Generous Justice (4) Why Should we do Justice?
Appeals to love, mercy and reason don’t work – most people know it is good to help the poor, but most don’t do so.
Postmoderns like Richard Rorty try to give persuasive motivations to help the poor completely detached from a moral framework – and the best he can come up with is that you should help the poor girl begging on the street because one day she might become your daughter-in-law or her mother would grieve for her. Such a sentimental and subjective personal motivation has little power to confront injustice and no power at all to make us act justly towards our enemies.
Rather Keller argues, the Bible gives two powerful and deep motivations to action:
1. The doctrine of creation
Humankind made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-7). If humans are not accidents but creations, and without this belief there is no compelling reason to treat people as having innate dignity and value. ‘The image of God carries with it the right not to be mistreated or harmed.’
An aside here – someone said in the public Q&A the other day on John Mitchel’s attitude to slavery, that the bible has nothing to say against slavery and even seems to legitimise it. That’s simply mistaken: sure the bible can be misused (to support apartheid or slavery) but the doctrine of the image of God fatally undermines such scripture twisting. As Keller points out it lay at the heart of the battle for Civil Rights in the USA. Martin Luther King said
“Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard”
A second reason creation leads to doing justice is that all we have belongs to God. And if this is true, then
“if you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’s share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, it is injustice.”
2. Response to the grace of God
The second motivation to justice stares out at us from the pages of Scripture. Repeatedly in the OT and NT God’s people are called to do justice, to love their neighbour, to look after the weak, poor and marginalised because they have been recipients of the boundless love and grace of God.
- As we have experienced undeserved forgiveness and grace so we are show it to others
- Such awareness of God’s grace leads to humility and compassion, not judgemental attitudes to the poor
- How we treat others in need (in the OT and NT) is evidence that faith is not just external but authentic internally as well. It is a sign that our hearts have been softened and changed. Indifference to and, even worse, maltreatment of the poor is a cause of repeated judgement on Israel.
James repeats this in the NT
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. [James 2:15-17]
Keller makes a telling point – those with a middle-class spirit (I’ve earned what I’ve got) are most often indifferent or hostile towards the poor.
Yet the more someone knows and has experienced the grace of God the more they tend to be attracted to and have compassion on the poor.
And God’s grace gives a new identity to the poor – their identity does NOT lie in their lack of money or social marginalisation – it lies in the acceptance and unconditional grace of God and their identity as his children.
Attitudes towards the poor and towards our money change not by lectures or guilt but by grasping the sheer depth and wonder of God’s grace.
Comments, as ever, welcome.