Why Do Social Justice?
by Jack Wald | November 2nd, 2014

Various

Do you remember the story of Job in the Old Testament? Job was a wealthy man who was (Job 1:1) “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” And then disaster hit. Bad news after bad news arrived and then Job was struck by painful sores from head to toe.

Job sat in the ashes of his repentance. He went over in his mind all that he had lost. He had been prosperous, a man of wealth. He had been the father of a large family. He had been healthy. And now all that was lost. He was poor, his children were dead, and his body was racked in pain.

Job was a righteous man, so why had this happened? In his grief and misery Job asked (Job 21:7–13)
7 Why do the wicked live on,
growing old and increasing in power?
8 They see their children established around them,
their offspring before their eyes.
9 Their homes are safe and free from fear;
the rod of God is not upon them.
10 Their bulls never fail to breed;
their cows calve and do not miscarry.
11 They send forth their children as a flock;
their little ones dance about.
12 They sing to the music of tambourine and harp;
they make merry to the sound of the flute.
13 They spend their years in prosperity
and go down to the grave in peace.

It’s not fair.

The prophet Jeremiah complained to God (Jeremiah 12:1–2)
You are always righteous, O Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?
2 You have planted them, and they have taken root;
they grow and bear fruit.
You are always on their lips
but far from their hearts.

It’s not fair.

As I mentioned in the RICEmail this past week, if life is a 1500 meter race, we do not all get to start at the same point. Some begin the race only 100 meters from the end while others get a late start because they had to walk to the stadium. We don’t get to choose our parents and yet they play a large role in how easy or difficult our life will be. We can be born into privilege and wealth or born into poverty and servitude. We don’t get to choose what country we are born in or the body we receive, and yet these determine how we will be treated. As a white American, I am treated far better in Morocco than a black African. This has nothing to do with who we are as people; it is all about how who we are is perceived by others.

Life is not fair.

We are not all given the same ability. Even if I trained as hard as a world-class athlete, I would never be a world-class athlete. Even if I studied as hard as the top-level academics, I would never be a top-level academic. The body and mind I was given will not take me to those levels. Some received ten talents and others five and others one. We are not all given the same tools to work with.

Life is not fair.

So how do we deal with all of this? The writer of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 8:14) observed the unfairness of life and declared it to be meaningless.
There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.

So what the writer of Ecclesiastes recommended is this (Ecclesiastes 8:15)
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.

Eat, drink, don’t think about what you cannot understand, and be merry.

Ecclesiastes is a great book (one of my favorites in the Bible) because it shows clearly what life is like without Jesus. In seminary, one of my professors asked what we would do if it could be clearly demonstrated that Jesus had not been resurrected from the dead. One of my classmates said he would buy a case of beer, sit under the shade of a tree reading Ecclesiastes, and wait for the Messiah to come. Without Jesus, life is meaningless.

But we are blessed because Jesus did raise from the dead and we have hope in this meaningless world the writer of Ecclesiastes observed. We have hope because Jesus raised from the dead and promises us that if we hold on to him, we too will be raised from the dead into eternal life.

This gives us a new identity. Peter wrote in his letter about who we are. (1 Peter 2:9–12)
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

Life is not meaningless because we have been chosen, we have been made holy, we belong to God. We have a home and as we pass through this life which often does not make sense, we pass through it with hope because we know that this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers in this world, heading toward our eternal home.

There is nothing more important than this. Holding on to Jesus through all the joys and sorrows, all the encouragement and discouragement of life is our highest priority. When we come to the end of our life, regardless of how easy or difficult our life has been, what matters is that we are holding on to Jesus and trusting him to take us home.

Since there is nothing more important than this, some have argued that it does not make sense to place too much importance on feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, working to correct the injustice of the world. Teach and preach, evangelize, take the gospel out into all the world, that is what some have argued is of first importance. Why should we put time and energy into caring for the needs of the poor and weak? Why should we do social justice?

Social justice is defined as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” These are not equally distributed. Why should we care that those who are left out are given special help? Why should we spend time, energy, and money to help those who are left behind?

In the coming weeks we will examine aspects of social justice; today I want to focus on why we should help. Let me share four reasons why we should work for social justice.

The first is that humans are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26–27)
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Human beings are special in all of creation. Alone, of all that God created, humans are created in God’s image. Ants and cockroaches are not. Ants and cockroaches are actually wonderful creations. If we were to try to create a mechanical ant or cockroach, it would be an incredible feat. But when they invade our villas or apartments, we can spray them, step on them, kill them. I think about how wonderfully they are created when I pick up a dead cockroach and carry it to the trash, but I do not feel any remorse. While it is a marvelous creation, it has no special value.

This is not true for humans. Because humans are created in the image of God, we need to treat each other with respect. If we fail to view humans as being created in the image of God, then humans are no more valuable than any other species and can be stepped on and discarded.

Racists view those who are not like them as inferior. Sexists violate the principle of equality by favoring the interests of their own sex. Racism and sexism both deny that those of different races or sexes are created in the image of God and therefore have value.

