Thinking About...Justice

Over the past few months I’ve been both encouraged and challenged by Andy Crouch’s book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. Andy, who serves as the Executive Editor at Christianity Today Magazine, is an astute observer of the world and a lucid writer. His reflection on the idea of power (a word that makes many Christians bristle) is timely and needed. I commend it to you. One of the ideas that Andy develops in his book connects with an idea I talked about two Sundays ago as we considered John 5. There, in verse 44, as Jesus explains why people misunderstand the evidence about him, he says, “How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:30-47)

Explaining this verse, I said that we as humans are designed to be mirrors, receiving glory from God which we then reflect to others in the world. As we do so we embody our original created intention. We bear the image of God. As Genesis 1 records: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Justice as Image-Bearing

What Andy helped me see is how our mirroring of God as his image-bearers connects to justice. Justice is one of those big, audacious, abstract words that we know is in the Bible and is important for Christians, but which can be hard for us to understand. Andy says “The work of justice is to restore the conditions that make image bearing possible.” (80) That is to say, justice leads to conditions where full and true image bearing can take place.

Our work for justice, then, must be connected to restoring and preserving the image-bearing capacity of all individual humans. Justice creates scenarios where people can (re)discover their God-given identity as mirrors of God. But how do we do this work?

The way we can rightly mirror God is through Jesus, who is called “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus, is the only clear, unbroken, undimmed mirror of God the Father. Jesus was the perfect Image-Bearer. As we are united to Him, we better image God in the world.

The How of Justice

Shockingly, the grandest way that Jesus imaged God in the world, the way He opposed injustice and gave birth to justice, was through His death and resurrection. To counteract injustice (which we might gloss simply as the incorrect use of power), Jesus did not hold on to power or insist on power, but rater he gave up power, succumbing to death. The how of our work for justice mirrors the how of Jesus’ justice work.

In his own great reflection (pun intended) on how humanity can mirror the glory of God by looking at Jesus and His work, the apostle Paul writes: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested more in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12)

We mirror God and thereby help restore the rightful image of God to others by being given over to death, as our Savior--the true Image-Bearer--Jesus showed. Our work for justice is cruciform just as Jesus’ great work of justice came through the cross.