We began our series on justice by starting where Jesus starts, with the Law. In our last couple of posts we’ve turned to consider the prophets. Specifically, we’ve meditated on Jeremiah 9:23 to consider both a definition of injustice and three motivations in secular approaches to justice. You might think of those two posts as negative appraisals of God’s people when they get justice wrong.
With this post, we want to turn to Jeremiah 9:24 to contrast the starting points of Israel’s and secular society’s injustice with the positive starting points God desires. In short: the Christian must start, continue, and end their thinking about justice with His God. Jeremiah writes: “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah 9:24 combines knowledge of God with a call to our hearts. There can be no truly biblical concept of justice that does not begin with who God is and what God does and end with worshippers celebrating those realities.
Faith in God
Biblical justice begins with faith in God. That is not simply a Sunday school answer. That’s not something to take for granted. That’s something to actively consider and even brag, boast or glory about. Jeremiah 9:24 begins, “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me….”
Remember what God says about the people in Jeremiah 9:3 and 6, “They do not know me…” and“They refuse to know me.” The people boasted in wisdom, power, and wealth (9:23). But verse 24 stands in contrast with all of that. Not only does God’s true people know and understand Him, they also brag about Him. They delight in Him. They believe in God and they enjoy God.
How do you get to know and understand God?
John 17:3 tells us, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Or consider what the Lord Jesus Christ tells His disciples in John 14:6-7, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.”
We only get to know and understand God by believing in Jesus Christ His Son, accepting His sacrifice on our behalf, and looking to His righteousness to provide our own. When we put our faith in Jesus and follow His word, then we come into loving fellowship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 14:23). From there, we enroll in the school of Christ, becoming disciples or students. We take His yoke and we learn from Him (Matt. 11:29). As we grow in knowing and understanding Him, we should be growing in the practice of justice.
Whatever approach you take to justice, it must first begin with acknowledging and centering God. To have a distinctively Christian understanding of justice we must boast in the Lord—not in anything else!
The questions become:
- Who or what does my political philosophy boast in?
- Who or what makes me happy when I think of my approach to justice?
- Does my approach to justice reveal an accurate and deep understanding of who God is and what He is like?
If the answer to any one of these is “no,” then we need to go back to the starting point, which is knowing and understanding God.
Hope in God
Jeremiah 9:24 not only calls us to faith in God, it also calls us to hope in God. It’s striking how hopeless so many of our conversations about justice are. So many people—including Christians—believe, “Nothing can be done. Nothing will change. It’s hopeless.”
But here is sure ground for hope: “I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” That is what we are to know about God: He practices love, justice and righteousness in the earth. The prophet Zephaniah declares, “The Lord within her is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail” (Zeph. 3:5). The prophets consistently depict God as actively delivering justice.
God’s commitment to justice provides grounds for hope:
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; 8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 9 The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 10 The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord! (Ps. 146:5-10)
Often it does not look as if God is practicing justice. We may be left wondering, “Where is justice and where is God?” Even many of the Bible’s prophets wondered that. But Christians do not walk by sight. We are people who see through the physical world into spiritual realities and so walk by faith. We believe God and we must train our eyes and hearts to look for God’s love, righteousness and justice. Our longing for justice—if we want to be Christian about it—must be a longing that springs up from hope. There is no Christian way to be hopeless.
Grief and hopelessness are not the same thing. Grief comes from seeing the brokenness and injustice as it really is. Grief comes from having your heart moved by brokenness. Hopelessness is the opposite. Hopelessness sees the world as if there is no God. Hopelessness is to have your heart die in the face of brokenness. Never let someone pass off hopelessness as a suitable answer for Christians or an appropriate approach to justice. We too often make heroes out of the hopeless and then wonder why we make so little progress toward justice. Even the Christian who laments and grieves (Jer. 8:18-9:2) experiences hope inside the grief when their minds are turned to God.
The final thing to observe comes at the end of Jeremiah 9:24—“For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Here, God tells us what He loves.
There is some difficulty in translating the verse. Does the “For” give us the reason for why God practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness? Or, does the “for” refer to people who boast in the Lord because of these things?
We don’t have to worry too much about the distinction. God is pleased with himself and God is pleased with people who look like Him. God happily produces love, justice and righteousness in the earth and God is happy with people who likewise produce those things.
At bottom, love, justice and mercy flow from a God-like love. The word “steadfast love” is the Hebrew word hesed. It often refers to God’s special covenant with His people. It’s a rich word that combines in itself love, mercy, grace—all the tenderness of God. God delights in showing such love.
We should not only look to God for justice and righteousness, but we should look to God to love us just as He promises. Any true effort at justice must be an effort marked by love for God, love for neighbor, and love for self. If our theory of justice abandons love, then it abandons God and the things God delights in.
The questions become:
- Does my approach to justice help me delight in what God delights in?
- Does my approach to justice help me recognize and appreciate others who delight in what God delights in—especially my so-called opponents?
- Does my approach to justice inspire me and lead me to love better?
We seek a biblical understanding of justice. To arrive at a biblical understanding, we have to begin with God—who He is, what He does, what He delights in. We have to lay aside man’s wisdom, power and wealth in order to see the superior wisdom, power and riches that are in Christ. If we fail to do that then we turn what should be an exercise in love into a contest of self-interest and force.
Justice begins with God. So the Christian must begin their thinking with God.
Other Posts in This Series:
- Prolegomenon: On Authority and Sufficiency
- What Do We Mean When We Talk about “Justice”?
- Justice in All It’s Parts (part 1 and part 2)
- The Gospel Combines All Aspects of Justice
- Genuine Social Injustice
- Secular Approaches to Justice