Justice is a pretty hip word now in much of Christianity, whether it’s evangelicalism or progressivism– and that’s a really good thing. It’s been beautiful these past few years to watch a justice movement explode, see the success of things like the Justice Conference (which you should really attend if you get the chance), and overall see the role of justice seeking become something that people take seriously.
Yet, I think without some guiding principles, any of us who enjoy fighting for justice can accidentally end up pursuing the wrong kind of justice, or pursuing the right kind of justice but in the wrong way, with the wrong heart, or wrong goals. This has certainly happened to me along the way, and those moments became experiences that led me to develop some personal guiding principles regarding justice seeking. I think the movement overall, and any justice seeker, would do well to reflect upon the nature of justice, the means of justice, the motives of justice, and the goals of justice, as a way to help steer the ship in the right direction. Here’s what I think is crucially important for justice seekers to remember:
1. Justice-seeking begins with right-heartedness.
Justice pursued without a heart of love, won’t be justice at all in the end. Too often in our culture, justice is seen more in forms of retribution and destruction– and nothing about that is rooted in love. Instead, God’s justice is deeply rooted in the desire to make the world a little less broken and a little more right– because that’s what he’s busy doing. For those of us who desire to live out the biblical imperative to “seek justice” we must remember that this cannot be rooted in anything other than a deep love and a commitment to be agents of healing.
2. Justice seekers would do well to continually develop and maintain self-awareness.
The process of justice brings out different things in different people depending on the circumstance- sometimes that’s altogether good and beautiful, but the process of seeking justice can bring out dark sides of our own hearts as well– and we all have them. Justice seekers must spend considerable time in self reflection so that they can hold onto that which is good and right, and repent when the dark side of justice comes out. I’ve noticed in my own life that while I am seeking justice in a specific scenario, I’ll find myself triggered because of some past experience. When this happens, it often leads me to become not an agent of healing, but brings out ugliness in my own heart that leads me down a different path– a path that isn’t justice at all. This must be resisted at all cost, because when acting on our own darkness, our own hurts, our own junk– acting on anything other than love, leads one down a very, very different path. I’ve been down it too many times, and I don’t like the person I become while walking it.3. True justice can only be gained by the right means.
It’s easy to seek justice by use of the wrong means, and ironically create more injustice in the world as a result of our own behavior. Strength and resolve must also be tempered with patience, grace, dignity, and even handedness, while resisting the use of means so often used by an unjust world. We must remember: using the wrong means to deal with injustice often creates a wake of further injustices, even if we don’t intend them. A great case in point is the way we deal with suspected terrorists: if we try to take out a suspected terrorist with a drone but also kill an entire wedding party who happened to live next to that suspect, that’s not justice– it’s further injustice. While we use methods other than drones we must still remember that when the pursuit of justice leaves a wake of hurting people, it’s not justice at all. The only right means in the pursuit of justice are the ones that do not result in further harm– especially to the innocent– and we must strive to remember this.
4. Biblical justice must have the right goal: wholeness.
True justice has the goal of reconciliation, restoration, and wholeness– not just for the abused and the oppressed, but for the abusers and oppressors as well. Justice is not destruction of an oppressor and elevation of the oppressed, but instead justice is only achieved in beautiful fullness when the oppressed has been elevated back to their rightful place, and when those who were guilty of the oppressing have experienced repentance, healing, and restoration as well.
Case in point any parent should know: let’s say you have two kids, and the older hits the younger. I hope one would not simply comfort the younger and punish the older, but that any good parent would help the older understand how their actions were hurtful, and to model a process of reconciliation and healing that is equally full of love and concern for both sides- innocent or guilty.
While God certainly has a heart for the oppressed, and we are called to be a voice for the oppressed, we cannot fail to remember that he has this same love for the accused as well— and justice seekers must remember that the calling to help reconcile the world means we must seek the restoration and healing of the guilty as much as it does the wounded. Yes, that’s hard, but God’s justice and God’s love is concerned for everyone, and wants to see everyone healed and restored– no matter how guilty, or regardless of how innocent. God’s love is big and radical that way– and so should ours.
I love the cause of justice– and I’m going to be a person who continues to seek it. However, I want to strive to remember that I am not seeking my own concept of justice, but God’s. As such, I want to be motivated by a heart of love, I want to maintain self awareness so that I don’t let my own junk lead me to seek destruction, I want to use the right means when seeking justice, and I want to make sure that the goal of any justice I seek is always wholeness, restoration, and healing– for everyone.