::: JUSTICE :::
Why in Romans 8:15 are we described as being ‘adopted’ rather than God’s ‘real’ children? Alison Thomas, itinerant speaker for youth at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, was ministering to teen girls in Cambodia when she was asked this question.
The girls who were asking this question were living in a shelter because their birth parents had abandoned them. Many of them had been routinely beaten and raped by their fathers from an early age. They could not comprehend what it meant to be adopted into a family by the grace of a loving father.
Some of these girls were rescued out of the brothels and the sex-trafficking business by the founder of the shelter, Reverend Setan Lee. Lee was a former prisoner of the killing fields who once dreamed of becoming a doctor but now does healing of another kind. What can be so fittingly described as his “healing fields” include a women’s shelter, a trade school, and an orphanage. How does one go about rescuing children out of a brothel? Setan explained that a ransom needed to be paid to redeem the girls since they were in bondage to the brothel boss; everything they owned came from their boss. No matter how much work these girls did, they would never be able to earn enough on their own to repay their debt and buy their freedom. In one sense, these children have already received adoption, as Setan has paid the necessary penalty to rescue them and place them in a community together. At the same time, they still anticipate their adoption in its completeness, when they will individually commune with a personal father face to face.1 Doesn’t this story so beautifully illustrate our Father’s plan of salvation for each of us, God’s redemption design, His very nature being one of Justice and Mercy and Righteousness, among many others, rooted in His astounding grace for human kind?
A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks.
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” – Psalm 89:14
For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who crave more of God, and who yearn to draw closer (how to behold His Mystery?!), it all starts with wonder, adoration for who our God IS … and who we are not. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” – Job 38:4-7. An Old Testament writer acclaims, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” - Psalm 111:10. And as C.S. Lewis’s pens of Christ as Aslan, “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This is the Magnificent, the Gentle, the Just, the Valiant, the Almighty GOD, who seeks out the one lost sheep from the 99, who will pay back trouble to those who trouble you, who willfully took on infant, helpless skin to enter our murk and muck in a heroic quest for the salvation of His people.
What more of justice? God’s very character demands it: He IS it! Is this not part of who God IS? “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” – Isaiah 30:18.
The freedictionary.com states that justice is the quality of being just; fairness. The principle of moral rightness; equity. Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8. Justice is not only the righting of wrongs, it’s a bond of generosity, social concern (social justice), AND rectifying justice (legal justice). The word for justice is the Hebrew term mishpat, and the term for mercy is the Hebrew word chesedh, God’s unconditional grace and compassion. I love how minister and author Tim Keller writes, “To walk humbly with God is to know him intimately and to be attentive to what he desires and loves. And what does that consist of? The text says to “do justice and love mercy,” which seem at first glance to be two different things, but they are not. Mishpat puts the emphasis on the action, chesedh puts it on the attitude (or motive) behind the action. To walk with God, then, we must do justice, out of merciful love … This is why, if you look at every place the word is used in the Old Testament (in it’s various forms, occurring more than two hundred times), 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/oppressed—those who have been called “the quartet of the vulnerable.”2
As God is often introduced as “father to the fatherless, defender of widows” - Psalm 68:4-5, He identifies with the powerless, and even literally became powerless in child’s flesh. How our God stands apart! In virtually all of the other ancient cultures of the world, the power of the gods was channeled through and identified with the elites of society: kings, priests, military captains. Not the outcasts.3 “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? - Exodus 15:11.
Tim Keller goes on to explain that 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 a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power. Shouldn't we, then, too?
If God’s heart is for justice, redemption and restoration, shouldn’t our character then reflect His character, in every facet of our lives? Shouldn’t the things God cares about be the things we care about?
How do we live out justice practically and truthfully? Maybe it's as simple and as complex as God is: we do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God.4 It's one thing to acknowledge the profound value of our neighbor, and it's another to live this. So then we "do justice" with our time, our giving, in our families, our goals, abilities, our relationships, purchases and finances, where we’re rooted, our very lives! These “ours” are not even ours in the first place. Even me, myself, is not my own (if that’s not grammatically incorrect, I don’t know what is!) The fact is that everything is on loan to us. It is a pure gift from a Father who loves His children more than we can comprehend. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your true and proper worship.” – Romans 12:1. As children of the King, justice is meant to be part of our very identity in Christ! “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats … learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:11,17
The more God makes me new, the more I see justice as a matter of obedience and faithfulness. Not out of guilt or full-filling some check-list, but out of gratitude and joy:
“True Christians consider themselves not as satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude.” – William Wilberforce.
