There’s been a lot of talk in Christian circles lately about justice. And that’s good, because Christians should be concerned about justice. Justice is one of God’s attributes:
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. – Isaiah 30:18
The trouble is, some talking about justice either don’t define what they mean by the term or define it wrongly. I want to deal with the latter, defining justice wrongly, and one particular manifestation of that – the idea that inequality (of outcome) itself is unjust.
Is the mere existence of a disparity between two people or two groups injustice?
In fact if it is, God is unjust. Consider Matthew 25:14-30:
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Jesus is teaching here about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, about what will happen on the Last Day. A man went away and entrusted his servants with certain resources until he returned. Upon his return, those servants were held accountable for how they used what they were given.
But, and here’s the important part for our discussion, they weren’t given equal amounts. It’s also important to note that the “master” in the parable is God. So, God has given three people three different amounts – ten talents, five talents and one talent. When the master returns, he does not chastise the servants with ten talents and five talents for not divvying up their talents among the three of them so everyone had the same. He praises them for using their resources to produce more. The one who’d been given the least, far from being treated as a victim of injustice, is called wicked and slothful and chastised for not making use of the resources he was given. The master even takes away what little the man had and gives it to the servant who had the most! God doesn’t distribute talents and resources so that everyone has the same, he distributes them as he sees fit and expects everyone to be faithful with what they are given.
So, if we want to identify injustice, we must have more than a disparity between two people or groups – we must have biblically definable injustices. For example, can income inequality be a result of injustice?
But you must determine what the biblically definable injustice is that is leading to the disparity and address that. You can’t just point to the disparity and claim injustice exists. If the disparity is exacerbated by employers not paying their employees what is owed, Scripture is clear that is unjust:
You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. – Leviticus 19:13
And, just to be clear, paying employees what they have earned is justice whether or not that allows them to earn the same as someone else because, again, the injustice is not the disparity, the injustice is the employer refusing to give their employees what they are owed. The Bible never teaches that equality of outcome is a requirement for justice.
Christians should speak out against actual injustice. They should call the people involved to repent. They should work to make sure the law is used to help people who have been defrauded in this way. What they should not do is make sweeping statements that imply everyone who is better off than someone else is guilty of injustice or that society is systemically unjust because disparities exist.
Be concerned with justice, yes, but define it biblically. For to define it otherwise results in the very thing you’re trying to avoid – injustice.
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