If you were a praying mantis, it would be socially acceptable to devour your mate. And if you’re a honey badger, you have no regard for other animals, you don’t care. If you’re a Panda with twins, it’s normal to abandon one to take care of the other.But if humans do any of these things, we would call it wrong, unfair, or unjust.
Why do humans care so much about justice?
Well, the Bible has a fascinating response to that question. On page 1, humans are set apart from all other creatures as “the image of God.” God’s representatives who rule the world by His definition of good and evil. And this identity, it’s the bedrock of the Bible’s view of justice: all humans are equal before God, and have the right to be treated with dignity and fairness, no matter who you are. And that would be nice if we all did that, but we know how the world really works. And the Bible addresses that too: it shows how we are constantly redefining good and evil, to our own advantage at the expense of others.
Self-preservation, and the weaker someone is, the easier it is to take advantage of them.
And so in the biblical story, we see this happening on a personal level, but also in families, and then in communities, and then whole civilizations that create injustice, especially towards the vulnerable. But the story doesn’t end there. Out of this whole mess, God chose a man named Abraham to start a new kind of family. Specifically, Abraham was to teach his family to “keep the way of the Lord, by doing righteousness and justice.”
Doing Righteousness? That’s a Bible word I don’t really use, but what comes to mind is being a good person.
But what does that even mean, “being good?” The biblical Hebrew word for “Righteousness,” is tsedeqah, and it’s more specific: it’s an ethical standard that refers to right relationships between people; it’s about treating others as the “image of God.” With the God-given dignity they deserve. And this word “justice” it’s the Hebrew word mishpat. It can refer to retributive justice. Like if I steal something, I pay the consequences.
Yet most often in the Bible, Mishpat refers to, restorative justice. It means going a step further, actually seeking out vulnerable people who are being taken advantage of and helping them.
Some people call this charity. But mishpat involves way more, it means taking steps to advocate for the vulnerable, and changing social structures to prevent injustice.
So justice and righteousness are about a radical, selfless way of life.