Noëlle Cothern has studied and worked in the area of social justice for years.
In this blog, she explains how the Bible has called Christ-followers to
seek justice as a crucial part of our faith.
It is easy to get hung up on the term social justice. We are quick to associate it with political parties and activist groups we may or may not agree with. However, before we leave this term to the politicians, let’s understand it from a biblical perspective.
In the Bible, there are two Hebrew words used to describe justice. The first Hebrew word is mishpat. This word refers to giving people what is due to them. This could include punishment for one’s actions or providing care for someone in need. In the Bible, the word mishpat is often used to describe protecting and providing for widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. The entire Bible is filled with instructions to care for those on the margins of society. God, through the word of the prophets, regularly chastised Israel for failing to care for the marginalized.
A second Hebrew word that is used to describe justice is tzadeqah. This terms is translated as being just or righteous. Tzadeqah is an incredibly social word that refers to living a life of right relationships with those in your family and community. It calls us to conduct all of our relationships in fairness and love.
When these two Hebrew words, tzadeqah and mishpat, are used side by side the best English expression we have for their meaning is social justice. Before we started associating the term social justice with political parties and activists groups, this term was first a Biblical term. Micah 6:8 reads: 'And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.'
It can seem intimidating and complicated to pursue social justice in our world today. However, pursuing justice and right relationships can be accomplished in our daily actions, choices and conversations. Next time you pass a homeless man asking for money, what’s stopping you from asking his name and where he came from? What is stopping you from inviting your neighbor over for dinner? Or what’s stopping you from mentoring a foster youth in our neighborhood? You don't have to start a non profit to seek social justice. You can start simply, by talking to someone you wouldn't normally talk to. You can do some fact checking and see if the companies you buy from provide their workers with fair wages. You can start by educating yourself and read about the subject. Start with a Google search!
Each of us can seek social justice and right relationships in our lives. I encourage you to perform simple acts of justice in your day to day activities. Start simply. Pray and ask God to show you His heart for the marginalized. Help bring the Kingdom of Heaven here to earth!
- Noëlle Cothern