The standard of biblical justice is equal treatment by law: "Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty" (Leviticus 19:15). Justice not only means that nobody is to be picked on because he is poor or favored because he is rich, but that (contrary to the doctrine of "social justice") nobody is to be picked on because he is rich or favored because he is poor. Everyone's rights deserve the same protection. Thus, nobody should be taxed at a higher rate than his neighbors, nor should anyone receive special government handouts.
The modern left's "social justice" strives for economic equality. It endeavors to reduce, if not erase, the gap between rich and poor by redistributing wealth. This is "justice" more akin to Marx and Lenin, not according to Moses and Jesus. It is a counterfeit of real justice, biblical justice. Modern notions of "social justice" are often wolves in sheep's clothing.
The fundamental error of today's "social justice" practitioners is their hostility to economic inequality, per se. "Social justice" theory fails to distinguish between economic disparities that result from unjust deeds and those that are part of the natural order of things. All Christians oppose unjust deeds, and I'll list some economic injustices momentarily. First, though, let us understand why it isn't necessarily unjust for some people to be richer than others:
God made us different from each other. We are unequal in aptitude, talent, skill, work ethic, priorities, etc. Inevitably, these differences result in some individuals producing and earning far more wealth than others. To the extent that those in the "social justice" crowd obsess about eliminating economic inequality, they are at war with the nature of the Creator's creation.
The Bible doesn't condemn economic inequality. You can't read Proverbs without seeing that some people are poor due to their own vices. There is nothing unjust about people reaping what they sow, whether wealth or poverty.
Jesus himself didn't condemn economic inequality. Yes, he repeatedly warned about the snares of material wealth; he exploded the comfortable conventionality of the Pharisaical tendency to regard prosperity as a badge of honor and superiority; he commanded compassion toward the poor and suffering. But he also told his disciples, "ye have the poor always with you" (Matthew 26:11), and in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:24-30) he condemned the failure to productively use one's God-given talents-whether many or few, exceptional or ordinary-by having a lord take money from the one who had the least and give it to him who had the most, thereby increasing economic inequality.
The Lord's mission was to redeem us from sin, not to redistribute our property or impose an economic equality on us. In fact, the Almighty explicitly declined to undermine property rights or preach economic equality when he told the man who wanted Jesus to tell his brother to share an inheritance with him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?" (Luke 12:14).
All that having been said, there is much injustice in our world, much needed reform that all Christians can unite in accomplishing. Around the world, many people are poor and will never realize their God-given potential due to lack of freedom and opportunity. Let us never be on the side of those who reject man's God-given rights and biblical justice, and who oppress and impoverish in the name of a spurious economic equality.
In relatively free societies such as our own, we must continue to combat the economic injustices of theft, fraud, deceit, trickery, etc. We should strive to undo the injustices perpetrated by unethical public policies, such as the subtle theft of citizens' purchasing power via central bank inflation; the corrupt government practice of doling out earmarks, subsidies, and myriad special favors, often to big businesses and wealthy individuals; destructive tax policies that decapitalize society, thereby retarding growth in labor productivity, wage increases, and higher standards of living; runaway government spending that imposes an incalculable and unconscionable debt burden on the next generations, etc. We should be charitable.
By all means, let us tackle these persistent injustices. But let us be careful to abide by the biblical standard of impartiality and equal treatment by law, lest we create additional injustices.
By Mark W. Hendrickson