Language is a complex beauty, ever evolving (for good and for ill) and mysterious in its nuances and threads. Words and phrases are never objective for we subjectively run them through our personal filters. As we receive communications through language, we strain out meaning that means something to us personally—but it may not be the meaning intended by the speaker.
Such is the case with the phrase social justice.When I run this phrase through my filter, the following words gather up in my mind:
- following in the footsteps of Christ Jesus
- caring for those less fortunate
- extending a helping hand
- laying down your life, comfort, security for another
I realize these do not exhaustively define this phrase considering the history of social justice movements. Such deficiencies and oversights have recently been blasted by political commentator Glenn Beck. Being rather averse to political blather, I was completely unaware of this hullabaloo until my brother-in-law mentioned it. It seems that Beck has rung the alarm, warning that social justice in the church is a certain sign that heresy has made its home among the faithful. He recommended that you flee your church if social justice is a platform there.
hmm . . . It wouldn’t take a reader long to find social justice a focus here at the patch. Especially now that I am involved in the Social Justice Challenge! But I hope you won’t be too quick to flee.
Let me assure you, my interest in social justice is fueled only by the mandate of Jesus. I have no political platform to push.
As I learn and grow in this area, my definition of social justice is coming into focus. Leah over at Practicing Joy had some great thoughts on this very thing in a post describing her family’s involvement in the 40 Days of Water—check out the last few paragraphs especially. And just last night I read something from John Piper’s What Jesus Demands of the World (p. 359) that explains well my drive to reach out to others in love through social justice–related causes:
[Jesus] explicitly says that our aim in doing good works for others is that they might glorify God. Sometimes people who talk much of love but are not God-centered the way Jesus is say things like, “If you do good to people to get them to glorify your God, you are not loving them, for you have ulterior motives.” . . .
How could it not be love to lay down your life for someone (in doing good for them) specifically with a view to satisfying them with the glory of God forever? This motive is not ulterior; it is open and front and center. It is the very essence of love: Followers of Jesus are not do-gooders with no eternal aims for those they love. They know exactly what the greatest and highest and most joyful good is: seeing and savoring God in Jesus forever. This is their aim and they are unashamed of it. They think any lesser aim is a failure of love.
Do I believe in social justice? In the context of helping others so that hearts might be warmed to the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—yes, I do. My motive is to love others with the love of Christ in the here-and-now so that they might not miss out on the joy of God’s glory for eternity. If my goal were merely to push social justice as a platform for comfort and equality in this life, it would be shortsighted. And that would not be love. Jesus Himself said it like this: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
For an excellent response to Beck’s remarks, see this commentary.