The blog*spot of Dale Wayne Campbell, NOW coming at you from Auckland, New Zealand. (!)


Justice - June 24, 2007

Tonight’s topic is, of course, ‘Justice’. It is, truly, one of the most relevant topics to the 21st century world. Most of you know me well enough to expect a mention of Tom Wright at least somewhere in this message, so I’ll waste no time and make a reference to one of his many books, ‘Simply Christian’. In it, he opens with 4 chapters under the heading ‘echoes of a voice’. He discusses the 4 key areas of relationships, beauty, spirituality, and of course, Justice.

He describes how in each of these areas – not least in the area of Justice – our search for them goes well unfinished. We can imagine what true justice might look like in the world; we can imagine a world where no one goes hungry, where wages are fair, where judgements and decisions are made apart from distortions of personal or other gain. But… we find ourselves completely helpless in our efforts to bring such a world into being.

In keeping with his metaphor of ‘echoes of a voice’, we hear, as it were, the voices of true relationships, true beauty, true spirituality and true justice ‘echoing’ as if coming from just around the corner. We walk curiously around the corner to find that the echo now seems – elusively – just around the next corner. We just can’t seem to ever quite get there.

Simply put, whether it’s things in our private lives, things in our families, things in our communities, things in our churches, things in our nations and yes – things in the world; ‘things’ are not ‘right’ – and these ‘things’ need to be ‘righted’. The biblical mandate, command, instruction, plea, instruction, etc. is for humans (as God’s image-bearing creatures) and especially the church (as the renewed version of that image!) to be GOD’S AGENTS in ‘righting’ what is not ‘right.’


Tonight’s message will follow the following basic outline: first, I will discuss ‘justice’ in ethical terms, and along the way show that ‘justice’ is, in fact, a thoroughly biblical theme; second, I will discuss how ‘justice’ works together with ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’, and highlight the need for all three – not just one; finally, we will look at a few things that perhaps keep us from being people of justice.

‘Justice’ in Ethical (and biblical!) terms

In the past weeks, we’ve talked about several of these Christian virtues (love, courage, etc.) in terms of being balanced between two vices. I think it is helpful to discuss true ‘justice’ in this way as well. Justice, like love and courage is not something or some action you DO, but a character, a virtue that is evidenced by how one reacts to or lives in certain circumstances. Last week the clear example was that true ‘patience’ is shown in un-patient circumstances.

Justice, then, is shown in the midst of in-justice. It has EVERYTHING to do with REACTING to injustice. We can OVER-react or UNDER-react. True Justice, I suggest, is between the extreme of OVER-reactive ‘vengeance’ on one hand, and the other extreme of UNDER-reactive ‘In-action’ on the other hand. Vengeance arrogantly tries too hard or in the wrong way to ‘fix’ the situation, and In-action, of course, does nothing. There is a time to act, and a time to not-act, of course, but the ‘vengeance’ and ‘in-action’ I am describing are mistakes for these reasons: On one hand, vengeance, thinking its extreme action will fix the problem, ends up making it far worse; on the other hand, in-action, thinking its passivity is ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’, leaves the injustice un-helped.

Also, how we THINK about injustice is HUGE. It is our THINKING about injustice that leads us to how we ACT concerning injustice – whether we act with ‘justice’ or one of the extremes of ‘vengeance’ or ‘inaction’. The aggressiveness of ‘vengeance’ is driven by attitudes of anger and/or hatred, while the passiveness of ‘inaction’ is driven by attitudes of apathy and/or carelessness.

Hopefully, as I’ve talked about our responsibility to respond to injustice and the ways in which we can respond wrongly, you have already thought of various Bible passages that confirm what I’m saying.

(On that note, I suggest that simply because a message or sermon is loaded with quotations of Bible verses, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is rightly dividing or rightly presenting the biblical material. The opposite is also true; just because a message or sermon may not quote many or any bible verses, doesn’t mean that it is expressing unbiblical ideas. Listening to a sermon or message is not an inactive or passive thing. You need to – you MUST – test every single thing that Peter, Shawn, I or anyone else says – especially Peter McGhee! :) )

At any rate, there are numerous verses that relate to these ideas. In Romans 12, a passage about not repaying evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good, Paul quotes the Law of Moses – ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay!’ which, of course, warns against the extreme action of vengeance. To demonstrate God’s heart against the other extreme of inaction, I would, perhaps suggest reading the opening chapters of Isaiah. Note the action-implied verbs in this famous but largely un-obeyed verse – Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Learn! Do! Seek! Reprove! Defend! Plead! That is NOT inaction! It’s justice!!!

If that’s not enough, take Micah 6:8 where he sums up what God requires for his people – ‘what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God? Want more? Just about any book by an Old Testament prophet will do! If you have been deluded into thinking that the Old Testament ‘doesn’t matter for today’ then please read the words of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and John!!!

