Love And Justice


The Hebrew word commonly translated in English as “justice” is mishpat. In many instances in the Old Testament this word is paired with another word, tsedaqah, which translators ordinarily render as “righteousness” (for example, Isaiah 1:21 and Amos 5:24). So we might understand mishpat, justice, not just in a punitive sense, but in a way that is exemplified by being right in the world, by acting, thinking and being in accord with God’s right desire for his people and his world. In this regard, “justice” is not simply about punishing the wrongdoer, but also concerns bringing life, wholeness and flourishing to all of creation. This state of affairs is often seen in the Bible as shalom, usually translated “peace” in English. But shalom envisions so much more than an absence of conflict. Rather, shalom captures God’s desire that all of creation – human to God, human to human, and human to nature – be in harmony (see here Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book Until Justice and Peace Embrace).

Not surprisingly, the Bible also links these two words mishpat (justice) and shalom. For example, in Isaiah 59:8 the prophet brings an indictment against those who shed innocent blood, pursue evil schemes and act in violent ways, ostensibly toward the poor and the weak. These will not know shalom; their cruel behavior denying the weak of their basic humanity brings the perpetrators out of harmonious relationship to all of creation. To know shalom is to do mishpat.

So perhaps as we set out to define “justice” more robustly, we ought to begin at the very beginning and build our reflections on a foundation. And so next week we will explore the biblical creation narrative as a narrative of “justice.” This may perhaps be outside the parameters of what you might normally consider the concept of “justice.” But I believe that as we build on the creation narrative, and then explore the outworking of this concept in the history of Israel (and finally and most importantly in the presentation of Jesus Christ as the One who brings justice, shalom, for the world), we will be drawn into a deep calling of our own place to follow Jesus in his Spirit-led and Spirit-powered work of bringing justice, shalom, to all of creation.

PRAYER: Father, thank You for sending Your Son to bring forth justice. We look to Him to make all things right and restore harmony.