NOTIONS OF JUSTICE
The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, wrote a widely acclaimed book some years ago titled "The idea of Justice," in which he explained how various notions of justice were influenced by the judge's world view. He explained it with a brief illustration. Three little girls were playing in their school playground during the lunch hour when they came across an old, but still functional, flute. As soon as they found that, they began arguing about who would get to keep it. One girl claimed that she had actually made the flute during a crafts class in school and that it had subsequently gone missing. So she claimed that the flute be given to her. Another girl said that she lived in a poor neighbourhood and neither she nor her friends could afford any toy. If it was given to her, she as well as many other kids in the neighbourhood could enjoy playing with it; so it ought to go to her, she concluded. The third girl quietly responded by saying that of the three of them , she was the only one who knew how to play the flute and so it made a lot of sense if she got to keep the flute, since she could actually put it to use and create some music from the instrument. As they could not resolve the issue among themselves, they went to the school principal for a just and fair arbitration. The main thrust of the book is about how different kinds of principals would award the flute to different girls, all based on their notions of fairness and justice. Which brings me to the question - how would or should a Christian respond to issues of justice? In fact, what are the Christian notions of justice?
The God Of Justice
What is the Christian view of justice? The Bible puts forth time and time again the notion that God is a God of justice. "All his ways are just" (Deut.32:4). Furthermore, the Bible supports the notion of social justice in which concern and care are shown regarding the plight of the poor and afflicted (Deut.10:18; 24:17; 27:19). The Bible often refers to justice being shown to the fatherless, the widow and the sojourner - i.e., people in OT Jewish society who were not able to fend for themselves or had no support system. The nation of Israel was commanded by God to care for those less fortunate of society; their eventual failure to do so was partly to blame for their judgement at God's hands and their expulsion from the land.
The Biblical Christian should know God's heart well. God has a special interest in the welfare of those at the lowest end of the social ladder: widows, orphans, legal aliens, and others who are oppressed or disadvantaged in society (Jer.7:5-7). Recognising this, modern Christians must lead the world in striving for social justice by clearly 1) defining "social justice", 2) determining key biblical principles of social justice, and 3) developing a strong position on state-sponsored social action especially as it relates to addressing the major social problems of the early 21st century.
Concerns Of Justice
Concerns of justice broadly deal with three areas of concern:
2.Remedial justice, and
Economic justice involves a society's rules and procedures for maintaining productive, efficient, and fair commercial markets. Remedial justice, similarly, involves just and fair rules and procedures pertaining to civil and criminal (legal) matters. Put in terms of the aforementioned operative definition, economic and remedial justice assure that every person is given fair and equal opportunity to access a society's economic resources and its political and legal systems.
While economic and remedial justice systems focus on just procedures (i.e. due process), the third area, distributive justice, focusses on fair outcomes. It is concerned with relative fairness - that all people within a society actually possess a certain portion of that society's "benefits and burdens”. Put in terms of the aforementioned operative definition of social justice, every person deserves a certain fair share of society's benefits and burdens. Even though all three forms of justice deal with social concerns, it is this last concept of distributive justice that is most often the central topic of debate surrounding social justice issues today - that is, how should a society be structured to assure a fair distribution of burdens and benefits among its citizens?
While the scriptures have plenty to say about justice, it is important to distinguish passages concerning the "outcome fairness" required by distributive justice from passages involving the "procedural fairness" required by a society's economic or remedial justice systems. It is even more important to consider each "distributive" passage in context - to understand that some social action can be mandated and performed by the State, while some is to be done lovingly and voluntarily by private groups (including churches) and individuals. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, "Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy." This and many other biblical passages make it clear that every human being has a God-given, inalienable right to life and liberty in society, which includes the right to be free from oppression and affliction, whether at the hands of human or natural forces.
Conversely, every human being, especially society's leaders, has a God-given moral duty to protect fellow human beings from social injustices whenever and wherever it is practical to do so (Pro.3:27-28). The prophets Amos and Micah spent much of their ministries condemning leaders in Israel for failing to practise social justice. They stressed the "integral relationship between true spirituality and social ethics." Scores of other scriptural examples and passages abound on social action and justice.
The fundamental basis for pursuing justice goes back to the fact that every human being is created in God's image and thus has intrinsic value. Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that God's law can be summarised in two commandments: love God and love your neighbour (Lk.10:25-37). He explains further that "love your neighbour" means helping people in need until they can become self-sufficient as illustrated by the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In fact, all people have a moral duty to help other people who are disadvantaged in society. According to scripture, the church and the State play distinctive roles in addressing those needs.
What we can conclude from this is that God holds us accountable to help those in need, and extends his will of justice through us when we act in accordance with it. Love overlaps justice in that it implies that people are of unsurpassable worth making the recognition of human rights and equal treatment obligatory. Justice overlaps love in that it makes love available not only to the lovely, but also to the unlovely. Justice does not merely preserve order, it creates order. Our gratitude towards God's generosity ought to compel us to generosity so that God's grace may be available to those "scattered abroad" (2 Cor 9:9-10). Since God will never forget to be just, we can have hope, and those who work for justice in the face of injustice must work from hope (Psa. 9:18).