If we look to Jesus, we see all the ways He dismantled oppression and helped those around Him find freedom through justice. So if justice is in the Bible, what does that look like for us today? We talked with Rusty Pritchard on the You’ve Heard It Said podcast to learn more about biblical justice. Rusty is super passionate about this topic and has lived it out in his life while working with both Tearfund International and Tearfund USA, which is one of Life.Church’s Global Mission Partners. His answers and explanations will leave you feeling inspired and ready to pursue biblical justice in your community.
When I think about what the Bible has to say about justice, I think back to what the role of humans is on planet earth. We think about justice now as fixing things that have gone wrong, identifying what’s wrong with the world, and intervening to set things right.
But why should we have the authority to go in and sort things out like that?
I think it really goes back to what the Bible has to say about us bearing the image of God. When you go back to the start of the Bible, the author of Genesis was inspired by God to write down the story of the creation of the whole world.
God is pushing back chaos. He’s bringing order. He’s building something that’s amazing in this creation.
What God did in Genesis was something very different:
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them … Genesis 1:27 NLT
So He stamped them with His image. A lot of ink has been spilled about what this means and what makes humans special. The author of Genesis knew this too.
We didn’t even get our own special day in the creation accounts. We share our day with livestock, wild animals, and what the Bible calls, “the creatures that move along the ground, …” (Genesis 1:24 NIV)
So what set the people apart, according to the Bible, was the job that we were doing. And no doubt, all of the skills and abilities that accompanied the ability to do that job.
This image-bearing is not like some sort of personality or physiological thing. It’s a commission. It is that one creature has been set apart to have a special relationship with God and to rule over creation—to reign over creation as God’s representative.
That’s not an indication that we’re meant to be tyrants or violent and destructive in our rule. Again, the goal is to be images of the God who so lovingly put that world together.
Genesis 2 elaborates on this. It says that:
The Lord God … put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15 NIV
That word, translated “work,” is the Hebrew word “abad.” This same word is also used to describe the work of priests in a temple. So from a language perspective, working the land, making a living from it, and worshiping God are really intertwined.
Humans are told to make a living from creation and to take care of it. And that comes back to our sense of justice and what it means to do justice in the world.
It’s our job to work and care for the world that God created. So God’s creation project was about creating a world with a man representing Him. That’s still His plan today, despite all the brokenness that we see.
Theologian N.T. Wright says that we’re like an angled mirror. We’re there to reflect the love and authority of God out into the world and to continue God’s creative work in the world. And we’re also meant to reflect the beauty and glory of creation back to God.
That’s what it means to be fully human. That’s what we aspire to when we do works of justice—to create the possibility for people to live out this vocation and to be fully human.
But going back to Genesis, there’s a wrinkle here. Genesis 3 is when this thing starts to come apart. Humans, Adam and Eve, decide that they want to obey the voice of a serpent instead of obeying the voice of God. They’re bowing down to something that’s created rather than to the Creator.
They want to know not just good, but they want to know evil as well. You see relationships begin to fall apart. In their relationship with creation, instead of ruling over it, they submitted to it. Their relationship with God was clearly broken—instead of representing God, they tried to hide from Him.
Shame came between these two humans. They began to hide their bodies from each other with clothes. And each of them suffered internal brokenness in their own being. They had wanted to become equal with God instead of being the image of God. So they and their descendants became abusive and violent.
Their sin was not just eating a fruit or disobeying a simple command. It was giving up their job as rulers and priests.
But they couldn’t undo what God’s intent for His creation was. And He immediately starts getting things back on track. In Genesis 12, you see that He calls one family—Abraham and his descendants—to be His representatives again, to worship Him, and to bless the whole world.
You see it all throughout the Old Testament that this is God’s plan, that humans should be running His creation and doing what’s right. And just skip all the way forward to Revelation 22, and the last chapter of the Bible. It talks about the new creation that God is going to bring about.
… The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. … the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5 NIV
So how did we get from this brokenness and disaster to this new creation where people are doing their job? Jesus. This is the answer we always know. This is Jesus that intervened here. The answer was that there was finally a perfect human who perfectly did the job and destroyed the forces that trapped us in failure and guilt. Jesus is the true King and the great High Priest doing what Adam couldn’t do.
So what does it mean for us, to go from being failed image-bearers to getting our old jobs back? To be useful in God’s plan, to bring justice into the world, and to put relationships right, we first have to be rescued.
Our sins need to be forgiven so that we’re free from the bondage to the forces of evil. And so that the right relationships can be restored—with God, with ourselves, with the creation, and with others.
So to do justice means to look for where relationships are broken and to begin to restore them.
So what now? In the light of this rescue, how do we do this job of being Kings and Priests?
It’s about work. It’s being creative. It’s taking the good creation and continuing its transformation. When we have jobs, we’re involved in managing creation and being good kings.
And this is what we have to look forward to when our great King comes back. At the Second Coming, Jesus is going to truly make things right. What we’re doing right now, in doing the work of justice, is a foretaste of what’s coming.