The place of justice and righteousness in the Kingdom and how it shapes our politics.
Deut. 10:18 reminds us that God “executes justice [mishpat] for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” Again in Deut. 27:19 God’s concern for justice is clear when we read “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice [mishpat] due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
The idea of mishpat is that of rectifying justice where we punish evil, protect the weak and care for the poor. The idea of tzedaqah is that of primary justice or righteousness which requires us to be in right relationship with both God and others, expecting that we will conduct ourselves in family and society with fairness and generosity.
Of course, if Israel did righteousness it would not have to do justice. If Israel conducted itself in all their relationships with fairness and generosity, there would be no need for rectifying justice against evil, or any need to protect the weak or care for the poor.
Good kings did justice and righteousness. David was a good king according to 2 Sam. 8:15, “David administered justice and equity to all his people.” Even his son, Solomon, started well. 1 Kings 3:28 everyone stood in “awe of the king because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” And that was the role of the king, to keep covenant and to execute justice and righteousness in the kingdom. 1 Kings 10:9 reminds Solomon that God had “made [him] king over them, that [he] may execute justice and righteousness.”
And where there was misphat, and tzedaqah there was the shalom [peace] of God. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. Like an enduring Sabbath of joy and well-being.
So, the biblical witness is that when misphat and tzedaqah were executed, the result was the shalom of God – a biblical view of human flourishing. Of course, Israel’s kings failed miserably as the prophets made clear.
However, the prophets also spoke of another king to come, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice (mishpat) and with righteousness (tzedagah) from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isa. 9:7)
And again, in Isaiah 42:1ff, “Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice (mishpat) to the nations…”
So rightly understood, Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of justice and righteousness that leads to peace. And the people of his kingdom are called to live that good life of shalom, doing justice and righteousness.
The N.T. reflects this though the language changes slightly. It speaks of being a good Samaritan, a man who does misphat (Luke 4 and 10); loving your neighbour (Matt. 22:39); doing good to all (Gal. 6:1); seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness (Matt. 6:1, 33) or the ministry to the Saints (2 Cor. 9:1, 6). In fact, I would say all the household codes are the outworking of righteousness that requires us to be in right relationship with both God and others, expecting that we will conduct ourselves in family and society with fairness and generosity.
Now, if you lean to the conservative side of politics, my guess is that your natural bias is towards issues of righteousness (sexual issues, ssm, abortion, etc.). If you lean towards the progressive side of politics, my guess is that your bias is towards issues of justice (refugees, DFV, climate change, etc.).
Now, of course, we should do both, but the nature of politics is both polarising and distorting. So, issues like abortion are framed as righteousness issues (killing) but they are also justice issues (defending the weak and vulnerable). The issue of refugees is often framed as justice (defending the weak and vulnerable), but it’s also a righteousness issue (living generously with others). SSM can be framed as a righteousness issue (sexuality) as well as a justice issue (children).
Additionally, politics doesn’t always deal well with the relationships between righteousness and justice issues. For example, it is imperative to be concerned with justice issues like ‘domestic and family violence’, but to disconnect that from righteousness issues like marriage vs cohabitation, and alcohol and substance abuse would be unwise. You can’t lament poor educational and health outcomes for children but not be concerned with strengthening the institution of marriage that offers the best outcomes for children. In other words, the more concern we have for righteousness issues will mean a corresponding drop in justice needs. There is a clear link between unrighteousness and resulting injustice.
Of course, in previous generations, it was easier to discuss issues of righteousness in our culture as there wasn’t the chasm there is today between the biblical understanding of right relationships and that of our culture. It is of course much easier to do justice in our culture than it is to do righteousness, but we are called to live and witness to both.
If you are interested in public Christianity consider attending the biennial colloquium held on Oct. 20-21 at Scots Church. Details of all the speakers and topics can be found at: religioninthepublicsquare.org
By Darren Middleton