When you were a kid did you say the Pledge of Allegiance every day at the beginning of school? I don’t say it much any more, and I recently read it and thought about the words. “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty and justice for all. A noble concept and one we are very far away from enacting in our country.
Yet we cling to the ideal. When we encounter power, we expect justice, as a citizen of our country. Or at least we do if we are children of white privilege. Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, the poor – they may expect justice but they rarely receive it.
The Bible is full of verses about the topic. The definition of justice is “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.” Today there seem to be lots of people who cling to moral rightness but have abandoned working for a just world or nation. We hope that justice is blind, but then we weight the scales in our favor and against others.
Here are some Bible verses about justice:
Psalm 140:12: I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor.
Deuteronomy 16:20: Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
Psalm 106:3: How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times!
Leviticus 19:15: You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.
We are very interested in justice, and we are mostly interested in it for ourselves. We are quick to cry “That’s not fair!” when we feel we are being treated inequitably. But how well do we stand up for equality for others? Martin Luther King Jr. embodied this idea of seeking a just world for all people. Me – not so much. Injustice makes me angry but I often feel helpless when I try to think what to do about it. Injustice is so much a part of our systems that I’m not sure we can root it out without getting rid of the systems that gave rise to it in the first place. People are talking about reparations for slavery – and I would be all for that – if I thought it would finally change the systems that still hold people in bondage today.
Oswald Chambers had an interesting take on being just. He said, “Never look for justice in this world but never cease to give it.” He made this statement in a sermon about turning the other cheek. The quote has stayed with me, because this is something I can do, at least in small part. Holding on to the idea of justice for me can make me angry and bitter. Instead, I need to let go of the idea of justice for me and work harder at making sure I am just in my dealings with others.
Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.
” Those are concrete, positive things I can do. When I stop seeking justice for myself, but insist that it be given to others, I am learning to live a little more for God and a little less for myself.