God Care About Social Justice?
The important people of the land have practiced extortion and have committed robbery. They’ve oppressed the poor and mistreated the immigrant. They’ve oppressed and denied justice.
Throughout my twenty-seven years as a teacher of the Bible, I have, upon occasion, said that God cares about social justice. This statement has sometimes gotten me into trouble. I have been accused of being on the left, either theologically or politically or both, because of how I affirmed God’s concern for social justice. “Only liberals talk about social justice,” one man said angrily. “You should stick to the Bible without injecting your own political views.”
Ironically, I agreed with that man...and I still do. I do not think my congregations (either the in-the-flesh or via-the-Net versions) will be served well if I start playing the role of amateur political pundit. I believe my calling as an expositor of Scripture is to teach the Bible as truthfully as I am able, drawing out implications for our lives today. Yet, I’ve found that if I am to be faithful to Scripture, I cannot ignore the issue of social justice, because it is found hundreds of times throughout the sacred text.
Ezekiel 22:29 is just one example. This verse appears in a chapter in which the Lord specifies how his people have sinned. Throughout much of the chapter, he focuses on Israel’s leaders, including princes, priests, and prophets. They have disregarded God’s law, not only through their idolatry, but also through doing things like oppressing immigrants and denying the rights of orphans and widows (22:6).
Like leaders, like people. In verse 29, we read: “The important people of the land have practiced extortion and have committed robbery. They’ve oppressed the poor and mistreated the immigrant. They’ve oppressed and denied justice.” Actually, the Hebrew phrase translated here as “important people of the land” refers to ordinary folk. Following their leaders, they have robbed each other and taken advantage of the powerless. They have practiced injustice in order to line their own pockets and have failed to seek what’s right for others. Thus, the people, like the leaders, stand under God’s judgment.
In light of that passage alone, it’s clear that God cares about social justice (that is, justice in society) and that he judges people who fail to practice it. It seems to me that all biblically-minded Christians should follow God’s lead in our concern for justice among people. Yet, a commitment to social justice does not require us to line up on a particular side politically. How we live out a passion for justice in the political sphere will depend on all sorts of views that are not derived from Scripture, such as the value of the free-enterprise system or the rightful role of the federal government in a democracy.
Surely, Ezekiel 22:29 encourages us to consider how we ought to live out our faith as in the realm of politics. But, even more immediately, it challenges us to look at our own lives. Are we treating the people in our spheres of influence with justice? If we employ or manage people, do we seek their well-being, or do we use them exclusively for our own benefit? Do we take advantage of those who are powerless in our society? Or do we use our power to lift them up? Are we seeking God’s kingdom and justice in every area of our lives?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to the questions in the last paragraph? How might you reflect God’s concern for justice in your daily life?
PRAYER: God of justice, you call us to live with each other in ways that reflect your ordering of society. You judge us when we seek our own advantage in a way that hurts others. You urge us to use our power and privilege for the sake of others, especially those who are poor, oppressed, or socially excluded.
O Lord, may you never look upon me and say that I have oppressed the poor and mistreated the immigrant. Unlike those in the day of Ezekiel, may I never deny the rights of orphans and widows. Instead, may I seek justice for them, as for all people.
I ask you, Lord, to help me know how to express your care for justice in every aspect of my life. May I treat people according to your divine standards, especially those who do not have much power or opportunity.
No matter our political commitments, may we be first and foremost committed to you, your truth, your righteousness, your justice. May we seek first your kingdom and justice in all we do. Amen.