September 26 Roundtable
Pastor Dave Chambers
Pastor Joe Herr
Social justice is defined as “the redistribution of resources and advantages to the disadvantaged to achieve social and economic equality.” The aim of social justice is to tear down all distinctions between social classes and income disparities so that all are financially and positionally equal. Another has defined social justice as “the ability of people to reach their full potential within the societies in which they reside.” Notice, that definition says “ability” not “opportunity.” Some versions of social justice seek to redistribute resources, but not equally. Those in the lower classes would be given more to help them reach the level of the upper classes. The redistribution of resources by taking more from the wealthy and giving more to the poor is a key component of social justice.
God is deeply concerned with justice. God is described “a just God” (Isaiah 45:21) who requires His people to “do justice.” (Psalm 82:2-3; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1; Micah 6:8). However, Biblical justice is far different from social justice. In short, the Bible is not concerned with equal outcomes, or even equal opportunities. Income inequities are a non-issue in Scripture. Biblical justice is concerned with protecting individuals, especially the weak, from abuse (Leviticus 19:11-14), fairness in business (Proverbs 20:10, 23) and punishment of evil doers (Proverbs 18:15; Leviticus 5:17).
The Bible holds every person responsible for their own decisions. Social justice treats people as a group. It assigns group guilt and looks for group solutions. Personal liberation is achieved through group liberation. The Bible teaches that each person will stand before God and be judged according to his own works. (Revelation 20:12) Condemnation and salvation is individual. “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20) The salvation God offers is not the salvation of a system or a group. Salvation is personal. Romans 9 denies that any person is condemned for being a member of a particular group or is saved by being part of a particular group. Instead, God puts no difference between any people group. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
The Bible does not teach forced equality of outcomes. Instead, Scripture teaches charity and generosity, but not financial or positional equality. In Israel God provided compassionate means to care for the poor. He gave the Jews certain laws that required charitable actions. The Israelites were commanded to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor could come in and harvest food for themselves. This practice should be significant in the discussion about social justice. The landowners were not required to evenly distribute their profits to the poor. The government did not confiscate the land’s produce to distribute it equally to all citizens. The poor did not receive a gift of grain. A small portion of the fields were left for the poor to labor in so they could earn their food through their own efforts. Those who did not labor were not given food. God commands His people to be compassionate (Deuteronomy 15:7) and He shows special care for the poor (Proverbs 14:31), but the Bible does not teach that inequalities in condition or income are wrong.
Biblical justice does not insist upon equal outcome but upon equal treatment of all under the law. Israel was to have the same laws for foreigners as for those born in Israel. In other words, immigrants and citizens were under the same law. This same law put equal responsibility on the immigrant and the citizen. Immigrants were not exempted from obedience to the requirements of Israel because of their immigrant status. (Numbers 15:30) They also were not denied justice because of their status. (Exodus 12:49) Immigrants were protected from harassment and oppression. (Exodus 22:21) Everyone in Israel was to be treated the same in punishment and protection, regardless of their national origin.
Social justice believes the social status of the individual should be taken into account and benefits given to members of the lower classes. The laws of Israel make a specific point of teaching that wealth and status must never be a factor in dispensing justice. Judges can not take bribes. They must not rule in favor of the rich because of their influence. Judges must not show favoritism toward the poor. The difficulties of a person’s situation never justify their breaking the law or gain them advantage in the eyes of the law. The poor ought not be awarded a judgment because they are poor. To give preference to one because of their financial condition is injustice. (Leviticus 19:15)
The laws of Israel are an excellent case study on God’s views regarding justice in a society. Since all the laws given to Israel were given by God for the governance of His chosen nation, then the reasonable conclusion is that Israel’s law is God’s definition of social justice. God’s justice does not match modern conceptions of justice. This does not mean God is unjust. God is perfectly just. His instructions on justice ought to be considered justice, not the definitions of critical theorists. We need to correct our definitions of justice to bring them in line with God’s justice. “Shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4:17)
The Bible is generally unconcerned with income and class distinctions because the wages of sin is death. The reality is that every person has a brief life on this earth. What matters most is not that poverty be eliminated. What matters most is that God has provided everyone the same opportunity for forgiveness of sin and eternal life. The greater need is salvation. That has been provided. Jesus gave up the vast riches of His glory to become a man and suffer the penalty of sin for humanity. His gift of forgiveness is available freely to all who believe Him. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The redistribution of sin and righteousness is the redistribution we should be most concerned about.
For more on social justice tune in to 92.7 FM on Sunday, September 26 at 9:30 AM to hear Everlasting Truths Radio.
