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Religious Leader Perspective: Defining Justice Biblically

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by Tom Westcott, Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran

It seems to me that our culture is entranced with the idea of justice equating to fairness. That is, it is heard as a thin and particularly self-centered version of “I get what is coming to me” or worse yet, “you get what is coming to you as punishment for what you have done to me.” Justice in this use is a code word for revenge. The Bible dares us to think of justice in a different way.

Interestingly enough, the Bible does not have a single word that can be translated into English that means justice. Rather, there are three words for justice that can revolutionize how we think of this term today.

Sedaqah – also translated as righteousness; orienting ourselves towards the whole community.

Shalom – a holistic sense of justice that seeks to restore community, putting things right, repairing and healing our relationships with others,

Mishpat – refers to the fundamental wholeness of creation and what God does when that wholeness is ripped apart by neglect or violence; here we see God’s restorative justice.

A biblical view of justice has nothing to do with an eye for an eye mentality. Justice in the Bible has much more to do with the deep relationship God extends to us and calls us to enter into with our neighbors. While we fully admit that God’s justice is something beyond what we can fathom, we fully enter into the call to live it out to the best of our abilities. In doing so, we make that divine love incarnate in the world.