Is God concerned about social justice?

justice

Last week I wrote what turned out to be a passion invoking post about feminism.  In response, yesterday I delved more deeply into the topic of hatred in Christianity and today I intend to discuss more thoroughly the overall topic of social injustice.

Feminism, at its root and core, seeks to advocate equality for women politically, economically, socially and culturally.  The movement, although vast in goals, has resulted in women’s rights for voting, contract laws, education rights, suffrage, autonomy and reproductive rights.  As with any social movement, there are extremes and broad generalizations that characterize some feminists but not all, and there are those radicals of whom the rest are ashamed.  It is because of those who misunderstand the foundation of feminism, slandering men and true equality (looking for excess and special treatment) that feminism has now culturally become considered the opposite of male chauvinism.

There is a social history one could spend a lifetime studying and evaluating here, of which I am not a scholar.

But my intention is not to discuss the intricacies or favorable outcomes that the feminist movement has had.  My intention is to consider the heart of God on such a topic.  So, laying the radicals aside, I ask the simple question:  Is God concerned with social justice and equality?  And if so, to what extent?

“Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’”

– Zech 7.9-10

In short the answer is yes.  God is concerned about justice.  His commandment is clear, that we are to dispense justice, practice kindness and compassion, to not oppress the weak and poor, and to not devise evil in our hearts against one another.  We also see in the New Testament that God does not show partiality to gender, wealth or social status when it comes to the gift of salvation:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

– Gal 3.28

Scripture does teach that there are gender roles which are to not be confused or altered, but that is another topic for another time.

Where we run into problems is when we get caught up in the goal of social justice and divorce God and His will from the equation.  As Christians, we are to do all things for His glory, and unto Him alone.  An audience of one.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

– Col 3.17

Why do we seek justice?  Because God is just:

For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.

– Is 30.18b

He loves justice:

For I, the Lord, love justice,
I hate robbery in the burnt offering…

– Is 61.8a

And He commands us to act justly, to exemplify Him in our lives.  We seek justice for His glory:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

– Micah 6.8

The same principle stands true for God’s compassion and righteousness.  God is a compassionate God (Deut 10.18, Jer 22.3).  Jesus was compassionate:

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.

– Matt 9.36

But in this passage we see the need for which Jesus truly felt compassion:  the people did not have a shepherd; they did not know God.  Yes, we see in the verse preceding that Jesus “went into all the towns and villages, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness” (Matt 9.35).  Jesus did physically heal and care for people.  He fed thousands.  He gave sight to the blind and restored withered hands and feet.  He raised the dead.  Jesus had compassion for physical ailments.

But one thing we never see is Jesus healing apart from the Gospel.

Jesus came to the world to die.  He came to live a perfect life, to preach the Kingdom, and pay the punishment for the sins of the world.

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

– Luke 19.10

Never does Jesus say, “I have come to bring social justice” or “I have come to give you physical comfort”.  No.  Jesus came to eternally save sinners.  And He teaches us to love one another, to put one another’s needs above our own, and to care for those who are incapable of caring for themselves.

This is all personal instruction.  But what about the governing powers in authority over us?  In this arena we see less pointed teaching.  We learn that God has placed all rulers and authorities in place:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

– Rom 13.1-2

Paul was not writing from a Utopia that makes our democracy look pitiful.  Paul himself was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, whipped, left for dead and charged not to preach the Gospel.  He ultimately gave his life for preaching the name of Jesus.  He also was writing to Christians who had been scattered because of persecution.  They were slaves.  They were hated.  They were mistreated.  And yet Paul exhorted them to subject themselves to the government.  Jesus Himself taught the same thing:

Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

– Matt 22.21

And we all know the fate Jesus suffered.

Scripture promises us that we will suffer, if we desire to follow Christ (2 Tim 3.12).  Not only that, but the mark of the end of the ages is the fact that Christians will flee to the hills (Matt 24).  We will be unable to buy or sell in the market because we will have not taken the mark of the beast (Rev 13.17).  We will be hated, persecuted, hunted and killed.  And our response is to be love.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

 – Rom 12.14

So what is the conclusion?  If God is just, compassionate and righteous and demands of us the same, if He instructs us to care for the poor, but also to submit to the governing authorities who persecute and harm us, what does this look like?

