Defining Justice

SLGby Sherah-Leigh Gerber

I was recently invited to teach a Sunday School class, one that I don’t regularly attend. The book up for study is Simply Christian by NT Wright.

In the first chapter, Wright asserts that a “sense of justice” comes with being human, so I invited the class to reflect on their own understanding of the definition of biblical justice, since this theme of the human sense of justice threads through the entire book.

As I prepared to lead the discussion, I was forced to consider and try to define my own understanding of the concept. Interestingly, when you look to a concordance to find the usage and definitions of justice in the biblical text, it suggests that you also look up injustice.

In the Old Testament, when justice is mentioned, it is almost always paired with a reference to judgment. Synonymous with the word justice is righteous. Other parallel suggestions included: rigid, finished, perfect, and whole. What does this mean for how we both understand a work for justice?

The other claim that Wright makes early on is that the line between justice and injustice runs through each of us.

I started by asking the class to name biblical stories that have shaped their definition and understanding of justice. This turned out to be a challenge. But as we talked about the concordance definitions, the creation story and God’s relationship with Adam and Eve emerged as a helpful guide for considering what a just and perfect world would look like.

In the end, our class session focused more on questions than answers, and I’m challenged to keep wrestling with these ideas.

I invite you to consider with me. How do you respond to these questions?

  • What does it mean that the line between justice and injustice runs through me?
  • Where am I aware of injustice? How can I work to address that?
  • How do I define justice? Is this always defined by those in positions of privilege?
  • What role does judgment play in justice?
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One response to “Defining Justice

  1. When courts hand out sentences, victims often lament that they’re too lenient. Justice to them sees to it that the punishment is roughly equal in weight to the crime. It’s really hard for a Christian witness to make any prophetic inroads using that word.

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