But now the failure to see that humans are created in the image of God has led to speciesism which says that humans have no more value than dogs or cats, birds or mice, ants or cockroaches. Because humans do not have any special value, humans are either useful or not. Humans are valued if they contribute to the welfare of society and discarded if they do not. This opens up the path to killing the weak and disabled who are a drain on the resources of society.

This is not how God views humans and it is not how we are to view each other. C.S. Lewis holds up the Biblical view of humans by saying:
There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit

Tim Keller writes that
The Bible teaches that the sacredness of God has in some ways been imparted to humanity, so that every human life is sacred and every human being has dignity. When God put his image upon us, we became beings of infinite, inestimable value.

Because of this we are to treat other humans with dignity. We are not permitted by God’s law to murder humans. We are not permitted by God’s law to curse humans. We are not permitted by God’s law to abuse humans. The image of God carries with it the right to not be mistreated. There are men and women who do terrible things and some of these things they do demand punishment. But even when that punishment is death, they are humans who deserve to be treated with dignity.

A beggar needs to be respected. We don’t have to give money, but we have to notice them, be aware that they are humans. We need to treat them with dignity. I will talk more about this in a later sermon.

And it is particularly our responsibility to value those in the community of followers of Jesus. In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, Jesus taught, (Matthew 25:34–40 )
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

We will be judged by how we treated our brothers and sisters in Christ. This does not give us license to mistreat those who are not followers of Jesus, but there is a special responsibility to care for those within our community of followers of Jesus. These brothers and sisters in Christ are not only created in the image of God but they are fellow pilgrims; we are all heading for the same eternal home. Our brothers and sisters in Christ will be our eternal neighbors.

A second reason for doing social justice is that we who follow Jesus are a community who should model ourselves after the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed in relationship for an eternity before the world was created. When God created men and women, he created them in his image with the intention that they would live in community like the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the focus of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. (John 17:11, 20–22)
Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:

Our fellowship is to mimic the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the relationship of the Trinity, there is mutual submission. Each member of the Trinity gives glory to the other two persons of the Trinity. The needs of each person of the Trinity are met completely by the other persons of the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity is respected, valued, encouraged, supported, esteemed. In the relationship of the Trinity there is no exploitation, no disrespect, no abuse.

We are created by God to be in fellowship with those he has called to be his daughters and sons. When we ignore, devalue, or discriminate against those who are God’s children, we work against God’s purposes and God’s heart. We are not the community of believers he wants us to be.

A third reason for doing social justice is that we are called to take on Jesus’ heart for the world. (1 John 3:16–18)
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Read through the gospels and you will see this pattern: Jesus looked, he saw, he had compassion, and he acted. We look around at the world but we do not always see. Jesus looked and then he saw. He thought about what he was seeing. He did not simply observe what people looked like, what clothes they were wearing. He saw their needs. He saw their situation. Then Jesus had compassion and acted.

So he saw a funeral procession with a widow walking along the dead body of her only son. He understood that this left her in financial ruin. He saw her desperate condition and he had compassion and acted. He raised her son to life and gave the widow back her emotional, social, and financial future.

The needs in the world are enormous and we have limited resources, but even if we are not able to help materially, we can have compassion for them. We need to see, not just look at the people we pass by. It is easy to be judgmental but we do not know the story of each person’s life.

In Deuteronomy 8 Moses warns the Israelites (Deuteronomy 8:11–18)
11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth,

Resist the impulse to become arrogant and claim credit for all you have. Be grateful for the ability God has given you, the advantages that came with your birth, the opportunities that have come your way – and have compassion for those whose life is much more difficult than yours has been.

As you look, see, and have compassion, then let God direct you in the way you can act to help those who have need. Even if you are not able to help, have the heart of Jesus for the people in need you meet.

A fourth reason why we should do social justice is that if we do not have the heart of Jesus for the world and do not have compassion for those he loves, then all our other religious acts are meaningless. (Isaiah 1:10–17)
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

If you do not have the heart of Jesus for those you meet, then it is an indication that there is something more important than Jesus in your life. It might be that we are holding on to our money and possessions, unwilling to share what we have with others. It might be that we don’t want to give up our time and comfort. It might be that we have a prejudice against someone. Whatever the reason, there is something deeper in us than our faith in Jesus. Our faith is more superficial than what is controlling us.

Look at the verbs in this passage from Isaiah: Seek, encourage, defend, plead. This is not a passive awareness of injustice. We are called to an active role in caring for the oppressed, the fatherless, and the widow.

The men and women and children we see are created in the image of God. This gives them value, despite how the world has treated them, despite how they have adapted to cope with the difficulty of their life.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are not only created in the image of God, they are heading, with us, to our eternal home and we will be judged by how we cared for them. As you read the Bible and pray and reflect, allow your heart to be transformed. Let your heart take on the concerns of the heart of Jesus. This will allow the Holy Spirit to work at the deepest levels of your heart so that your prayers and devotion to God will be reflected in the way you care about the people around you.

As I have preached, I would imagine you have had a lot of questions. I have a lot of questions and in the coming weeks I will try to address them. It will be very helpful to me if you let me know what questions you have. Write them down and give them to me or send them to me by email.

We are heading together toward our eternal home. Let’s raise our questions and try to address them so we are able to travel as pilgrims through this world in a spirit of unity.