As a former police officer, generally speaking my training helped me to know what to do in a given situation. On one occasion however, I recall being given conflicting orders from two Officers of equal rank. It really was hard to know how I should act.
In an age of information overload, its easier than ever to find ourselves well informed yet baffled as to how we should act.
This is particularly true of issues of social justice. “What is the most just course of action?”
Today, it is common to think of justice as upholding an individuals rights but the problem with human rights is, which human is right?
Similarly, many equate justice with fairness, and fairness is often understood as withholding judgement of others. However, this line of thinking is rather new. Take for instance our current use of the word ‘discriminate’. Properly speaking, it can have both a positive and a negative sense. It refers to your ability to distinguish. For instance, it could refer to your taste in fashion, art or wine. More recently though, it is seen primarily in its negative sense.
So what does the bible say about justice? In the Old Testament, the word for justice (mishpâṭ) means to judge correctly or make a ‘judgement’1. It highlights the fact that before one can act in a correct manner, one must think in a correct manner.
Naturally, justice requires divine wisdom. In order to act justly, we need to know what is right and before we can know what is right, we must know who is right.
Speaking of wisdom, Proverbs 2:4-6 says,
“… and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,2
then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,
and you will gain knowledge of God.3
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.4″
Like taking a lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower, genuine knowledge of God, elevates your value of him. As value rises: fear, awe and reverence are its natural companions.
So wisdom comes from God. Know him, and you’re on the way to knowing what is right (his righteousness)!
Proverbs 2: 9-10 goes onto say,
“Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair,
and you will find the right way to go.5
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.6″
Justice is the outworking of righteousness. To act justly, we must think rightly. To think rightly, we must be right with God – that is to say – in right relationship with God.
Christian ethics is not merely a matter of being better informed. It actually requires wisdom and – not surprisingly – wisdom begins with a knowledge and fear of God.
1 For example, Micah 6:8 literally means, “What does the Lord require of you? To judge correctly…”
2 Proverbs 2:4 (NIV)
3 Proverbs 2:5 (NLT)
4 Proverbs 2:6 (NIV)
5 Proverbs 2:9 (NLT)
6 Proverbs 2:10-11 (NIV)