A couple of weeks ago, we were studying the book of Amos. I’d never read the book in its entirety before; it’s pretty stark and depressing. But one of the major themes of the book is justice.
I have to admit: I have a law degree and I can’t even begin to define what justice is.
The first word that comes to mind is fairness. But fairness is relative, of course. Another word is equality. Justice must be available to all, and the rule of law must apply to everyone. Other words I think of include rehabilitation, deterrence, punishment and restitution.
One of the biggest sins that Amos speaks out against is the exploitation of the poor:
Because of the three great sins of Israel
—make that four—I’m not putting up with them any longer.
They buy and sell upstanding people.
People for them are only things—ways of making money.
They’d sell a poor man for a pair of shoes.
They’d sell their own grandmother!
They grind the penniless into the dirt,
shove the luckless into the ditch.
Everyone and his brother sleeps with the ‘sacred whore’—
a sacrilege against my Holy Name.
Stuff they’ve extorted from the poor
is piled up at the shrine of their god,
While they sit around drinking wine
they’ve conned from their victims.
Amos 2:6-8 (The Message)
Right now, these verses bring to mind the factory collapse in Bangladesh where over 1100 people needlessly died. All for what – cheaply made clothes? Injustice screams from the rubble of that building.
Later on, Amos writes:
I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
Amos 5: 21-24 (The Message)
These verses hit me between the eyes. How often have I ignored injustice yet felt like a ‘good Christian’ because I’ve towed the party line or fit the mold? How often have I looked around the church on a Saturday morning and felt somewhat smug about my presence there?
I often think that as Christians, and therefore our churches, have forgotten that we are called to do justice. Sitting in the pew on Saturday or Sunday morning does not make you a true follower of Christ. While I think fellowship with other believers is important, doing justice is more important. Look again at Amos 5: all God wants is justice. That’s it.
Doing justice is hard. It requires you to give up your pride, your comfort and your need for instant gratification. But you don’t need to go to the other side of the world to do justice. You can do justice everyday. Ed Cyzewski hosted a series awhile back about the everyday ins and outs of doing justice. It’s worth a read.
We all want justice in our own lives, yet we’re so loath to practice its principles and fight against the persistent injustices we see all around us. I think the first step is to realize how unjust our world is and then take small steps to correct what we can in our immediate area, including in our own homes.
Justice is the theme of the Bible. From the punishment of Adam and Eve in Genesis through to the ushering in of a new, just kingdom in Revelation, the Bible demonstrates God’s justice. Our concept of justice obviously differs from God’s; the God of the Old Testament greatly differs from that of the New Testament. But it’s the promise of the New Testament justice that keeps me going on the days where the world’s injustice knocks off of my feet; it’s the hope that someday the meek will truly inherit the earth.