I have lost count of the number of times that I have uttered the phrase, ‘there’s no justice in this world!’ However, like most Scots, my understanding of ‘justice’ is limited to the notion of fairness, the law and the courts. Yet, when considered more widely, particularly in the light of scripture, there is much more to justice than meets the eye.
The Hebrew word for justice is ‘mishpat’. Used more than 200 times in the Old Testament it means, to treat people equally. In practice, ‘mishpat’, is about giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.
There is however more to ‘mishpat’ than just the punishment of wrongdoers. It also means giving people their rights. Scripture frequently highlights the need to care for and speak up in favour of those who have been called ‘the quartet of the vulnerable’...... widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. In Biblical times, these people were at the margins of society living at subsistence level, sometimes only days away from starvation.
In 21st century Scotland we could expand this group to include genuine assylum seekers, the vulnerable (through substance abuse and or psychiatric problems), the homeless, some single parents, elderly people and the victims of abuse.
A second aspect to the biblical idea of justice is the word ‘tzadeqah’ which means ‘being just’ but is usually translated as ‘being righteous’. In the Bible, ‘tzadeqah’ refers to day-to-day living where all relationships in family and society are conducted with fairness, generosity and equity. In scripture, ‘tzadeqah’ and ‘mishpat’ frequently appear together.
Thus, when people have a right relationship with God, and live a life of righteousness with their community, there should theoretically be little need for the ‘mishpat’ notion of justice.
Finally, justice involves generosity. Believers who practice justice are not indifferent to the poor, seeking to ameliorate their plight through generous acts of charitable giving.
In the Gospel of Matthew, giving to the poor is described as ‘acts of righteousness’. In the Old Testament, Job describes every failure to help the poor as sin........an offense against the very nature of God who is for the poor.
It is heartening therefore to note that many Scots who have a living faith in Christ not only understand the true nature of justice, but are prepared to step up to the mark with their time and finances in support of the poor and the vulnerable.
Seems that there is true justice after all.........................and it pleases God too!