I’ve lately been doing some personal reading in the book ofJeremiah. In the book, God sends Jeremiah to warn Judah of a nation from thenorth, namely Babylon, who will come and take them away into exile, becausethey have repeatedly failed to listen to and obey him. While there are a fewglimmers of hope in the book (i.e., the promise of restoration with repentance,the promise of a new covenant and a new people with new hearts in chs. 30-33,etc.), the book mainly chastises Judah for her sin and warns repeatedly of thedanger of forgetting God. In chapter 22, it is the kings of Judah that arechastised for their sin, specifically for their failure to do justice andrighteousness. They were poor leaders of the nation. They did not care for thehelpless, the widow and orphan, but instead promoted violence and shed innocentblood. In 22:15-17 some choicewords are given to King Shallum (a.k.a. Jehoiakim) for building his house uponinjustice, unlike his father Josiah. The text says: “Did not your father(Josiah) eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well withhim. He judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is thisnot to know me? declares the Lord. But you (Shallum) have eyes and heart onlyfor dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppressionand violence.”
A phrase worth noting is: “Is this not to know me?” In thistext, doing justice, by caring for the poor and needy, is equated with knowingGod. Since God is a God of justice, we cannot claim to know him is we do not dojustice ourselves. When we act justly, we act like God himself. Shallum, to thecontrary, was concerned with his own personal gain, regardless if it meant adisregard for the needy, or the use of violence and oppression, or the sheddingof innocent blood. He did not know God.
I think that at the heart of justice is a refusal to viewhuman beings in economic terms. In other words, when the basis for how we treatothers is how they will affect our pocket book, then injustice naturallyfollows. In Jeremiah 22, Shallum was concerned with his own personal gain,which meant that he was willing to do whatever he wanted to other people,especially those less-powerful, in order to achieve his own ends. If it meant violenceand killing, so be it. This is injustice. Justice, on the other hand, does notseek for personal gain, but relinquishes power for the sake of others. Jesusgave us the ultimate example of this in letting go of divine glory to become ahuman and go to the cross. This is true justice.
A specific modern example of viewing others in economicterms is abortion. In the vast majority of cases, an unborn child is abortedbecause he or she is viewed as a financial or psychological burden. The childis viewed as “getting in the way” of ones pursuits or is viewed as“unaffordable.” What then do we do when something (or someone!) gets in the wayof personal gain? Much like Shallum, we resort to violence and shed innocentblood. This is injustice. However, if we want to act justly, and thus show thatwe “know God,” we must refuse to view others in economic terms. We must rathercare for the poor and the needy and the widow and the orphan and the unborn,regardless of what is might do to our pocketbook. This is to know God and to dojustice.