A little over two years ago I wrote a post called "What's all this 'Justice' stuff anyway?" about my growing and changing understanding of biblical justice. In that post, I promised to write more about my journey within the week. But of course, I haven't written any.
So you are probably thinking that I am a promise breaker at best, and a bold faced liar at worst. But give me a break because I have been trapped in The Land of The Lost alongside Enik the sleestack philosopher.
[Enik waxes philosophical about his crystals and pylons. Live long and prosper, Enik.]
During my time with Enik, I read a book by Ken Wytsma called "Pursuing Justice". He has a concise explanation of justice: truth is what is, justice is what ought to be.
Of course, if you are one of the poor souls that has been lulled into believing that there is no such thing as ought, then this explanation is meaningless. But a post about relativism is for another day. Presuming we can agree that there is such a thing as ought, how can we know what it is?
If we are talking about biblical justice, then we have to consider two Hebrew terms: mishpat and tzadequa. In his excellent article in Relevant magazine, Tim Kellar explains these terms well.
"These two words roughly correspond to what some have called 'primary' and 'rectifying justice.' Rectifying justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else. Therefore, though tzadeqah is primarily about being in a right relationship with God, the righteous life that results is profoundly social."
Growing up in Texas as a white Baptist Republican male, the only type of justice I had ever heard of was the kind described by the mishpat, or rectifying justice. In other words, my understanding of justice was when criminals get what they deserve. When and if the criminal justice system doesn't work right, which was very seldom, then justice had to be dealt by superheroes or vigilantes, but ultimately, my understanding of justice was about proper punishment and retribution. Anyone who disagreed was probably a socialist in disguise. Pinkos!
But a biblical understanding of justice has to start with a biblical understanding of what ought to be. This takes us to the doctrine of the fall. Specifically, when man first sinned, he broke everything. It was cosmic in scope. Not only was man's relationship to God marred, but so was his relationship to the environment, his relationship to other people, and even his relationship to himself.
Here's something that escaped me along my journey, that systems can be broken too. Economic systems, political systems, educational systems - all of these are made by broken people and are, themselves, broken. I don't mean they are entirely dysfunctional, but they work imperfectly. They tend to favor some folks more than others. They tend to favor white Baptist Republican males from Texas a whole lot, in fact. Sometimes people with good intentions, for whom the systems have worked well, think that complaints about unfairness are largely imagined. After all, the systems have worked well from their perspective.
So not only do broken people cause problems, but broken systems do to. These problems read like a laundry list of today's headlines: the blind and headlong pursuit of money and power (the OT word is idolatry), climate change and disease, wars and terrorism, and even self-image problems ranging from arrogance and hubris to feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness.
And so we can say that what ought to be is what was meant to be. What ought to be is how things are supposed to be, how they were created to be: good. (By the way, let's agree not to let disagreements about how to bring about justice overshadow our unity about the need for justice itself!) Peace and harmony in all these areas, in all these relationships, is captured well by another Hebrew word, shalom.
So justice, specifically the tzadeqah justice, is about having all relationships healed, repaired, and redeemed, how they were meant to be, designed to be. It's about shalom throughout all our relationships. And this healing work is, of course, made possible by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. This is not limited to our soul's relationship to God, Christ's redemption is about healing everything that was broken - every person, every relationship, every system.
So for me, authors like like Tim Kellar, Ken Wytsma, and Enik have been tranformative to my understanding. And I am responding.
I have formed an organization called the Justice and Mercy Engineering Society (JAMES) which operates as a program under the respected 501(c)-3 non-profit, Mission Waco. The purpose of JAMES is to train engineers (and other technical types) to serve in developing countries with non-profits, missions, and other groups that are doing the work of justice, the work of the kingdom. Specifically, we can train you in regards to off-grid electrical systems (like solar) and water systems.
JAMES is also sponsoring a simulcast of the nationally known event called The Justice Conference. The conference will feature world-class speakers and artists and will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst for good works all over the world.
If you are in Central Texas area, please join us on June 6. The event has already been paid for, so there is not cost to you, but you need to register for it here. Don't miss it; Enik will be there signing his new book.