Many have wondered where God came from or who created God. The Bible presents a distinct narrative about God: He has always existed. The opening words of the Bible are, “In the beginning God.” God was present at the beginning of the universe, but God Himself has no beginning. Psalm 90:2 says, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” Psalm 93:2 says of God, “Thou art from everlasting.” In Job 41 God asks, “Who hath come before me that I should repay Him?” Isaiah 44:6 says, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” The Bible clearly teaches that God eternally existed before He created the universe. God does not have a beginning. God does not have a creator. God does not have a father, mother or progenitor. He has always existed.
This truth creates a problem. The human mind cannot comprehend how something or someone can exist without a point of origin. Everything we know had a beginning. Despite the difficulty of fully comprehending what it means for God to have no beginning, that is exactly what the Bible teaches.
The eternality of God confounds the mind, but no other solution offers a more reasonable or comprehensible answer. If God did not eternally exist then where did all things come from? The answer of mythology is that a god or his forerunner sprang out of nothing. But how does nothing suddenly become a deity? The answer of modern science is that an infinitely dense spot suddenly appeared out of nowhere, spun faster and faster until it finally blew up and became everything. Though this hypothesis is often couched in scientific terms, the possibility of a super massive, infinitesimal point appearing out of nothing is as likely as the great giant Ymir forming out of the mists of the abyss. Nor does an infinite number of universes existing in an intricate multi-verse solve the problem. This only pushes the problem off into another dimension. The options are the same, the multi-verse eternally existed or it had a beginning. The claims of an eternal multi-verse or of a universe that originated in nothing are no more plausible than the claim of an eternal God. The Biblical claim of an eternally existent God who created all things is the only one that offers a genuinely coherent explanation for the existence of the universe as we know it. God is, was and always will be.
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isaiah 57:15)
Ghost stories are for many people a cherished part of childhood. Ghosts still attract a lot of attention today through reality shows which follow the investigations of ghost hunters and paranormal experts. Some surveys have suggested that as many as half of all Americans believe in ghosts.
Ghosts stories become serious when people speak of beloved family members who have returned to offer comfort or guidance. This kind of ghost story is found all around the world. Many cultures have stories of ancestors whose spirits remain in contact with the living. Several of the major Oriental religions and nearly every tribal religion believes their ancestors are still present and interact with the living. Since belief in ghosts is so widespread, is that not proof ghosts are real? Does the Bible say anything about ghosts to help understand this topic?
The Bible teaches that every person has an eternal spirit. Genesis 2 tells how God breathed into man to make him a “living spirit.” From that point onward the Bible treats man as a physical creature with a spirit which continues to exist after the death of the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:7) The Bible teaches that the spirit departs at death (James 2:6), but it never indicates that the spirit of the dead remains on the earth. Instead, the Biblical picture consistently teaches that when this life is over so is the person’s interaction with the earth and the living. At death the body goes into the grave and the spirit goes directly into heaven or hell (Luke 16:22-23; Phil 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). Consequently, whatever strange things the living may see or feel, they are not the spirits of people consigned to remain on the earth.
If ghosts are not the souls of the dearly departed then what is the explanation for the unearthly phenomena seen by people? Many ghost stories can be attributed to emotional agitation. Grieving family members often see everyday events, like a bird perching nearby or a gentle breeze through the garden, as the actions of the spirit of a loved one who recently died. Such events need have no ghostly origin. Birds perch, breezes blow and butterflies flutter on a regular basis. These everyday events only gain significance when a grieving person associates them with the memory of a with a departed loved one. Such attributions prove nothing about the reality of ghosts. Many of the other experiences of ghosts are nothing more than strong emotions. Feelings of fear, nervousness, agitation or excitement are just feelings. They prove nothing about the existence of ghosts. The cause of those feelings may be nothing more than overworked imaginations.
Stories of moved items, damaged property or manifestations of a dead person present a more difficult challenge to explain. No certain answer can be given. Two plausible explanations can be suggested which do not require the existence of ghosts. First, unknown physical forces may be the cause of many mysterious movements. A shelf that suddenly falls over may be the result of nothing more than a weak leg that gave way, or an unnoticed vibration in the house which caused an already precarious shelf to topple. Second, though people do not become ghosts when they die, spiritual creatures do exist. These spiritual creatures are able to interact with the physical world. The Bible speaks of angels and demons involving themselves with the affairs of this world. Demons are described as inhabiting people and causing them great harm. (Matthew 17:15-18) Possibly demonic influences are the cause of some of the phenomena attributed to ghosts. Possibly certain demons afflict a location for the purpose of terrorizing or deceiving people.
In the end, no matter what strange experiences a person may have had, the Bible teaches that death ends a person’s involvement with this world. All explanations for unfamiliar phenomena have to be filtered through the Biblical teachings about life, death and the afterlife because the Bible is the only reliable source of information for what happens to a person after death.
This week’s radio broadcast features an interview with Vasilly, a Russian pastor who served the Lord in communist Russia.
Watch the full interview with Pastor Joe Reed and Vasily