Last Updated 03 Jan 2023

The Demonstration of Social Justice in the Bible

Category Social Justice
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As of October 31st, 2011, the world's population hit seven billion.1 Seven billion people, the majority of whom do not know Jesus. As the population is growing exponentially, resources become more and more scarce. In Africa, harsh environments, political instability, and fickle markets make it difficult for people to grow enough food.2 In India, massive food growth has depleted the water tables and within a few years India will be facing a massive famine.3 Diseases, warfare, starvation, genocide, and economic decline are plaguing poor people throughout the world. This is all happening while developed nations such as the United States, Germany, and Australia enjoy prosperity and security beyond measure. The world has enough resources to reach everyone, but inequality and injustice keep many people at the bottom.

"He has told you, O man, what is good' and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). Justice, mercy, and humility are the requirements of one's Christian walk. But what do they mean? What are their implications? How do these actions fit in to one's missiology? The profession of social work is a profession whose primary goal is social justice. The principles and practices found within the profession of social work can help steer missionaries in their methods and strategies.

Justice can be defined simply as treating someone equitably. Social Justice can be defined as "an ideal condition in which all members of a society have the same rights, protection, opportunities, obligations and social benefits."4 Many times justice is used in terms of bringing criminals to justice. A person commits murder so the equitable thing is to punish the murderer in order to make things right. The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat, which means giving people what they are due. It is used for criminal punishment but many times it is used to mean protecting people physically, economically, socially, and spiritually. Mishpat occurs over 200 times in the Bible.

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Justice is more than an action; it is also an attribute of God. In Deuteronomy 32:4 Moses says "All his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is He." Everything that God is is just. As Wayne Grudem put it: “Everything that conforms to God's moral character is just... God is the final standard for justice." God's attribute of justice is communicable, meaning that as a follower of Christ becomes more like God, he or she will become more just. But how important is justice to God? In Deuteronomy, God gives Moses several "civil laws" that are laws that promote social justice. He requires the forgiving of debts, freeing of slaves, and the redistribution of wealth. He dictates that there should be no poor among the nation of Israel.

These laws had two main purposes: ensuring a close relationship to god, and protecting the weakest members of society. In the New Testament, Jesus reprimands the Pharisees for following the letter of the law and neglecting the "weightier matters of the law: Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness" (Matt 23:23). Jesus also said that the most important commandment is to love God with all of one's heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love ones neighbor as one's self (Matt 20:42). These concepts of love, justice, and mercy are inextricably woven together, and can be seen in the Christian's life more and more as he or she becomes more like God. As Tim Keller said, “mishpat (justice) puts the emphasis on the action; Chesdh (Hebrew for mercy) puts it on the attitude or motive behind the action. To walk with God, then, we must do justice out of merciful love" for God and others.

The ideas of justice and mercy, however, are incomplete without the concept of righteousness or tzadeqah. Tzadeqah is the Hebrew term for righteousness, or a life of right relationships. God is a righteous God in that everything He is and does is the standard by which all righteousness is judged. Isaiah said that our righteous acts are like dirty rags compared to God's (Isa 64:6). The righteousness that Christians strive for the most is to be in right standing with God. It is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we are made right before God. Tzadeqah stems from a right relationship with God. If we are becoming more like God, then it should follow that our actions will be righteous, which leaves us in good standing with our neighbors. Right relationships are the result of doing justice.

The profession of social work is founded on several principles. These principles are the standard by which social work modalities of treatment are judged. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) adopted a Code of Ethics that is the standard code of ethics among all social work institutions. The code includes service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, and integrity.

Social workers are called to act as servants to the underserved. At risk populations, poor people, and social outcasts work harder to receive the same services that others get with less work. Whether it is food, shelter, or other basic needs, poor people have to work and worry more to meet those needs. To serve impoverished peoples, social workers use their talents and skills to make life easier. The end goal is not dependence on the social worker, but to serve the underserved populations in a way that people can get ahead either economically, emotionally, or developmentally so that they can be self-sufficient productive members of society. Social workers serve, not out of self-interest, but to transform lives and communities.

Social justice for social workers is about changing or transforming the society or culture on behalf or for the benefit of vulnerable and oppressed peoples. Many times the focus of social justice is equality in "access to needed information, services, resources, opportunity, and meaningful participation in decision making for all people." Many times society has "In-groups" and "Out-groups."12 Out-groups are barred from access to resources and opportunities. That is neither fair nor equal. Many times our group designation is based off of uncontrollable circumstances such as race, ancestry, and gender.

People are barred from opportunities such as education, economic involvement, and political influence due to their uncontrollable circumstances. People are barred from education because of race or income which bars them from economic mobility which leads to continued poverty. This lowers their life p, negatively affects their health, and puts them at risk form many other disadvantages. Social justice impacts the cause of the problem, not just the results. Social workers are trained to see the underlying issues to read sustainable solutions.

This principle of social work comes from the social worker's perspective of absolution poverty. A definition of poverty is having little or no thing of value to offer. Social workers believe that many people have more to offer than money, and that is their worth as a person. Social workers in their practice strive to treat people equitably, and help clients see that they do have inherent worth. Many modalities of treatment fall into strength-based approaches. That means a social worker identifies their client's strengths, sets attainable goals, and helps clients become self-sufficient. Social workers also strive to change the social environment so that people are valued as people, and not their economic status.1

Social workers strive to have every action they do match up with ethical and moral values associated with the profession. The goal is to make sure policies and treatment models are consistent with service, social justice, and worth of the people. If the practice is not serving, is unjust, or devalues the client then there needs to be a re-evaluation of the practice.

Why discuss the ethical principles of Social Work in a missiological paper? It can be seen that the specific principles are consistent with Scripture and therefore can provide some guidance when developing missions' strategies. Of the four principles mentioned, Jesus spoke directly about each on in the New Testament.

In regards to service, Jesus talked specifically about how Christ followers must act. In Matthew chapter 20, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to put her sons in a seat of honor in heaven. Jesus answered by saying, "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many" (26-28). Jesus clearly states that Christians must take on the role of servants, i.e. "elevate service to others above self-interest."16 Jesus follows that command by saying that He himself modeled that lifestyle so to be like Christ is to be a servant. This clearly lines up with the social worker's ethical principle of service.

Jesus mentions social justice outright in only a few instances, but lived it out throughout His whole life. By talking to outcasts and eating with sinners, Jesus was treating people fairly and just. In Matthew 25, it is seen how justice done by Christians will be favored by God. Jesus described the final judgment and how God will divide people and decide their final judgment. The people who inherit eternal life are the ones who gave food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, hospitality to the stranger, clothes to the naked, and attention to the sick and imprisoned. An interesting point is that being hungry, thirsty, and naked are physical needs.

Jesus makes it clear that God values ending physical poverty, and thus loving mercy. These three acts of mercy also redistribute wealth, give people equality of resources, and are therefore justice. People's physical needs are immediate and many times evident. But God also valued the "righteous" or just ones offering hospitality to the stranger, visiting the sick and imprisoned. These people are not physically needy (save the sick), but socially outcast. Here it can be seen that most people define poverty as having little to no thing of value to offer. But God defines poverty as having little to no value offered to them. Clearly, God calls this justice by calling the ones who do these acts of mercy "righteous" or "just." The picture of justice that is seen is a relational and physical one, or in other words social justice. This story also describes how God values the "least of these brothers" by stating that when they are shown loving kindness, it is done to God himself. God clearly values the worth and dignity of people.

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