Justice Rolls Down
We want justice in this world, and rightly so. People cry out for justice when evils have been committed, and rightly so. The desire for justice is one of the non-material concepts that separates human beings from animals, and we know this. It is connected directly to our moral sense of ought. We know that moral injustices are not right. The world is broken and we desire for it to be made right. The question is what we think of justice and understanding the greater sense in which justice is practiced by individuals.
God wanted justice and righteousness to be kept and practiced by His people in Israel. Isaiah said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed” (Isa 56:1-3). Later, Jeremiah said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer 22:3). Justice is a common theme with the prophets. For example, among the more well known passages we find this from Amos:
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Letting justice roll down was connected here to seeking the Lord (v. 5), seeking good and not evil (v. 14), and not being hypocritical about offering sacrifices while mistreating people acting wickedly. Justice was more than legal justice, however; it was treating others properly and following God’s will from the heart. Justice requires a standard, and the Lord provides just that. Likewise, Micah tells us this:
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Like Amos, Micah also shows the importance of seeking God and His righteousness as foundational to treating others with justice and righteousness. The city was full of wickedness, people mistreating and oppressing others, lies, and violence. The time had come for judgment because the people were refusing to repent. It wasn’t as though God had asked too much of them. He wasn’t asking for what they could not do. He had told them what He required: “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Have these principles changed? Would God not still want these from His people?
We typically think of justice being connected to a legal system, and this is important because a society that does not ground itself in the principles of justice cannot stand. However, justice, biblically, must also be practiced personally. It isn’t just about what we do legally; it’s about how we as individuals treat other people. Whether a legal system ever practices what is just, individuals are required to do justice in their own lives. We cannot think that justice is only relegated to the greater society. Each person who cares about what is right will seek to practice justice in their lives by respecting God’s desires for human beings.
We do justice by treating others with respect and dignity for one basic reason: people are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). Think about this specific application given by James. After making the point about taming the tongue, he writes, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh” (Jas 3:9-12). Cursing people, all of whom are made in God’s image, is committing an injustice against those people because it is showing disrespect for them and the One in whose image they are made.
We understand that committing crimes against others should be legally handled and justice done. Governing authorities do not bear the sword in vain (Rom 13:1-5). Yet let’s remember the personal side of this not only as members of a greater society, but even more as members of the body of Christ. Mistreating others is unjust. Cursing people is unjust. Gossip, unloving behavior, slander, oppression, violence, and other sins are committing injustices against them. God expects repentance and a commitment to treating others properly.
Make it personal. If you care about justice, you will care about how you treat other people. Therefore, “love your neighbor,” which does no harm to others (Rom 13:9-10), and “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12). If we do this, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. What does the Lord require of you? You know.