What Is the Reformed View of Social Justice?
Social justice is talked about a lot in our society. Since the Bible also speaks about justice, some people might think everything our government or churches or various agencies are saying about social justice is therefore in line with the Bible. This is not the case. When some speak about social justice, their thinking has been influenced by the Social Gospel, which was very prominent a good century ago. They may be influenced by socialism or liberalism, both of which are non-biblical.
There is, however, a Reformed view of social justice as well. Just because liberals and socialists talk a lot about social justice, doesn’t mean that the Bible does not have a concept of social justice. The following lines of thought are part of a biblical concept of social justice.
As a God of justice and righteousness, God has indicated four fundamental human rights in the Ten Commandments. He has given each person a right to life, a right to home, a right to life, a right to home a right to property, and a right to a truthful reputation. These are not inalienable rights in the sense that one can never do anything to forfeit these rights. The Bible makes that clear. If you kill someone else, your own life is not necessarily protected. If you do something wrong, your reputation may suffer, and so on.
However, these rights mean that no one should take these away from you without warrant that God gives elsewhere in his Bible.
Justice demands exact compensation for the violation of these rights. See Leviticus 24:17, 18, 19, 22:
...He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he has done, so shall it be done to him again ... Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country; for I am the LORD your God.
Justice in the Bible also means to do good to the truly needy. In Jeremiah 21:12 the prophet says:
Administer justice every morning, rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or My wrath will break out and burn like fire, because of the evil you have done.
Proverbs 24:11&12: “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? And he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? And shall not he render to every man according to his works?”
This does not mean that we violate other people’s fundamental rights (as given in the Ten Commandments) in order to do good to the needy. Socialism, for example, overtaxes the rich in order to give to the poor, which in turn fosters systems and dynamics that do not truly help the needy. However, a Christian, who is moved by the biblical command to care for the poor and needy, will seek in his life and through his means to help the poor and needy. Churches too will do this. Collectively a lot more can be done. Relief organizations can do a lot on this front. This is part of what the Bible understands as justice.
It will not be possible to engage in social gospel from a right heart and motive without the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We ourselves need to know the love of God in our hearts, and we need to show that in what we do. Others too will not be truly helped unless they learn to live in accordance with the Word of God. We need to remember that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment (Heb. 9:27). Then all who are outside of Christ will be condemned, because God’s justice cannot be compromised. Moreover, we cannot understand the law apart from Jesus Christ. He has given its right interpretation. Apart from Christ, we cannot speak about the validity of the law for him who has been justified by faith. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness unto everyone that believeth” (Romans 10:4). It is the dignity of the Christian life to keep His law with a glad and cordial obedience, for Christ’s sake.