Our world cries out for justice, but what does justice really mean? In particular, what is a Christian view of justice?
Thomas Aquinas, a Christian church father, conceived of justice as “the disposition of the will to render to others what they are owed.” Aquinas’ definition hits at the core of a biblical view of justice, but what are “they” owed?
The question of a Christian view of justice leads me back to 2013, as a student in Cuba — a time that left me confused and questioning. I wasn’t sure what justice was, but I was certain I had witnessed examples of what it was not, including during a visit to a town outside of Havana named Europa.
Biblical justice does not include a 40-year-old mother who lives with her 5-year-old daughter in a ramshackle hut with sheets for walls, deserted by her husband, and because the mother could not afford to feed both daughters, was forced to send her 15-year-old to live with her grandmother.
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Is this mother not owed a house with walls, a shelter from the elements, to protect her young child? Is this 5-year-old not owed good nutrition and the guarantee of a meal the next day? Is this 15-year-old not owed the opportunity to live with her mother’s love nearby?
The paradox that is Cuba, though, also gave me examples of what biblical justice is. It is this same mother in Europa sacrificing all so her 15-year-old daughter could have an education, decreasing her chances of returning to the poverty to which the girl was born.
Biblical justice is the pueblo in which this mother lived, a community in which I at first thought nearly everyone was biologically related, due to their constant references to “my brother” or “my sister.” But it was spiritual ties that bound them, not biological. Biblical justice is a church that is a family, bound by ties stronger than those of biological families.
And joy. Biblical justice includes joy. Never have I seen such joy in the Spirit. Forget about questions of whether justice mandates economic equality — how about equal levels of joy? How I learned what joy in Christ truly looks like … and how very much I lacked it.
Referring to Aquinas’ definition, is this Cuban Christian mother not owed a family that is the church, a family that watches over, cares for and sacrifices for one another? Because she certainly has it.
Is this pueblo not owed the immense joy that is in their spirits, despite their material suffering? Because they have certainly found it.
Cuba lacks justice on so many levels, in so many ways. But the Cuban people, amidst all their material injustices, have found the key to biblical justice: salvation. We are owed nothing, but through Christ’s sacrificial offer of salvation, we are given everything. Despite my inability to nail down a definition of biblical justice, I believe that the most perfect form of justice is found in the gift of salvation, which is owed to none but given to all.
Sara Hogan, one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers, can be reached at email@example.com.