What does God’s justice look like? I sometimes think how arrogant we are even to try to answer that question. How can we assume, in the complexities of today’s world, that we know where the justice of God lies? And all too often our idea of God’s justice seems to align neatly with our own ideals or voting intentions.
Most political disputes today seem to revolve around very different understandings of what justice looks like. Should public spending prioritise prisons or pensioners? Is it fair that those who work should receive more than those who don’t, or should the welfare state be based on need? Should the UK intervene militarily to protect others, or should we avoid loss of life?
And one of the most difficult challenges: rapid decarbonisation, vital to limit the impact of climate change, is likely to hurt the poorest. In this country, moving to electric boilers will be expensive for people who are already on the verge of fuel poverty. Electric cars are beyond the reach of many people, and for some cycling isn’t an option. Reduction in consumption will impact producers, farmers, shop workers.
In the global South, if there is an enforced reduction in emissions, people will be unable to benefit from their own carbon-driven industrial revolution as initiated in the West a couple of centuries earlier. Instead, the poorest in our global community are on the frontline of the damaging effects of the prosperity of others.
Where is justice in this situation? We need to respond to the climate emergency
with urgency to protect the most vulnerable, but in doing so do we harm those
who can least withstand it. How would
the realisation of God’s justice change these outcomes?
It is said that if you chop out the pages of your bible that refer to justice, your bible will fall apart. Certainly we have many resources to point us towards justice. The laws for a just society. The psalmists and the prophets who made clear that God’s holiness and justice were bound together. The parable of the workers in the vineyard. All of these, and many more, give us insights into what God’s justice looks like.
A core theme running through each of these is Shalom. Shalom is a concept of how God intends things to be. It is a condition of rightness for a person’s entire being. This includes physical well-being and character, as well as restored relationships with God and with others. Without justice for the poorest and oppressed not everything is right, so there cannot be shalom. Shalom is found in the covenant relationship with God, and also points us to the eternal nature of this promise.
My concepts of justice are often just too monochrome, too oppositional. They are naturally bounded by human limitations, with justice seeking victory for one often at the cost of another. But what we see in the bible and in the life of Jesus is a justice that is expansive, creative. Jesus doesn’t just decide whether the woman caught in adultery is guilty or not; he truly sees her, the vulnerable woman, and sees her accusers, inviting all of them to participate in a new life. This is an invitation to shalom – rightness and flourishing.
The challenges of the climate emergency will require us to engage in this kind of creative justice. Crucially, what will a just transition to net zero look like? How can we act urgently whilst upholding those who are most vulnerable?
The challenges of transition are huge, but we shouldn’t see those at risk as barriers to change or as collateral damage. Questioning the justice in our choices and prioritising opportunities which enable the flourishing and rightness of all creation is key to responding to the climate crisis sustainably, and in a way which conveys the depth of God’s love for creation. Transition can offer us all an opportunity to flourish in very different, and challenging, ways.
What does God’s justice look like? What might this mean for us today as we journey towards net zero?
Today’s reflection was written by Rachel Lampard the team leader of the Joint Public Issues Team. This is her second living lent.