I just finished reading Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. I was going to do a single review of this book. But, there were too many important things that stood out to me. So, there will be a few posts on this book.
A quick review though: Keller’s book is a more theoretical companion to his earlier book, Ministries of Mercy: the Call of the Jericho Road. It is too short of a book as I was left wanting more. I consider it an important read, one which may challenge some of your assumptions about justice. I highly recommend it.
He wrote the book for a few audiences. One was the group of young Christians who have a highly developed social conscience. They are concerned about justice, but it doesn’t seem to alter their personal choices. He seeks to connect their faith with their desire to help people in need. Another was those conservative Christians who are suspicious of talk of justice. They separate justice from sound doctrine and spiritual dynamism. Scripture teaches that justice flows from them. He also writes to those younger evangelicals who have put aside sound doctrine to pursue social justice. Lastly, he writes for non-Christians who think that Christians poison everything. He wants to give them a biblical vision for life and godliness that encompasses justice.
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
This is an important passage in the first chapter which explores justice. Justice would appear to be anything but voluntary for a believer in Christ. If we love God’s mercy, or faithful love (it is the Hebrew word chesedh) we are also to act justly. The love is the motive of the justice. God is both chesedh, or agape in the Greek, and just. He is not one or the other. He is both, and calls us to be both as well. We act justly because we love mercy.
Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care. … mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of the widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor- those who have been called the “quartet of the vulnerable.”
God, obviously, is just. His law is concerned with maintaining the rights of others. He displays an amazing concern for the poor, weak and helpless. The righteous man provided for the poor. It went beyond not oppressing them. Those people are less able to defend themselves from oppression, and the righteous man stands beside (or in front of) them as their protector against the oppressor. Since they can’t defend themselves, Christians should defend them (whether oppressed minorities, the unborn, the fatherless etc.).
If believers in God don’t honor the cries and claims of the poor, we don’t honor him, whatever we profess, because we hide his beauty from the eyes of the world.
Sin is relational. Look at the law; it is hard to miss that point. This is why Jesus sums up the law as “Love God and your neighbor.” In the same way, righteousness is relational. Keller calls it primary justice, “behavior that renders rectifying justice unnecessary.” When you live according to God’s pattern and character, there is no need for mishpat or rectifying justice. Rectifying justice is necessary precisely because there is so little righteousness in the world, in our communities.
1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.
Justice is also generous. He notes Matthew 6, in which gifts to the poor are called ‘acts of righteousness.’ We are giving them what they, under the law, deserve. God doesn’t trust us, he encodes it in law because such generosity is in keeping with His character. He is generous!
“Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess, but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.”
It flows out of greed, hatred, apathy and more. God hates it. Sometimes we conservative Christians can be stingy because are self-righteous. We think the other person doesn’t “deserve” our help, as though we deserved God’s help. Job speaks of “sharing his bread” with the poor as part of righteousness (Job 31). Ezekiel 18 moves in the same direction. While studies show that conservatives are more generous than liberals (often because conservatives utilize private non-profits, while liberals often prefer higher taxes and governmental or public non-profits). But, I suspect we are not generous enough since we prefer to maintain our middle-class living standards.
Despite the effort to draw a line between “justice” as legal fairness and sharing as “charity,” Ezekiel and Job make radical generosity as one of the marks of living justly.
Keller does a great job of biblically correcting our misunderstanding of both justice and righteousness. We always need to check our perceptions against the teaching of Scripture. He helps us to do that in an excellent first chapter.