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Food for thought: What is justice?

From Scot McKnight's A Community Called Atonement:

Justice in the Bible is behavior that conforms to God's standard, and we can plumb that standard in any number of ways--through detailed analysis of specific passages in the Torah, through summaries of the Torah, through the teachings of Jesus, or through the Spirit-inspired life. Permit me two definitions: let us define justice as behavior that conforms to the teachings of Jesus and, at the same time, as behavior that emerges from the Spirit's direction. You have it either way for, if I am right, these definitions end up at the same place. Justice is also structural at some level: it refers to the establishment of conditions that promote loving God and loving others or living in the Spirit. For the follower of Jesus, justice is not defined by the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, Kant's categorical imperative, or any other social formation of law. It is defined by Jesus and by the Spirit--and we learn of its spirit-directedness throught the Bible.

Some will say that this is too religious, that it is too Christian, or that it is not practicable for a pluralistic society. I care about none of those criticisms, not because I don't think working in the public square requires common sense and even agreement on the U.S. Constitution for amicable discourse, but because we need as Christians to recover what we think the Bible says "justice" really is: the conditions that obtain when humans are right with God, with self, with others, and with the world.

We can speak, then, of "systemic justice" and we can speak of "systemic injustice." But by those we do not mean the presence or absence of freedom or of rights but instead the presence or absence of responsiblity to God, to self, to others, and to the world, as the spirit intends for each person to know. In a secular and secularizing society, in a pluralistic and pluralizing culture, of course, we are not suggesting that we impose the Jesus creed or life in the Spirit on anyone, but we are asking that Christians learn to define justice by the standard that is Christian. . . .

Any theory of atonement that does not have as its goal creating a society swimmingly happy in this kind of justice is not a biblical theory of atonement. . . . [I]f we begin with sin as the willing diminishment of relational love with God, self, others, and the world, and if we define atonement as the work of God to restore cracked Eikons in those four directions, then justice is also redefined: it entails a life of relational love for God, self, others, and the world. Love of God, self, others and the world is what is right.

[J]ustice in the Bible begins with an act of God's creative, gracious forgiveness and healing. Justice in the Bible is not just deconstruction and construction, but creative, regenerating grace. Which leads to the flip side for humans: Christian behavioral justice begins in the same way--with humans creating justice through grace, forgiveness, and love. I cannot emphasize this enough, . . . we will never see justice in the biblical sense if we fail to begin with grace and forgivness.

The disestablishment of injustice and systemic injustices as well as the establishment of justice and systemic justices are in their own way atoning acts, for through these acts the floodgates of relationship open for humans to be restored to God, to one another, to self, and to the world.

(Image: a slice of the cover of A Community Called Atonement)

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