We’ve heard the protests, seen the flags, and read the news all pointing to the cultural truth: people want justice. In a world where people are hated, underprivileged, disadvantaged, exploited, and utterly mistreated, the need for social justice to be addressed sticks out like a lighthouse in a visibility-smothering storm.
In “America’s Duty to Take In Refugees,” Scott Arbeiter pinpoints the massive social-political issue of refugee immigration. Arbeiter sees taking in refugees as a fundamentally American pursuit. He identifies the need for America to accept refugees, while also explaining the harsh reality of skepticism, “Fear of refugees is not new. In 1939, the United States turned away more than 900 Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany because of worries that some might be Nazi conspirators or Communists. More than a quarter of those refugees died in the Holocaust.” This explosive issue calls for action. Giving a home to the homeless and a chance to the chanceless is what Arbeiter sees as, “our new Ellis Island. It is the expression of our faith and our humanity, and it is a worthy response to the legacy we have inherited.”
What does the Christian have to do with doing justice in society? The Bible offers the only true light for how to handle the injustice surrounding us. Biblically, social justice comes from (1) right worship, (2) hating sin, and (3) the desire for flourishing.
Justice and Worship?
In the prophet Amos, God’s people leave living righteously. They sell innocent and needy people into slavery (2:6-7), exploit debtors (2:6-7), oppress the poor (2:8), and abuse women (2:12). The reason Amos gives for this desertion of justice was not because it was too hard, too meticulous, or too undesirable. Rather, righteousness was not found in God’s people because of their worship. Their false-worship was visible through unrighteous living which demonstrated that what they believed was the rudder to the ship of their choices. Rejecting God’s name in worship resulted in wicked living (2:6-8). In Amos, God hated his people’s “worship” because it had no bearing on how they treated others (5:21-25); this patterned sinful lifestyle was a river that flowed into the resulting ocean of hardened hearts and veiled eyes. Finally, God declares “They do not know how to do right” (3:10). The same is true for us today. Our outward acts of justice will flow out of inward devotion to the One who is perfectly just. Worship turns into works. Christians love God, and thus love the world around them.
Not Loving the World
Pause. I thought Jesus warned us not to love the world? How can we care for the world through social justice and not love it at the same time?
Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). And then elsewhere we’re told “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
Instead of removing ourselves from the world as an attempt to avoid their sin, the thrusts of these texts call us not to love the world’s sinful patterns, but we are called to love all those around us. Hating sin is a clear command given to God’s people (Romans 12:9, Colossians 3:5, Amos 5:15). And when it comes to God’s character, the Bible tells us that God is good (Exodus 34:6-7) and decides what is right (Isaiah 45:19). So being transformed into godliness means hating evil and doing what is right. Since sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), our pursuit of the opposite — justice — springs from hating sin.
A Flourishing Life
People who act wisely usually have the bank accounts to prove it. Parents who invest in their children typically win their love. Respectful, kind, caring people normally have impactful reputations. We’d look at these type of people and called them “blessed.” That’s just a fancy word for describing that someone is flourishing — they’re doing well.
The Bible brings up flourishing, too. A lot. For instance, the Christian life is called the blessed or flourishing life. Since God designed us and all of creation, knowing his divinely revealed plan for humanity reveals the secrets to human flourishing. Psalm 1 contains a central passage that defines human flourishing:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3).
Notice what brings flourishing? This man turns away from evil and turns to the Bible. Biblically, the evil and sin that profusely resides in our world contradicts human flourishing. Sin is physical and spiritual self-harm. Christians need loud voices, promoting that which will help humanity prosper: biblical justice, love, peace — human flourishing. This effort also means that we will be against what the Bible defines as evil, injustice, dishonesty — human destruction.
Without the all-illuminating, divinely-breathed Word of God, we are lost to hopelessly define and redefine ethics (and thus human flourishing). When it comes to flourishing, God’s word submits a different narrative than the world. Flourishing is intaking scripture, and putting it into action. The ethical practices prescribed in the Bible go against the grain of worldly logic. The Bible teaches upside-down ethics like: seek others’ good first (1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:4), and don’t seek comfort and security from what this life offers (Matthew 6:33). Jesus is human flourishing incarnated. He beckons us to imitate his message: denying affirms, dying gives life, saving loses, losing saves, and being least is greatest (Luke 9). So really, Jesus turns the world rightside-up.
A Christian response to Jesus’ life and teaching is to live in our unique arenas doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). We should be the loudest voices for social justice flowing from right worship, hatred of sin, and a desire to see all people flourish.