Welcome to the Book Journey of Generous Justice by Timothy Keller.
Have you read the book review and schedule for this book journey? If not, you can find it here.
Chapter One – What is doing justice?
Generous Justice begins with a chapter describing the concept of justice, which Keller breaks down into four main explanations:
- Justice is care for the vulnerable
- Justice reflects the character of God
- Justice is right relationships
- Justice includes generosity
Important words to know
“And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Justice in Hebrew is mishpat – This term occurs more than 200 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and it means to treat people in a fair and impartial way, freely giving what is due. This applies in regards to punishing wrongdoing equally (Levitcus 24:22) and to giving people what they deserve (Deuteronomy 18 explains how the tabernacle priests should receive their rightful financial support.)
Mercy in Hebrew is chesedh – God’s unconditional grace and compassion
So, what does it mean “to do justice?”
Keller gives examples of two individuals he knows who set out to “do justice.” One, Heather, turned down a lucrative job with a major law firm in Manhattan in order to be an assistant district attorney where she can directly advocate against the exploitation of the poor, namely disadvantaged women. Another man, Mark, moved into one of the most dangerous and poor areas of Baltimore in order to “do justice.” Over time, Mark and his team were used by God to start a church and various ministries that have effectively transformed the area. Keller summarizes of these two, “they became concerned about the most vulnerable, poor, and marginalized members of our society, and they made long-term personal sacrifices in order to serve their interests, needs, and cause.” That, he concludes, is what the Bible refers to as to “do justice.”
Repeatedly throughout the Bible, the term mishpat is used in regards to the command to defend and care for the most vulnerable of society – widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor. Why these four? Basically because, according to the culture and society of that time, these four groups of people had no social power or support system in place to care for them. Keller says, “Today this quartet would be expanded to include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, and many single parents and elderly people.”
While the rich of society may suffer injustice, the vulnerable members of society have little to no support or defense in their plight – except that the Lord declares Himself the defender of the poor and the father to the fatherless and calls us to follow His example (Proverbs 31:8; Deuteronomy 27:19, Jeremiah 22:3; Proverbs 14:31; Jeremiah 22:16).
Why should we take up this matter of justness (mishpat)?
It’s important to God. He cares and makes His heart clear to us. (Psalm 146:7-9; Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Psalm 68:4-5)
For God’s glory among the nations: While nearly all ancient societies revolved around the elite and the powerful, the Lord God radically instructed Israel to take up the cause of the outcasts and the powerless. In fact, Keller notes that, “Isreal was charged to create a culture of social justice for the poor and vulnerable because it was the way the nation could reveal God’s glory and character to the world.” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)
Chapter Two – Justice and the Old Testament
This chapter began with an explanation as to why the Old Testament directives on social justice are still applicable today. Keller points out that, while the commands of the OT are ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ, they reflect principles that are still valid for Christians today (2 Timothy 3:16). The way in which the principles are fleshed out looks different today, yet are grounded in OT teachings (for example, the principle of sacrifice remains; although we do not offer regular sacrifice, we are called in Romans 12:1-2 to offer our entire lives as sacrifices.)
Thus, Keller states that, “we should be wary of simply saying, ‘These things don’t apply anymore,’ because the Mosaic laws of social justice are grounded in God’s character, and that never changes.’”
One area that was especially interesting to me is that of “gleaning laws.” While we can’t apply the exact details of gleaning laws to today’s time (leaving a portion of one’s field for the vulnerable to glean), the concept can and should be followed.
Keller says, “But what do the gleaning laws reveal to us about God’s will for our relationships? Why was it that landowners were not allowed to harvest out to the margins of their field? God did not want them to squeeze every cent of profit out of their land, and then think that by giving to charity they were doing all they could for general community welfare. The gleaning laws enabled the poor to be self-sufficient, not through getting a hand-out, but through their own work in the field.”
Truly, a beautiful and God-given concept, through which people retain their dignity and work ethic, and the land owners retain a sense of sacrifice, humility, and responsibility to the community. This divine model encourages supportive community and self-sufficiency rather than isolated dependency.
Causes of poverty
In order to do justice, one must understand the root issue –the cause of vulnerability and poverty. There is often a divide in opinions on this subject, some pointing to forces beyond the control of the individual (racism, economic deprivation, inequalities) and others pointing to forces within responsibility of the individual (family breakdown, self-control, work ethic, moral issues).
The Bible addresses the causes of poverty to include the following factors:
- Oppression –Leviticus 19:15; Exodus 22:25-27; Jeremiah 22:13; James 5:1-6; oppression specifically by the rich – Amos 5:11-12; Ezekiel 22:29; Micah 2:2, Isaiah 5:8
- Calamity and Natural disasters – Genesis 47
- Personal moral failures – Proverbs 6:6-7 23:21, 12:11, 14:23, 20:13
Thus, poverty is complex and the approach to eliminate it must be multifaceted. Keller says, “Any large-scale improvement in a society’s level of poverty will come through a comprehensive array of public and private, spiritual, personal, and corporate measures.”
Your thoughts? Feel free to discuss these questions or bring up any other comments you may have as you read these summaries (and especially if you are reading the book). You can leave comments here or on the Front Porch Inspired Facebook page.
Remember, quotes from the book are posted daily on the Facebook page. And, the summary and discussion questions for chapters 3 and 4 will be posted next Friday, February 20.