I have been leading a small group at my church using Tim Keller’s Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, and reflecting on how understanding and celebrating the grace of God makes us more just. Studying this book has helped me not only understand what biblical justice is, which ranges from having right relationships to being generous, but it has also provided me with the right rationale for doing justice.
The concept of grace, something that we have received from God that is unearned, had never crossed my mind as being an important component in understanding justice. Yet, learning about the link between God’s grace and mercy towards us, and our actions and behaviors toward others convicted me of my unjust ways. In particular, such learning taught me of my ungracious and unjust practices toward people who make poor choices, or who engage in intolerable behaviors.
What right did I have to withhold justice, including my time, resources, and energy from others, when I myself have been blessed and provided for in spite of my sheer wickedness? By recognizing and embracing the unearned gift of grace that God has given to me, I understood the significance and vitality of being intentionally and actively just toward my neighbors, beyond all of the visible social justice work I have engaged in professionally. I was challenged to be more just in my daily acts.
I have learned that there are three ways that understanding God’s grace makes us more just toward others.
We realize that none of us are entitled to or deserve what we have
One of the fundamentals principles of the Western world is the value of individualism, including valuing individual rights and freedoms. The individualist narrative of the United States is that the country was built and sustained by self-made people, many of whom started with few resources, but worked their way up to prosperity. Politicians often share their stories of coming from poverty to highlight the strength of the American dream. While individual rights are important and hard work is necessary, no wealth or other success is fully based on one’s individual merit. Having strong community networks and being born into privilege allows some people to thrive more easily. This is especially the case for many born in the United States or other westernized nations.
Furthermore, all of our wealth, health, and other worldly possessions that we enjoy ultimately come from God. If we accept the fact that we are, by nature, flawed people we must realize that the grace of God has played a primary role in our very existence, and that we have been spared in our life, in spite of our imperfections and disloyalty to God. When we recognize that none of us are entitled to anything on this earth, because of our consistent patterns of sin, we will realize that people experiencing injustices and oppression are no less sinful or wicked than we are. We will inevitably be more just and compassionate as a result of that understanding.
We recognize our spiritual poverty
While we may not all be struggling financially or materially, we are struggling spiritually. We all lack the true resources and possessions on our own to support and shield ourselves from spiritual warfare and battles that tempt us on a daily basis. Furthermore, no amount of hard work or grit will pull us up from our spiritually poor bootstraps. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus blesses those who are poor in spirit, and in this verse he is speaking both of spiritual and material poverty.
Recognizing spiritual poverty means acknowledging our deep desire and need for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our lives. It requires a surrendering of ourselves to God, so that He will fill us with His Spirit. When we recognize our constant poverty of the spirit, and realize that all of us are deprived, we will be more willing and able to be just toward others, because we recognize a common poverty and how, through God’s grace and presence in our lives, we can all be filled and sustained.
We recognize the entirety of God’s creation
Our resources, whether it be money, time, or talents, all come from God. Understanding God’s creation of all that we attain, we should not preserve our resources for our own enjoyment, especially with the assumption that we worked hard for our resources. If we are blessed with material wealth, we should use the wealth liberally to help bless others. If we are blessed with time and flexibility, we should be good stewards of our time, whether it be through hospitality, serving, or mentoring. If God has allowed us to own and possess aspects of His creation, we must invest and share them for the benefit and support of others.
The entitlement attitude that many of us have that suggests that our lives, our resources, and our achievements are part of our own doing, and that the dysfunctional aspects of others’ lives are their undoing, is an individualistic idea that is not rooted in truth. While there are decisions that we have all made that have impacted our lives, for better or for worse, ultimately, grace is what strengthens us. It is through recognizing the grace in our lives, that we understand why justice is essential for followers of Christ. Justice isn’t something we should engage in out of guilt, a desire for fame, or even social responsibility. It is something we should engage in because of our understanding of God’s grace. If God has been gracious to us, which He has been, let us be gracious and just toward others. This means challenging our entitlement mentality and our negative stigmatizations to justify our oppressive behaviors and practices.