Murder. Protests. Riots. Vandalism. Privilege. Injustice. Even in an age of moral relativism, people agree with certainty that all men should be treated with dignity and equality. From where does this certainty arise? This instinctual knowledge comes from being made in the image of God: we are intrinsically valuable because God endowed us with aspects of Himself. Whether or not people wish to acknowledge the borrowed glory grafted into their DNAs, our hearts are nonetheless primed for justice just as our stomachs roil at injustice. We feel the rage and pain and wrongness. We itch to act but possess no easy answers or quick solutions. How then should believers respond to social injustice?
Such was the situation 2,700 years ago in the streets of Judah. The political and religious leaders were exploiting their own people. The nation was rife with rebellion and oppression. Into this darkness, the prophet Micah preached repentance via social reform and prophesied of present judgment and future redemption. The people however preferred a show of religiosity instead of true reform: they asked Micah if an extravagant sacrifice would be enough to appease the anger of God? Say a thousand rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? The prophet sadly shook his head. The people were missing the point. The Israelites already knew what the Lord desired: He wasn’t impressed with their theatrics; the Lord wanted their hearts:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Although written to the people of Judah, Micah preaches an incredibly relevant word for us today. We clearly see how Christ perfectly fulfilled these requirements on our behalf while also empowering us by the Spirit to follow in His footsteps. When read in the context of the Gospel, Micah gives the modern believer marching orders for these dark times. We can get busy reflecting the justice, mercy and humility of God in the community He has placed us.
Doing justice may seem ambiguous or even ambitious. We note our lack of social platform or political prowess and feel disqualified. These feelings, however, reveal a narrow view of justice. Very simply, doing justice means living in right relationship to God and others. Psalm 106:3 says, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” Justice also signifies equitableness or impartiality toward others. James talks a great deal about the impartiality of faith manifesting in tangible help for the disadvantaged, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” (James 1:27a). A right relationship with God will move us to advocate for the vulnerable in our community. Do you have aging parents or grandparents? Do you have young children? Do you have a widow neighbor? Do your kids have immigrant classmates? Do you have an impoverished co-worker? Then you have influence and responsibility to do justice. As image bearers, we are incapable of living morally neutral lives: we will either seek the glory of God and the good of others or we will seek our own glory and good. One leads to justice and the other to oppression.
In addition to justice, we are called to be lovers of mercy. Why? “Because mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Consider the triumphant mercy of God: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). God poured His rightful judgment for sin on His holy Son, so Christ could wash us in a deluge of mercy. Christ received our “just deserts,” so we could receive life, forgiveness and borrowed righteousness. As His followers, we walk in the Way of His mercy. This path requires us to lay down our “rights,” to feed our enemy and to enter the sorrow of the grieving (Rom 12). Followers of the Way deny their pride to seek restoration with the estranged (Eph. 4:32) and deny their greed to share their resources with the needy (Matt. 25:35-40). Because of the cross, we no longer see mercy as a requirement but as worship.
Humility is interpreting the events of life through the lens of mercy. Walking in humility looks like Noah, the only righteous and blameless man of his generation, exiting the ark and immediately offering sacrifices in repentance for his sin. Humility understands that everyone sins (Rom. 3:23). Humility knows that sin demands payment. Humility feels awe that Jesus assumed that debt. Humility never takes for granted the undeserved relationship with a holy God. Humility fears for the souls of unrepentant neighbors knowing that those who reject God’s reign will eternally drown in the Lake of Fire. For if the Just Judge is longsuffering and unwilling that any should perish, how much more should we urge repentance while there is yet time (2 Peter 3:9)? We who have received such mercy? For our omniscient God who discerns the motives of the heart (I Sam. 16:7) will call each of us to account for our actions (Rom. 15:12): an account that will be given in either humility or humiliation. Ultimately, justice will be served in its fullest succor and devastation.
Amid these tumultuous times, do not grow weary of doing good. Live rightly before God while loving your neighbor as yourself. Seek justice for your loved ones, the Body, your community. Rejoice to extend mercy both to the lovely and the unlovely, for you were once an enemy of God. Walk humbly before the sovereign God who “executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Ps. 75:7). Remember that the final word on justice is yet coming, and all the temporal sin and suffering of this present age will be resolved in the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ the Lord of glory.