One of the favorite words of President Obama and his supporters is "justice," often combined with the adjective "social." We hear calls for government-imposed economic redistribution through taxes and various kinds of welfare, and advocates of same-sex marriage also talk about "social justice."
Education for "social justice" is now very big in public schools. At least three recent books push for teaching "social justice" even in math classes, which means spending less time learning the multiplication table and more time learning about the uneven distribution of wealth in the United States. (But isn't one of the greatest injustices leaving kids without enough math knowledge to get a decent job and begin redistributing some money to themselves through hard work?)
Do Christians have an alternative? We should begin by asking, "What is justice?"—and that question should drive us first neither to Aristotle nor to Bill Ayers, but to the Bible. One observation: Over 50 times God's inspired writers link the Hebrew word mishpat, "justice," with the Hebrew word tzedek, "righteous." They regularly declare that a central purpose of justice is to increase righteousness, as Isaiah 26:9 states: "When your justice is present, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness."
The Bible also emphasizes justice between individuals. Psalm 112:5 praises the person who "deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice." Jeremiah 22:13 pronounces: "Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages." Justice isn't charity—recipients pay back loans and work—but it is generally interpersonal rather than collective: We might call it "relational justice" rather than "social justice."
Kings have an influence—they can walk in God's way and tear down the high places of paganism—but righteousness still builds from the bottom up. Children who receive just treatment from their parents usually don't grow up hating them. When husbands and wives act righteously toward each other, bitterness (of the sort that fueled the feminist movement) rarely takes root. Employers and employees who act righteously toward each other are less likely to feel the need to lobby or bribe officials to win by governmental force.
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