It ultimately looks like trusting, obeying and serving God.  Jesus said that when we feed a hungry man, we have fed Him (Matt 25).  But filling one’s belly serves no eternal purpose in and of itself.  A fat man will die and go to Hell if he has not been saved by the grace of God.  We are to care for the widows and orphans and visit the sick.  But providing housing and clothes does not save souls.  All men will leave the world naked and will face the judgment seat of Christ (Job 1.21, Heb 9.27), whether we die at 10 years or 100 years.  And we are to fight for justice.  But social justice, equality in the work place and freedom from slavery do not provide eternal security in Christ.  They simply make the path to Hell more comfortable, when provided devoid of the Gospel.  And whatever level of social justice we attain now will fade away when the end times come.

Fighting for social justice is a good deed.  But unless it is performed in faith it is sin:

Whatever is not from faith is sin.

 – Rom 14.23

How can that be?  It is because God is primarily and foundationally concerned about His glory and honor.  To fight for justice without giving God the praise, without offering the hope of salvation, without faith, it is for our own glory, or comfort, or happiness.  And while it may make our existence on Earth more comfortable, we must remember that this earth is passing away.  Soon all of our governments, jobs and lifestyles will be just a distant memory because God will destroy this world and create a new Heaven and a new Earth on which a theocracy will reign under which is no corruption, injustice or sin.

A good deed never saved anybody.  And it never will.

As Christians, we are commanded to preach a holistic Gospel.  We must put other’s needs above our own, care for the poor and the oppressed and feed the hungry.  But to truly love someone, and to meet one’s greatest need is to offer to him the free gift of salvation.  Every person who has ever walked the face of this Earth has had that need; even if he has had more money and physical provision than all others.

If you have the ability, the passion and the position to fight for social justice and implement changes that lead to social reform, then do so!  And that to the glory and honor of God!  Otherwise it is futile.  But be cautious to not get caught up in a social movement that forgets the greatest and only eternal need of all of humanity:  forgiveness of sins.  Because some day it will pass away.  But forgiveness of sins, eternal salvation, is the only need that ultimately matters.

And it is on that foundation that I concluded:  getting caught up in a social movement, however noble it may be, is at best a distraction when divorced from the Gospel.  Satan uses mortal sins to distract some, and he uses “good deeds” to distract the rest.  Anything done apart from faith is sin.  Therefore, live by faith.

The dangers of feminism.

feminist

I get uneasy with the topic of feminism.  Yes, I am a woman.  I’m probably what most people would consider an independent and relatively successful woman.  I have a master’s degree, I have moved more times than I care to recall, building community from scratch every time, and I pay all my own bills.  I do not particularly like being cat called when I walk or run down the street, I do not think it is fair that a man would get paid more to do the same job as me in most professional (and not professional) environments, and I do not like the color pink.  I’m not a stay at home mom.  

But it still turns me off.

In case you live in a box, this past weekend hosted the VMA awards as well as the Grammys.  If you haven’t seen any news anywhere, let me tell you that everyone is ogling over Beyonce’s performance at the VMAs.  In fifteen minutes, she sang a medley of songs on the topics of oral sex in the back of a limo, telling a guy to “tear that cherry out” and a tribute to her reign as queen, “Bow Down”, complete with derrieres adorned only in glitter as the background dancers, Beyonce herself climbing and posing upon a cushion chair, and sitting spread eagle to acquaint everyone intimately with her crotch for substantial portions of the performance.  And the word with which she defined herself before her toddler daughter, husband and the world was, “Feminist”.  

Not twenty four hours later, the Grammys aired, during which Sofia Vergara mocked our society by standing on a turntable which turned her 360 degrees while Bruce Rosenblum, chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences said, “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.”  It was a joke.  Vergara, completely clothed, stood on a pedestal for people to look at in order to mock our societal and media trends.

Would you believe that people are up in arms?  Beyonce can strip for the world, dry hump chairs and poles but as long as she touts the title “feminist”, she is strong, independent, beautiful and in charge.  Vergara, on the other hand, who would simply mock society by giving the audience “something to look at” is now the victim of sexism.  As normal, everyone has an opinion.

Blah.  

This whole conversation makes my head and heart hurt.  Why?  Because anytime we waste our energy labeling ourselves anything else than Christian, we have lost our way.  

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 – Gal 3.28

The feminist extreme is out exerting “equality” by essentially demanding excess.  “Women can do the job better” and “stand up and take the lead” demands that we be first, not equal.  We want preference.  But the call of Jesus is to die to ourselves.  To suffer the offense.  To love one another irregardless of gender, color or social status.  Because in Jesus, there is no preference; male or female, race or social status.  

