God on His throne in heaven requires all created beings under His authority—the powers, rulers, and authorities (both angelic and human)—to live and rule righteously and justly with impartiality. God shows mercy and grace toward those with repentant hearts who seek Him and obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but will require justice and judgment upon those who reject Him and rebel against His Word. God’s justice flows from His holy and righteous character—He is impartial and without bias.
In the modern phrase“Social Justice,” the word “justice” has an adjectival modifier. It is not justice alone. It is a specific “kind” or “type” of justice modified to be biased—it is justice with a thumb on the scale for some. The Social Justice movement calls for partiality toward classes of peoples (based upon race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation). Its partiality is even compounded on a sliding scale which ranks those who can check multiple boxes higher than those who can only check one (i.e. such as black and lesbian over simply a woman). The Social Justice call is for a positive bias (in hiring, grants, scholarships, government subsidies, reparations, etc.) toward these minorities on the basis of past (and continuing) oppressions. It is not a call for justice but a call for partiality for these groups—as a legally mandated bias within society. It is also frequently a call for a negative bias against anyone in the majority, against those in real or perceived positions of power and influence, and against anyone who disagrees with them. However, Justice, if biased—if partial in any way—is not justice; it is something else.
Oppression of one individual by another is wrong and should be impartially adjudicated and, when called for, include economic recompense. According to Biblical principles, acts of oppression brought into a court setting were dealt with individually. The one condemned paid restitution. However, no restitution was ever demanded of any non-oppressor, nor was “the system,” which at times favored one over another, ever deemed oppressive. God could favor His people over others and yet be impartial in matters of justice because favor and justice are two different things.
God did favor groups/individuals but was never viewed as oppressive or unjust. God changed Israelite culture at Mt. Sinai and regulated it through laws (for example laws of proper scales/weights which call for fair dealing) but the Law at times showed favor toward one class of people (Israelite citizens) over another (non-citizens). The Jews could not charge interest to each other but could charge interest to a foreigner—though other than that, they were not to oppress the non-citizen (foreigner) in their midst. This is not to say that “favor” should or should not be shown today in our country. Favor is shown all the time in differing ways: through laws (welfare, Title IX, and affirmative action, etc.), through “rent seeking” (an economic term for legal bribery called lobbying); and through corruption (see the college admission scandal, and any account of a politician being bribed
The Scriptures show a difference between (1) an impartial and just recompense for crimes against another individual (in which a 120%, 2-fold, 4-fold, or 5-fold recompense for theft is the standard); (2) the focus upon impartial “justice” required between two parties in such a matter (in which the command is to not be partial to the rich—but be impartial); (3) the evil of biased justice which is often shown favoring the wicked vs righteous (in which the command is not to be partial to the wicked but deliver (i.e. bring justice to) the one robbed/oppressed; and lastly (4) God’s commands upon His people to support the weak, poor, etc—which is not a “justice” matter but is intended to be a display of God’s love because we are His people, and which is our individual expression of our faith in God.
Though the poor, orphan, widow, blind, alien, and needy etc are often the ones oppressed, Scripture never states that one should be partial toward those oppressed in a matter of judgment—just that they should get justice (#3 above, which in the case of a wicked oppressor means the oppressed are vindicated and recompensed #1).
God demands justice upon the perpetrator and specifically not upon his family members or descendants. In general there are three parties involved in justice: the aggrieved party, the perpetrator/opponent and the judge. Those involved must come to the judge (or king) for justice to take place. There are variations of course: the perpetrator may flee; the aggrieved party may be dead or incapacitated (and thus his family/tribe steps in); or it may be a difficult case (in which it is brought before the priests and God), etc. The main scriptural idea is that justice must be impartial and by being impartial it will be righteous.
Scripture is clear about those who show partiality in justice toward one side or the other: They do not fear God; their partiality is not a “good” thing; they pervert justice; they judge unrighteously/unjustly; they act contrary to God’s character; they act contrary to God’s ways; God has no part in their judgment; their differing standards for justice are an abomination to God and are called a “false scale”; and they themselves are an abomination to God.
Jesus was truthful, deferred to no one, and was not partial to anyone. Peter and Paul taught that God is impartial. For the Christian to act with partiality of “justice” toward anyone is to act against God’s character and against our new nature in Christ. To act even with a spirit of partiality is wrong. When Paul talks to Timothy about the standards for elders, he states, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality,” 1 Timothy 5:21. Partiality raises up leaders without character, divides friends, destroys unity, foments hypocrisy, and breeds quarrels.
