Some Brief Thoughts on the Nature and Ethics of Justice: Social Justice vs Biblical Justice (Part I)
What are the guiding criteria, protocols, and boundary-markers to differentiate social justice issues and biblical justice issues? Are there any? Are there any common or shared values between biblical justice and social justice?
In this brief post, I will define biblical justice as revelatory issues distinctively from God to humanity; whereas social justice issues represent a human-value system. I will also suggest that the divine justice theory aims at achieving human flourishing and the common good for all of God’s creation– to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. On the other hand, because human beings are created in the Imago Dei, the social justice theory somewhat may reveal and communicate certain aspects of God’s theory of justice.
While the biblical notion of justice is rooted in the very character of God & counter-culture largely, we should not dismiss quickly those who are crying & yearning for the triumph of social justice in our culture. Christians have a lot to learn from this country’s Social Justice Movements–both past and contemporary. I’m not sure if it is possible to preach the Gospel authentically and champion the ethics of Jesus in the public sphere without moving by compassion and empathy toward those suffering by the social injustices of our contemporary political system and cultural ideologies.
The God of the Bible states bluntly that “I, the Lord, love justice.” Since this is the case, the idea of justice, from a biblical perspective, is linked to the very nature, character, and action of the biblical God. (We can rightly argue the concept of divine injustice is not a biblical category since there is no injustice in and from God, as attested by God Himself and the biblical writers; by contrast, both social justice and social injustice are justifiable expressions. Nonetheless, divine justice could be channelled through our social justice system.) Thus, any form of social injustice that is an antithesis to the biblical justice challenges God’s character and work.
Yet, if a social injustice is a sin, as it is alligned with the biblical definition of divine transgression or as conceived as so by God Himself, this issue could be well classified as a matter of biblical (in) justice. By contrast, from the perspective of biblical justice which is sometines goes against the value and grain of the culture, not all social injustice issues should be interpreted as sinful, as these social justice matters may be classified as so by the virtue of their legality, or they may be shaped by the political system, or some forms of cultural desire, cultural order or cultural adaptation that do not exhibit the heart of biblical justice. (One should remember that legality does not mean biblical or not all that is lawlful is also biblical. In other words, while some of our contemporary legal codes may be a reflection or an outcome of “The divine law,” not all legal codes, legislations or amendments have a divine impulse.)
For example, in the era of slavery, many believed that, unfortunately among both Christians and non-Christians, slavery as a human system was good for the society, and that for many Americans the institution of slavery was a legal and social justice issue. Racism or racial discrimination, many individuals would argue, is a social justice issue. In our contemporary society, for many individuals, same-sex marriage/transgender is not only a legal/political matter, it is also a social justice issue that promotes both individual freedom and citizen rights and freedom of choice and expression.
On the other hand, most Evangelical Christians and a lot of people in our culture would argue that 1) racism is wrong because it denies the Image of God in the person subject to racist treatment and discrimination; 2) slavery (contemporary human trafficking) is/was wrong because everyone is created equal, and that no one should enslave another person or sell human flesh for the sake of economic gain or financial stability and wealth; and 3) abortion is wrong, unbiblical, and sinful because it is murder, undermines the sacredness of life, and that it is the annihilation of one’s life; 4) ethnic cleansing is ungodly because it advances the notion one ethnic group is far superior than another ethnic group, and that it denies the equality of all ethnic groups and people, as created by God; and 5) finally, same sex marriage is unbiblical, unnatural, and sinful because it is contrary to God’s plan for the family and for man and woman in marriage. All of these issues fall under the category of “divine justice.”
While certain issues in our contemporary sociey may be deemed social justice, they do not, however, fall under the category of biblical justice. Certain Biblical justice issues are countercultural and do not represent the value of our contemporary culture.
Not all biblical justice issues are social justice issues. In the same way, not all biblical justice issues represent the value of our contemporary culture nor do they correctly demonstrate the plan and will of God for the family, society, government, and humanity.