Discussing
How Does Social Justice and "The Law" Relate?

Paul Vander Klay

Joy Chavez
June 17, 2010

Well, I see an immediate application of law as protecting the oppressed. If there is a wrong committed, the law (Mosaic, or modern), the law is available to bring about justice. Of course, the law also gives the guidelines of how to act justly. I don't really see much of conflict.

Ty Woznek
June 17, 2010

1) Regarding holy war, God holds everyone to the same standard. When those who worshiped false god's in Israel were punished, it was the same retribution given to the genocides you mentioned. God's plan is for numerous nations. The holy war aspect is perplexing to us, but we are not God and do not have all the facts, only those given to us. An answer I and many of us do not like, but is a reality. Jealousy is an attribute of God.

2) "Law" is really a poor translation. The Hebrew word Torah means instruction more than it means what view as "law." Take God's word's in Joshua: "Do not let this book of instruction depart from your mouth..." It's a softer word and it points to the purpose behind revelation- to reveal. The Torah was written so we would know who God is and how we should live in light of that- including how to handling things when we mess up.

What this points to: Pitting social justice against the law is like pitting love against trust. They're really one. Look at Jesus' summation of the Torah: Love God, love people. If one is truly instructed in and understands God, that person will love people. As for the holy war commands in the Bible, one only need to look at the social injustice that happens in false religion. Often, it is very abusive. We also need to remember that while God is patient and gracious, there is a turning point where God's justice demands action. He did, after all, flood the world over the same issues that holy war was called for.'

My two cents.

Paulvanderklay
June 17, 2010

Thanks for your comments.

I agree with your understanding of "law" in the OT. They were instructions to address the question of how a holy God could live amongst a rebellious people. Note the catastrophe of the Philistine attempt to set God up in their midst apart from the law.

It is also true that law follows deliverance and via the Heidelberg Catechism becomes an expression of gratitude. Understanding social justice in terms of gratitude is not a note I regularly hear in a lot of contemporary social justice exhortations. I more often hear the term used more as what other people need to stop doing or start doing, as sort of a communal moralism.

Thanks again for your comments. Different comments from different angles helps me see different facets. pvk

Paulvanderklay
June 17, 2010

I think you're right. They were intended to work together, or rather to have one produce the other which is why the OT prophets and Jesus easily connected them. I don't hear much of that connection, however, in our contemporary setting.

Thanks for your comment. pvk

Paulvanderklay
June 17, 2010

Is it more true that social justice is received rather than achieved?

solid4JC
June 18, 2010

I'm not sitting on the fence (am I)? but I recone it can be both received & achieved. Case in point - the Tolpuddle Martyrs formed the first union in England ( they were Christians) and after striking for fair wages were deported to Australia --a fate worse than death in those days- the movement they started went on to Achieve the start at least for a fair deal for the workers.
Social justice was Recieved in New Zealand after a socialist government voted to give welfare payments to the unemployed & destitute ( much to the opposition & displeasure of 'the church') !

JCarpenter
June 18, 2010

Para. 3 is well-said: society's negative view of "law" focuses on the negative shalt nots, the boundaries delineating sin; Jesus' reduction of the law into the two essentials are positive life-broadening statements of life--love God, love your neighbor (enemy). Seeking and providing justice in society shows that love embodied and applied.

Ty Woznek
June 18, 2010

As the church became more removed from Israel, we lost the Jewish understanding of the the Bible. I believe the Bible is a Jewish book and much of the New Testament clarifies the relationship between Israel and the church, hence Torah vs being in Christ.

This discussion is the argument Paul addressed in Romans 7. The "law" in Romans 7 is referring to the Torah, and not generally to God's universal moral code. The real issue is the law is powerless due to the human condition. It cannot save nor sanctify us. This sets up the argument Paul addresses in Romans 8 where we're not under the law but under the spirit.

Living by the Spirit is the only way to bridge the gap. The Law, while good, only gives towards disparity between itself and social justice.

Rickd
June 18, 2010

I know this is heresy to some but I am not sure our definition of social justice fits well with the Bible’s. We all assume we know what social justice means, and some even view it as fundamental to the great commission, even though the term is never found in the Bible. Post modern western churches often describe themselves as missional, frequently meaning that they are actively involved improving the physical conditions of the world outside the church and righting the wrongs of the world. Our concepts of social justice describe the movement towards a socially just world. In this context, social justice often involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution. Yet, in the Old Testament taxes levied by the government were considered onerous, as they were in the New Testament. Taxes were one of the unpleasant consequences of becoming a monarchy, as God warned. Tithing was not taxation, it was voluntary, based on the honor system, and had to do with the sharing of food with the religious class, even during a sophisticated money economy. Tithe was also used to celebrate a week long feast which included the Jewish poor.

Property redistribution was also considered wrong. Inherited property rights and boundaries were regarded as sacred, although property was available to be sold. Even our concept of anti-slavery does not have much to do with the Old or New Testament. After Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt, slavery was still considered a legitimate institution in Israel. We find Moses talking about the poor and urging humane treatment of slaves in the same paragraph in Deuteronomy. Radical environmentalism and pacifism are often included under the category of social justice.

Biblical social justice has more to do with humane treatment of people, personal charity, personal giving, personal ethics, legal rights and prohibitions against cheating in the marketplace. Justice was concerned with how one treated family members and by extension, members of the tribe of Israel.

Even in the New Testament, when asked who our neighbor was, Jesus could have chosen a Roman, a Greek, a Gentile for his example. Instead, he chose a Samaritan. Samaritans really were brothers of the Jews, they kept the laws of the Torah and claimed their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel.

The Kingdom of God was a humane, charitable, divine space that the regenerated family lived in, not a legislated economic or political system for the world. Jesus’ advice to the rich young man was a remedy only for this one individual, not a general rule for society and certainly not for Peter’s family that owned houses and boats, nor for Mary and Martha and their large home.

Of course, I support William Wilberforce, appreciate the value of unions, and view the eradication of poverty, slavery and disease in the world as primary goals, but all based on grace, compassion and enlightened ethics, not social justice. Political liberals and political conservatives both view systemic poverty as wrong. And both have remedies. It is just that for some reason the political liberal remedy is branded social justice. I agree that personal righteousness and social justice were not separated by our contemporary values of personal privacy and individualism in the Bible. Personally I think that most of the issues we label Social Justice for the world would be an alien concept to the hebrew prophets.

SiarlysJenkins
June 20, 2010

Isn't it possible, even likely, that while God is "the same... I change not," the manner in which God communicates changes as WE change? In the early Old Testament periods, harsh measures were the only measures people understood. In the era of the Prophets, authority was well established, but being abused -- thus, God has some new concerns which were not previously the same point. Moses was given detailed instructions on sacrifices, Amos and Micah were told that this isn't what God is really concerned about at all.

Paulvanderklay
June 22, 2010

I think you make a good point, but I tend to resist what I see commonly around which suggests that somehow we are more savvy than the ancients. It is clear that the Mosaic sacrificial system was a culturally specific vehicle to afford expression of serious and significant gratitude. It also nicely set up the cultural/linguistic framework by which what we identify as atonement could be understood. God is deep like that. The prophets were also savvy enough (not taking anything away from organic inspiration) to recognize that as is so often the case we turn good gifts given by God around into idolatrous expressions of our own sickness, therefore the redress about the limitations of the a rote sacrificial system.

Thanks for your comment. pvk

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