Micah 6:8 – 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?
Justice and Mercy, in our modern understanding, seem to be almost opposite concepts, yet God lumps them together in this passage. Why? It has to do with an Old Testament concept of justice. In the Old Testament justice was thought about not in terms of punishing an offender, as much as it was in defending the victim and extending to the less fortunate, the poor, and the immigrant. A widow might go to a judge pleading for justice because she knows the biblical command after command to look after the widow and avoid taking advantage of the weak would ensure a finding in her favor. In our day, we tend to see justice in more of a negative light, and rightfully so. Justice that defends for the weak and the downtrodden also finds against the guilty, the sinner, and the oppressor. And as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3, we have all sinned, we all stand guilty before God; we all bear some responsibility for the injustice and evil in the world because, at one time or another, we have all aligned ourselves with the forces of evil through our sin. Scripture’s universal denunciation of the human condition, and its universal proclamation that justice calls for our destruction.
For those of us who have been forgiven, though, there is another aspect of justice we need to consider. We have been rescued from God’s justice in order to promote justice in the world around us. Justice demands we be people who are working to see the poor lifted up and the immigrant welcomed in. Justice demands we work to build a world in which the orphan, the widow, and the minority matter, in which they are noticed and their cries for justice do not fall on deaf ears. When we think about justice in this sense, we realize how close it is to mercy.
In the book The Pietist Option, Mark Pattie observes that mercy and justice are two sides of the same coin. Mercy asks the question, “how can I alleviate suffering?” And justice asks, “how can I get at the root cause of suffering?” In other words, justice demands we work to move the world closer to the ideal Kingdom Jesus will bring with Him at His return.
As a whole, I think we are pretty good at practicing mercy in today. We have our moments and our detractors, but overall Christians still have a hard time watching someone go hungry when they can spend a few dollars to prevent it. Justice, however, is a different story. Justice is difficult, there are no quick fixes, there are no easy answers. We live in a world that is unjust and will be unjust, on some level, until Christ’s return. That doesn’t mean we should be ok with the way things are, Jesus never was. Jesus, the Apostles, the Prophets all call us to work toward justice. This might hurt our own bottom line or cause us to lose standing with certain members of the community, but this is a call that permeates just about every book in the Bible, and it is a call that we can no longer ignore. We must be committed to working together to alleviate the suffering around us in real, big-picture ways. As Micah wrote, “he has told you, O man, what he requires.”