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears.” – Zechariah 7:9-11. We may feel the sting of all the injustice against us, but we neglect our heart’s role in this life. As one of C.S. Lewis’ great literary influences, George MacDonald, wrote, “Man is not made for justice from his fellow, but for love, which is greater than justice.” This looks outward, humility and compassion considers that the other person is hurting just as well, and meekness relinquishes our strength to God’s, for ultimate judgement is His responsibility: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.” - Romans 12:19.
How appalling God’s patience can seem to us! “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9. Everyday people do horrible things to each other - out of "honor", out of "love", out of so many false gods. “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors – and they have no comforter.” – Ecclesiastes 4:1. If you were in a hopeless situation, wouldn't you want your neighbor to care?
Is it possible God is patient towards you?
It’s scary how easy it is for me to deny the evil, the wickedness, and selfishness of my own heart. When we see evil like in the sex trade or sexual abuse in the home, we bellow, “I can’t believe someone would do that?!” NO, dear reader. Shouldn’t the pose of outcry be one in humility, “I can’t believe my heart is capable of that!?” We are no different! We pour our own vitriol on people on a daily basis; with words, with thoughts, with resentments, withholding forgiveness in a bondage of its own, and most often through our INaction – which is so powerful because it carries with it the message of apathy and indifference and pride.
Do you sicken at the sight of your own sin? Our hearts all suffer from the same condition, showcasing the same capability of depravity. Can’t we all pull out our “Fallen” diagnosis slip? We all have corners of darkness we flee to, although not illumined as the pedophile in the newspaper, it is just as black.
Our sin garishly flaunts the beast within us and the beast that reigns over the dominion of darkness, our ugly offenses that sent Christ to the cross, and a beautiful dependence on the Son of the Almighty God. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” – John 8:7. Jesus kneels, draws a line, and stands committed at our side. His grace is a marvel. My shame? It’s on the cross.
If you’re craving to live a life in accordance with the Bible, than the concept and call to justice are inescapable.5 We as believers need to be the influencers, not the ones influenced. If we’re going to talk about sexual exploitation, trafficking, or pornography, than be prepared to wrestle with tough, reflective questions, and the interweaving justice (or injustice) issues of orphan care, the immigrant, the homeless, single mothers, and so much more. In our sanitized church culture, it is far too easy to condemn anyone we see living in a “sinful lifestyle”. But millions of women and children around the world, and in our own neighborhoods, are being forced or coerced into selling their bodies and then handing the money over to their oppressor, their pimps (Part One) … In many churches, sex is a taboo issue, and the crime of sex trafficking has been relegated to the courts and governments, if it even makes it there.6 But don’t the things that are hidden have the most power over us? It’s a hard issue to even think about, so we don’t. It is a crazy temptation to hold an uncomfortable truth at arm’s length, but God’s says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right … think about such things.” - Philippians 4:8. In our present state, won’t light and dark exist side by side? When we ignore abuse, violence, and evil, we grieve God’s heart. Disengaging from this is the quickest way to move injustice deeper. As Christ-followers, yes, we must go there. This is a call for personal involvement, and no believer is meant to sit on the bench. - Matthew 16:24, John 13:35
As the story goes, The Times once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” G.K. Chesterton, responded simply,
Right on G.K.C. Me too. Our own hearts need tending, and we need to mourn our own sinfulness, our apathy, selfishness, self-reliance, and confess it into the hands of our Father.
Coming right down to it, the journey of justice is a breaking of our own pride and a learning to love people the way Christ does, especially those that, frankly, are hard or confusing or unpleasant to love. Even if we don’t really know what that means, even if we don’t want to face what that may mean. That kind of love is supernatural - unnatural - and that is the mark and clothing of a Christian: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18.
You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. - Anne Lamott
::: Where is God moving you today? :::
1 – Zacharias, Ravi. Featuring Alison Thomas, Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, pg. 57-58.
2 – Keller, Tim. Generous Justice, pg. 3
3 – Ramachandra, Vinoth. Quoted by Tim Keller in Generous Justice, pg. 6
4 – Keller, Tim. Generous Justice, pg. 18
5 – Keller, Tim. Generous Justice, pg. 18
6 – Carr, Johnny. Orphan Justice, pg. 29.