I know there has been a fair bit written and said about the Social Justice Statement over the last few weeks, and I haven’t been able to keep up with most of it. But I wanted to throw one more rock into the pack of dogs that has apparently gathered, and hopefully, God-willing, I will hit more than one rabid cocker spaniel.
So let us out with it: the reason why this statement has caused such consternation and the reason why it is a solid pastoral statement for our times is because it understands and maintains the basic biblical principle that justice, in the first instance, is not social at all.
In fact, Biblical justice is required by God not to be social. Justice must not socialize. Biblical justice, in order to be justice, must be completely socially misanthropic. Biblical justice must shun all human society.
“You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.2 “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice.3 “You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute” (Exod. 23:1-3)”
Justice is spoiled by socializing. Justice is spoiled by blabbing, by sharing, by gossiping, by plotting, by being tugged, pulled, corralled, cajoled by people.
“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19).
Do you want to pervert justice? Then smuggle people into the mix. Do want to blind even a wise man or twist the words of an otherwise righteous man? Then press the consequences of certain decisions into his hands. Get on a megaphone. Call for press conferences. Demand, insult, manipulate, bribe. Get your judges good and socialized. Run them through the gauntlet of Twitter malice, Facebook temper tantrums, a rapacious press, flattering celebrities, roaring crowds, preferably like a strobe light set on random. In the old days, they called this Trial by Ordeal. Today we call this CNN.
“You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Lev. 19:15). Literally, the Hebrew says that we must not “lift the face of the poor or honor the face of the great” in judgment. This is partiality. This is injustice. It is to make judgment based on the faces of the people before you.
Again: “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:17).
Literally, the Hebrew says “you shall not notice/regard faces in judgement.” Justice is blind. And by extension, justice is also deaf. Justice cannot tell what sort of voice is making the accusation, or what sort of voice is making the defense. Justice doesn’t smell whether the plaintiff hasn’t showered or whether the defendant is wearing costly perfume. Justice must not fear any man’s presence.
So how shall we say this? How about Biblical justice is not social. The judgment is God’s. The deciding of justice has nothing whatever to do with people. It simply weighs. It simply reports. There is nothing social about the scales in your bathroom. You may talk to your scales. You may even curse your scales, and maybe some of your new fangled scales talk back to you (ha!), but in no sense may we describe your relationship to your scales as a social phenomenon. As soon as justice has any measure of socializing, it has ceased to be justice. If justice must see who is being judged, then justice is a prostitute that can be bought. Whatever semblance of justice remains, the Bible calls it partiality.
In the gospels, Jesus is recognized as being a preeminently just man: “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Mk. 12:14). And yes, once again, the Greek actually says, “you do not see the face of men.” Biblical justice is blind. It cannot see male or female, young or old, black or white, rich or poor. There is no sliding scale. There is a fixed weight and measure.
And just in case you needed any sort of evidence for what I’m saying, just take a short peek out your window at the lynch mob that has gathered in our streets over the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. If you want social justice, you are asking for more and more of this. This is social justice gone to seed. This is what Lady Justice looks like when you bring her down for tea and biscuits with the people. And this is what I mean: most biblically-informed Christians do not for a moment actually want what we’re getting in these Kavanaugh hearings, but they are willing to go along with social justice-lite and protest the Social Justice Statement as one-sided or truncated. We don’t want mobs and trial by internet trolls, we just want justice to be informed, a pleasant meet and greet, a down to earth justice, a biblically informed justice that works for good in this world — I mean isn’t that what abortion protests are? Actually, no, not at all. Biblical justice is not social at all. It does not work by familiarity with the crowds, with the issues, with the controversies. It is completely aloof. Yes, biblical justice is good for society, but it is good precisely because it is fabulously quarantined. But if the gospel actually works good into the world, isn’t that some sort of social justice? And the answer Christians need to learn to speak cheerfully into the mic is: nopity-nope.