It could be argued that the whole of human history has been a story of man doing what he thinks is right in his own eyes. Therefore there have always been competing visions for what justice should look like, giving rise to competing narratives of how justice is achieved. Each narrative voiced in the political rhetoric of its day, each offering its rationale for why it should be given power to impose its version of justice on the rest of us. So historically our experience of human justice has been characterized by subtle shades of violence and oppression – because invariably each narrative becomes fully realized as just another iteration of an imposed will, indicative of Babylon.
God’s justice is understood, first and foremost, ontologically before it can ever be understood sociologically. So one cannot have a meaningful conversation about what justice should look like until they have answered the question – what is it that gives human life value? Either it is a value assigned immutably sourced in the transcendence of God, or it is a value oscillating in the transience of cultural ethos. Therefore we do well as Christians to remember that it is our confession of imago dei that animates our Christian understanding of justice.
There are those who entertain narratives of justice that appear similarly motivated, but are in all actuality nothing more than repackaged political rhetoric, fueled by existentially pronounced morality. Such purveyors of manufactured justice imagine themselves as heroically rising to the challenge of some quixotic moment in history, where they can finally prove their worth . . . and justify their own existence. Some take to the streets, using violence if necessary, to prove their commitment – while others simply virtue signal their lockstep conformity to whatever the latest version of culturally coerced dogma might be.
So the contrast between the two couldn’t be any more evident. One view, believing that justice is a malleable human construct, one that must be regularly reinvented as a sociological mandate imposing conformity. Which is why it must intimidate all dissenting views into silent compliance – because the subtext of such a belief sees fear as the prime motivator of justice. But for those of us who hold imago dei as an ontological starting point for understanding the value of human life, the role of justice is intended to remind us of who we are — like gravity constantly reminding us of what planet we live on. Everything about God’s creation is purposeful, ever drawing us back to him, ever calling us to live our lives as bearers of his image.
So yes, as a Christian I have an unflinching commitment to what is just, but not as some grandiose proclamation about how others should live their lives – but rather as a meditation on what pleases God most (Micah 6:8). I seek to walk humbly with my God, by doing what is just, and by loving mercy. And I invite others to do likewise, so that they may live at peace with God . . . and one another. To imagine that justice could be sought any other way, is to misunderstand why you even exist . . . because justice can’t really be understood apart from the perspective of being made in God’s image.
Let us pray that God would illuminate the shadows . . .