That said, Christians as individuals are to act with love and good works toward the poor and needy for this is in God’s character—but such actions/acts do not flow from justice. They flow as good works from love/faith. They are not mandated by legalism but are our loving response to God’s mercy and grace toward us.
In current discussion, this sliding scale which classifies individuals with multiple minority/oppression “boxes” checked as more oppressed (and thus deserving more partiality) than others who have less boxes checked is called “intersectionality.”
In modern terms, Reparations are a demand for payments to be made by all citizens to a racially-based subset of citizens. These reparations are demanded as recompense for both the slavery of the forbears of this subset which ended in the 19thcentury as well for subsequent systemic racial oppression of both forbears of this subset as well as those living today. In the Bible, reparations take place on this same ethnically-based scale one time. When the Jews left their enslavement to their Egyptian masters, God intervened and told the Hebrew women to “ask” for silver, gold, and clothing from Egyptian women. God granted the Jews “favor” in the eyes of the Egyptians, so they willingly, and individually, gave wealth to the Jewish women they had themselves oppressed—in this manner the last enslaved Jewish generation plundered Egypt (i.e. received reparations in a one-time recompense for their service), Exodus 3:20-22; 12:35-36. Later, when they came into the promised land, poor Hebrews could sell themselves into service for apparently half the cost of a hired worker (and, it seems, also room and board) until the next Sabbath year (Deuteronomy 15:16-18; but their families could pay for their early release) and they were supposed to be treated as “hired workers” and not as slave. In the Sabbath year (every 7thyear), they and their families were released from service along with a liberal “gift” of goods from their master’s flock, grain, and wine (Deuteronomy 15:12-15)—but non-citizens/foreigners could be purchased as slaves and never released (Leviticus 25). This “going free” gift was for released Hebrews and it was not reparations but a recognition of God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery and God’s material blessing upon the Hebrew master.
When a person or business uses their position or resources to lobby some additional benefit from the government which helps them and is either no benefit to others or gives them an advantage over others in the marketplace.
There is also class of “reparation” or “guilt” offerings which are made to God for defiling or profaning that which belongs to God or when a person confesses a wrong against another person, in order to get right before God. This requires a 120% “restitution” which must be made to the wronged party for economic damages/sins committed (Lev 6:1-7; Numbers 5:7-8) which, if the aggrieved party is not alive to receive it (and has no living relatives) the amount goes to God for the priests. This requires a voluntary confession and payment by the repentant perpetrator to the aggrieved and/or his immediate relatives—otherwise it goes to God. This is a good principal, but would not apply to mandated involuntary payments upon the perpetrator’s descendants or citizens at large. Recompense should not be expected of anyone but the perpetrator. Collective national guilt is reserved for when either the people or the king break the covenant with God (lack of faith and the 10 spies—led to the wilderness wanderings; covenant curses in Deuteronomy; the exile over broken covenant and missed Sabbaths; Achan’s sin broke the covenant and led to defeat and a need for covenant renewal; David’s mishandling of the temple tax in his census of the people; etc.).
God can and does bring judgment upon, and curse, those who rebel and dishonor Him or His chosen leaders (see the covenant curses in Deuteronomy 28:15-29:29; Korah’s rebellion which also affects his family, Numbers 16; Eli, sons and descendants, 1 Samuel 3-4). In one rare instance, justice skipped generations because the offense broke a covenant sworn by the elders of Israel before Yahweh, God of Israel. Saul king of Israel had slaughtered the people of Gibeon–Hivites living in the land of Benjamin–who had a covenant of peace and servitude with Israel (Josh 9:3-21). Saul and his family had broken this covenant by attempted genocide. Long after Saul’s death, God caused a famine on Israel over this sin. According to 2 Samuel 21:1, “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the Lord. And the Lord said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” Now it may be that Saul’s sons and extended family helped with this since God attributes the act also to Saul’s “house.” No monetary reparations were demanded. Instead the Gibeonites asked for David to execute seven of Saul’s descendants (2 sons and 5 grandsons). David did so, and the land was atoned for Saul’s murders. In this instance the nation suffered the results of this sin through a famine; and seven men from the family of the perpetrator were condemned to death.
Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. Cf. Ezekiel 18:20; 2 Kgs 14:6.