While you’re at it, you might want to consider actually paying attention to the excellent studies in Titus we’re doing! Perhaps you can count the number of times Paul uses the phrase ‘good deeds’ or ‘good works’ in one of his shortest epistles! Let me be clear, we’re not talking AT ALL about earning your way to God or being ‘good enough’ to be saved. But ever since Luther, we’ve almost been scared to death to tell anyone they should be doing anything! That’s precisely the role of the prophet!

OK, now that we’ve presented the case that justice is indeed a key biblical theme (!), let’s now consider how ‘justice’ works alongside the other biblical themes of ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’.

Mercy, Grace, AND Justice

First, and quickly, the difference between ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’. We’ve been talking about justice, as an attempt to ‘right’ what is ‘wrong’; to react appropriately toward injustice; to give injustice what it deserves. ‘Mercy’ is different to ‘justice’ in that ‘mercy’ does not give what is deserved. It pardons the criminal and lets him/her go free. Now, ‘grace’ takes it a step further, in that ‘grace’ gives what is undeserved. It is the language of ‘gifting’ or ‘gracing’ someone.

If justice is a biblical theme, and it is, then mercy and grace are most certainly also biblical themes. For some reason, I think we talk more about mercy and grace than we do about justice. In light of this, I think justice is particularly one of the more important areas of concern for the church today, especially for the comfortable, complacent, Western, affluent church. The people of God are called to be people of mercy and grace, yes (make no mistake!), but we are also called to be people of justice.

Not only do we need to show ALL three at various times, I want to suggest that we all will be met by all three at the hands of God Himself. God is not only infinitely merciful and infinitely gracious, He is also infinitely just. Like the mystery of God’s sovereignty AND our free will both being realities, I suggest that God’s mercy, grace AND justice are ALL part of His character.

God’s grace says that you will be given what you didn’t earn – i.e. salvation.

God’s mercy says that you will not be given what you deserve – i.e. punishment

God’s justice says that you will get what you deserve – i.e. rewards (good/bad)

God most certainly is an impartial judge, but he doesn’t have to blindfold Himself to do so. God’s judgements are perfectly in accordance with His character; and He is THE merciful, gracious and just God. Finally, let us consider some obstacles in the way of us becoming and being people of justice.

The struggle for True Justice

Half of these obstacles could be summarised by the great obstacle of all obstacles – our sin and selfishness. The other half could be put to simply ignorance. Ignorance of reality and ignorance of just how difficult things really are. We’ll look quickly at some examples as we close.

First, we are lazy. I found a quote by William Easterly, from his book, “The White Man’s Burden; Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done So Much Ill and so Little Good”

[A tragedy of the world’s poor has been that] the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get four-dollar bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get three dollars to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths.

… It is heart-breaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it can’t get twelve-cent medicine to dying poor children.

Tonnes and tonnes of grain and resources have literally been parachute-dumped into poverty-stricken areas of the world, only to be quickly seized by local bullies or others with power. This and other troubling examples, show how simply ‘throwing’ foreign aid at the poor will not cause lasting change and has little or nothing to do with true justice. True justice is hard. This is what is encouraging about organisations like Tear Fund. They do the hard work and get involved in the communities they are trying to serve. They operate in ways that meet real needs in real and lasting ways. Aid without concern is dangerous. Aid to relieve guilt is dangerous. Lazy aid is no aid at all.

Secondly, we don’t care enough. This of course, has to do with the attitude discussed earlier – apathy. For too many of us, if everything seems fine in our lives, we would rather not think too hard or for too long about how things are in other peoples’ lives.

It’s probably not the best example, and not meaning to unjustly criticise any government, but it could be said that many welfare systems operate just well enough to keep people quiet. Actually moving people from being un-skilled and un-employed to being skilled and employed is very, very hard work. Many welfare systems don’t end up encouraging people to gain skills and work. Indeed, these are merely a few brief thoughts dealing with very complex and confusing issues, but I think it’s a fair summary to say that a good welfare system gives people a hand-up, not a hand-out. And this balance is simply too hard. I don’t think all the blame can go to government, either. The public doesn’t seem to care enough to pay the amount of taxes needed to develop and maintain a caring, working, balanced welfare project.

Which leads us to a third hurdle – justice is just simply HARD. It takes work. The fight for justice is against very tough, but real circumstances. One example might be the education systems like NZQA. There are very real and difficult inequalities in the world of education. How do we fix it? What does justice look like here? I’m thinking that helping the struggling ones is a good thing, and many attempts to do so look good in the short term; but how do we do that without lowering standards for them and crippling them in the long run?

Our work for justice needs to be a labour that is empowered and energised by love. Working for justice takes all of you – heart, mind, soul and strength. It takes endurance to keep going when things don’t work out like you thought. It is really, cool, hip and trendy to be all-out for fair trade or to sound the so-called ‘global warming’ alarm – and there are very real issues in both of these areas, but we need to be somewhere between jumping on the band-wagon on one hand, and scoffing at it on the other. With all these issues and more, there are difficult questions to be asked and difficult answers to search for. Justice is just simply HARD. But those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles. If you abide in Christ our life, our vine of spiritual strength you WILL bear the good fruit of justice. So – church – Learn to do good; Seek Justice.




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