Justice = Righteousness

by Phillip on March 13, 2012

When we read the beatitude “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall see God” how does that translate to you and how would you apply it to your life?  I would have to agree with Brian Zahnd who said most of us read that as “Blessed are those who really want to be spiritual for they shall be really spiritual.”  But Zahnd points out that most languages do not have separate words for righteousness and justice and that in the Greek they are the same word.  This opens up the dimensions of this statement by Jesus to translate more accurately as follows:

“Blessed are those who ache for the world to be made right, for they shall be satisfied.”  (Brian Zahnd, Beauty Will Save the World, pg 203)

Have you read this beatitude to encompass social justice?  Or have you interpreted it as simply a personal axiom? Obviously our God has much to say about our personal holiness but here we are shown that personal holiness will translate to a hunger and desire for the world to be made right not just our individual souls.  If this is not something we hunger for and  instead we are comfortable or neutral with the status quo then it means we do not hunger or thirst for true righteousness.  God says true righteousness always includes a global vision for righteousness:

“He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.”  Isaiah 42:4

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  Rev 21:5-6

What implications does this understanding of righteousness as justice have upon our understanding of God’s final and ultimate justice (Heaven and hell)?  If God intends for our personal holiness to translate also as a heart for global justice then how does this affect the way we see God’s holiness as played out in the end of His-Story?  Will it mean that God’s justice requires sin to be punished forever in “eternal conscious torment” or that God’s justice will require that all be made righteous?  Is Biblical justice getting even or is it something being made right?  Does God get His justice or does He do His justice?

Do His commands to us ultimately reflect His own heart for the world?…

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

When discussing the topic of why God would send people to an eternal hell I hear continually “God is loving, BUT He is also just…” What affect does this kind of theology have upon us?

I believe because we have not interpreted God’s justice as “returning things to their right-useness” (righteousness) we are not rightfully engaged with the injustice of the world.  In our belief that God’s righteousness means our personal holiness and justice ultimately means most of humanity will be consigned to eternal hell we have become subconsciously detached from the world. Why would you fully invest to rescue a world that is headed for their “due justice” of a hopeless destruction?

BUT, if what Brian Zahnd points out is true, that justice and righteousness are in fact the same word, then we can be sure that doing justice will not only bring consequences to bear upon the evil doer but will restore a right-useness to both the victim and the perpetrator of injustice! This is the justice that every believer can invest in for there are no dead-ends ultimately.  Everything will be restored.  His word will not have returned void and our work will never ultimately have been in vain.  We can’t be indifferent when we know that God loves His creation, intends to make all things new and has decreed it will be done.  This is motivating and empowering!

But if we do not believe in the restoration of all we either resort to fear or detachment. Fear that God does not love all and so may not save the ones we love.  Or maybe we are afraid to invest our precious lives, time and money into someone we are not sure God loves or wants to save.  Or we resort to detachment.  It is too painful to get attached to a world of people who are going to be banished forever from the ultimate reality of the new heavens and the new earth.  And for Christians we realize that it is the most lost and pagan cultures that are the most poor. Therefore we tend not to invest in a “sinking ship”.

Now there are many who ARE investing and loving and giving of themselves of course but statistically the Church, who could make a huge difference, is not and we need to ask why.  It is usually the theology.  Theology matters.  If our theology of righteousness included a restorative justice we would see the fruit of that theology in our actions.  If we believe God is a restorer-God who is seeing His creation to its intended right-useness then we will follow. But if we believe He can’t restore all because He is trumped by man’s free-will to resist it OR that He does not intend to restore all because of a perceived private “election” of only some to be redeemed then we are doomed to walk according to one of those mindsets.

But thanks be to God that many Christians are following the law of God’s unfailing love written on their hearts rather than the traditions of men!  Contrary with his theology Cornelius Plantinga gives the Church a picture of restoration to motivate us to social justice:

“To speak of sin by itself, to speak of it apart from the realities of creation and grace, is to forget the resolve of God. God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way…To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of shalom.”

Here’s a quote from Keller’s book, Generous Justice:

“These two [Hebrew] words [tzadeqah and mishpat] 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. P10-11 Jeremiah 9:23 uses both these Hebrew words and when translated social justice gives an interesting read: ‘This is what the Lord says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom but let him who boasts, boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness and social justice on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.'”

Do the above sentiments motivate you to not be so afraid, to want to invest in this world to restore it, and to have confidence in the “resolve of God” for His shalom?  Yes they do! for they represent the only storyline worth entering into and investing with your own “good fight of faith.”  They reflect a theology that is finally making its way back into the Church breeding hope and strength to join Christ in His mission to “not lose heart or falter until justice prevails in all the earth.” !  Isaiah 42:4


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