God is fundamentally concerned about justice.  He is the one who established the Law (the covenant with Moses, His perfect Law) and thus gave us the structure and outline for all systems of governance and accountability.  He Himself will judge every sin.  Every sin.  Nothing will go unpunished.  Sexism, racial injustice and social prejudice included.

However, if I waste all of my time getting upset because I live in a society where women are objectified, where I personally get cat called and honked at every time I go outside for a run, or even when I might make less money than a man just because I am a woman, all I will do is give myself an ulcer and live a miserable life.  Why?  Because you cannot change society unless God changes the heart first.  Sure, maybe if I push back hard enough, get enough people to sign my petition and make enough noise, a law might be passed to make cat calling deemed as harassment.  Maybe the police would even start to enforce it and people might start to stop whistling, making vulgar gestures and beeping their horns.  

So what?  

What eternal significance does it have if I make more money, walk down the street in peace, or get more societal respect?  None.  Absolutely none.  If I spend my whole life fighting for the equalization of women in the work place, I might help women to have more money, but they will still go to Hell if they do not know Jesus.  

How do you label yourself?  Are you a woman?  Are you consequently a feminist?  

Paul makes a radical statement:

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.  And so I direct in all the churches.  Was any man called when he was already circumcised?  He is not to become uncircumcised.  Has anyone been called in uncircumcision?  He is not to be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.  Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.  Were you called while a slave?  Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.  For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.  You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.  Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

 – 1 Cor 7.17-24

Paul essentially says here, your physical circumstances are not what are important.  It is your heart.  Slavery, persecution, success and happiness are not.  These things are all fleeting and they ultimately do not matter.  What matters is “keeping the commandments of God (v 19).  And Paul is not watering down the situation!  The early church was suffering persecution.  He himself was in and out of jail, was beaten, was stoned, put on trial and suffered more than you or I.  He was not speaking to a system of slavery that was fair, he was speaking to Christians who’s lives were in danger for the simple fact of being a Christian.

So if Paul can tell people who are living as slaves to be a slave to the glory of God, and not fight for themselves but to obey the commandments of God in their current slavery, why would I be justified in being angry because of the issues today?  I am not being beaten, I am making money, and live in more ease and comfort than most of the world.  And for those who are concerned that I just have not experienced it enough, I did live for four years in a society where I was the hated minority and wrestled with it daily.

 Am I preaching pacifism here?  No.  Paul does say, “but if you are able to become free, do that” (v 21).  And like I said, God is the judge and He has put powers in authority over us for a purpose (Rom 13.4).  If you have the calling and gifting to be a part of moral and ethical change in politics, then be about it!  God is concerned about justice, and we most certainly should stand up for those who do not have a voice.  But if we are called to show preference to one another, put others before ourselves and love our neighbors as ourselves, how can I justify being angry if someone else gets paid more, or if I am routinely wronged (Rom 12.10, Phil 2.3, Matt 22.39)?  

My point is this:  If you are a Christian, be a Christian.  A mini Christ.  And this is a matter of the heart.  How do you respond when you are hated?  How do you respond when you are persecuted or harassed?  Do you get angry and get up on your little soapbox and preach that you deserve better?  Or do you bless those who persecute you (Rom 12.14)?  Do you lash out when someone takes advantage of you?  Or do you go the extra mile (Matt 5.41)?  Do you love your enemy and pray for him (Matt 5.44)?  

Instead of looking at myself, and thinking about what I need or deserve, I should be concerned about the heart and eternity of the one who is hating me, who is persecuting or abusing me.  That does not mean I willingly stay in a situation that is to my detriment, but it does mean that my response is concern for other’s souls and eternities.  Because even if I succeed in changing their behavior, nothing of eternal value has been accomplished. 

Every society needs to see change and reform, including ours.  And at the risk of sounding cliche, I would remind us that it starts with me.  It starts with you.  I am not going to honor God and show others how to love by getting angry and crying about social inequality.  I will honor God by loving those who persecute me.  It has to be the love of God in my heart, the conviction to live my life as unto Him and not unto man, and to do all things to His glory.  I must respond well and in love, and when I find the opportunity to affect laws or societal governance, then I step up.  If you have a job or a position whereby you can make a difference, then impact the world – and that for the sake of Christ!  Make equal salaries between gender and race.  Enforce laws of harassment and do away with racial profiling.  But do it because Jesus declares us the same, without distinction.  And love those who persecute you in the process because what matters is keeping the commandments of God.