Keller: What is doing justice?

Someone said to me a while back that most Christians do not care much about justice. My thought: Have they not read the Bible?

Timothy Keller’s book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, connects the grace of God with the divine concern for justice. The first chapter is called, “What is Doing Justice?” Here are some highlights:

Micah 6:8 says, “And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Keller says that verse is a summary of how God wants us to live. “To walk with God, then we must do justice, out of merciful love.” (p.3)

The author focuses on the Hebrew term, mishpat.

“Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. … But mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means to give people their rights. … Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.

“This is why, if you look at every place the word is used in the Old Testament, several classes of persons continually come up. Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor–those who have been called ‘the quartet of the vulnerable.’ …

“The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups. Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet is not called merely lack of mercy or charity, but a violation of justice, of mishpat. (pp.3-5)

“… [F]rom ancient times, the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor.” (p.6)

The Hebrew word tzadeqah means “being just” or “being righteous” (p.10)

“… [I]n the Bible tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity, and equity.” (p.10)

Ezekiel 18:5, 7-8a indicates “that if you do not actively and generously share your resources with the poor, you are a robber.” (pp.16-17)

That’s a brief introduction to chapter one. I was probably most taken with his phrase, “the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor.” It’s also why the early Christians stood out among everyone else. Today we don’t stand out; we blend in. If we are wealthy and powerful then we tend to act like others in our social class, not like those in the Jesus class. And most of us have a relative wealth that is unheard of in human history. I guess this means we are really worshiping the ancient pagan gods and not the Yahweh of Scripture.


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