Three things the Bible says about justice
Micah 6:8 – He has shown you, o mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Here are three brief reflections on how important this verse is for speaking and acting for justice today.
God shows us that he cares for everything and everyone, and calls us to act for justice.
ACT JUSTLY: God wants us to actively pursue justice
It’s easy to pass by on the other side of the road or turn around and run away from difficult justice issues. It often feels like we can’t make any progress, and some argue that we’re not supposed to try to change anything but rather focus on our hope of life after death. But so much of the Bible is focused on the here and now, and calls us to do the right thing. Large portions of the Bible from Exodus and Leviticus to Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos are focused on doing right to others before God – or at least improving them as much as they could.
Justice is not just vertical between us and God, it’s horizontal between us and others. It’s not simply about being made right before God and ready for the afterlife—it’s also about living a life of justice and love towards our neighbours and being fruitful in this life.
In our days, there are many areas of life that are not just. Things are not right between humans and creation. Things are not right between men and women. Things are not right between rich and poor. Working out a plan to achieve justice gets complicated very quickly. It can be tempting to put these issues in the too-hard basket. But again and again, God shows that he cares for everything and everyone, and calls us to act for justice.
We need to act justly in ways that pave a straight path for reconciliation, rather than twisting the knife of vengeance in the wound.
LOVE MERCY: The goal is reconciliation not enmity
Standing against injustice sometimes means speaking out against the practices and people behind the injustice. That’s right and good. People need to be disturbed. Power can be used to help others or be abused. Economic and physical resources can be channelled and shared where needed, and they can also be hoarded by those who feel justified in doing so. These and a thousand other inequities need to be called out.
But as we do, we need to remember the merciful heart of God. Yes, our anger can be righteous. Yes, this can reflect the purifying and transforming rage of God against dehumanising evil. But evil and anger are not where things start with God, and neither are they were things end up. The beginning and the end of God’s story is love and relationship.
Paul says we have been caught up in God’s ministry of reconciliation. We need to act justly in ways that pave a straight path for reconciliation, rather than twisting the knife of vengeance in the wound.
Only when we stop focusing on the great wrong done by the other, can we dare to inspect and right the harm we have contributed to.
WALK HUMBLY: We may be part of the problem
Injustice and harm are cyclical. Hurt people hurt others. Painful anger spills over into violent vengeance. Victims become victimisers. Resentment reigns.
This vicious cycle of vengeance is only halted when we turn from pointing the finger at the other person and look for our part in the problem. Resentment is hardest to surrender when it is the most justified. When the other person really has been harmful, rude, violent and inconsiderate, it is hard to take your hands off their neck. But unless we do, we will stay stuck in vengeance and never achieve the justice God desires.
Only when we stop focusing on the great wrong done by the other, can we dare to inspect and right the harm we have contributed to. Situations we may have seen as 99% their fault and 1% ours, may look different when we let go of resentment. We may have seen their part as obvious and inexcusable and our tiny part as more understandable. But on the other side of surrender, we may see our part with fresh eyes—perhaps clearly enough for us to repent.
This is what it means to act justly God’s way—with mercy and humility.