Justice and Humility

Justice is very fashionable in our society – a buzzword for both secular and church culture.

When we talk about justice, our focus can often be exclusively on action.  Justice becomes about doing stuff, fixing problems and taking a stand.  A word that can lead us to a “checkbox” approach to the just life the Bible commands and our peers applaud.  We simply have to make a list.

Give money to a nonprofit? Check.

Choose a favorite cause to follow? Check.

Post a provocative video on Facebook? Check.

We can resolve to embrace justice, and then busy ourselves checking boxes toward a better world and a better “me”.

But there is another facet of justice that often gets missed in the wake of our motivational, heroic and impassioned calls to action.

It’s humility.

Whereas justice is about standing up, humility is about sitting down. Justice is about doing, but humility often takes the form of listening. Justice seeks to fix.  Humility seeks to understand, see the other, and know its own weaknesses.

Humility is aware of our ongoing injustice despite all our good deeds. Simply resolving to do more just actions doesn’t lead to lasting, holistic change—the kind of change that transforms us into just people who God can use in His kingdom. Becoming just is first about heart change and character before it is about action and behavior.

C. S. Lewis once said, “everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him [or her] at the moment.”[1] But what happens when doing justly is harder than we expected, when our resolution fades and our old habits reassert themselves? Truly changing our lives requires us to step back and allow God to change our hearts first—sustainable action can only grow out of a changed heart.

To that end, here are three essential steps in the journey of becoming more just.

Relearn a Theology of Justice

Justice is rooted in the character of God and flows from the heart of God. A theology of justice starts with what God says about justice

The potential for justice and injustice is latent in every person, every interaction and relationship, every job, every system, and every institution. Only God’s plan for justice, and remedy for injustice, is wide and deep enough to cover the human experience. The pages of Scripture, from Genesis to the Psalms to the Prophets to the Gospels to the Epistles, tell the story of God’s desire for justice.

Relearning a theology of justice is why we started The Justice Conference. Our goal was to help people move beyond causes and fashions and connect them to the big idea of biblical justice.

Justice isn’t a nice addition we tack on to our lives or our faith—it’s a necessary part of both. Justice is at the heart of the gospel and is synonymous with biblical righteousness. Being just, or pursuing a right relationship with God and others, can never be peripheral. Justice is central to life and faith.

See What You Don’t See

Just like drivers have blind spots, we live unaware of many of the most pressing issues in our communities and across the world. Becoming more just often begins with learning what we don’t know. Injustice can often lurk in our own traditions, families, and even in our own hearts. Awareness of a particular type of injustice, such as international human trafficking, is no guarantee that we will recognize an injustice happening in our own communities, such as gender inequality, or other global injustices such as economic exploitation.

Being humble opens our eyes to seeing the injustices we’re missing and prepares the soil for us to broaden our understanding of and response to the human experience of others.

Stay Broken

Do the complexity of justice and the seeming intractability of injustice sometimes overwhelm us?

Good.

Being aware of our own inability to be just surfaces our need for God’s grace and strength. If issues like global poverty or immigration seem simple and straightforward, it probably indicates we aren’t casting a wide enough net in our pursuit of understanding biblical justice or empathizing with the plight of others.

So cultivate a teachable heart. Find the experts and the first-person accounts. Read books and watch videos. Study the story of justice in the scriptures. Refuse to reduce complex issues into either/or equations. Search for the voices that are crying out for justice and commit to being one of the few who are actually listening. Pray.

In the end, no matter how popular justice becomes, it isn’t a series of boxes to check off—it’s a resolution to ask God about His heart for the world, and a willingness to listen and obey when He answers.

As we learn to stand up and fight for the vulnerable and oppressed, let us also learn to sit down and make sure our just actions are less about being heroic, than being faithful.


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 49.

Categories: justice

Theology and Culture