Lesson 1 - Biblical Justice

What is Justice?

A Bridge to Shalom

As Steve explains here, many (perhaps most) students graduate from law school with a head full of information and lots of technical skills, but with little or no understanding of what justice actually is. But if we can’t find “true north”—that is, a solid and compelling vision for justice—we’ll struggle to find purpose in our work as lawyers.

While secular accounts of justice may prove anemic (and manifest in a completely pragmatic approach to jurisprudence), Christians have a wealth of resources on which to draw. As Steve argues, the God of Israel is passionate about justice, particularly for the poor and oppressed, which both Old and New Testament understand as God’s rectifying power—the power to put things right when they’ve gone wrong.

Drawing on these rich biblical materials, Steve defines justice like this:

Justice is a bridge between whatever is oppressing people and holding them down to a place of peace—of shalom—with God and with neighbor.

Steve Thompson

You’ll notice that shalom, a sense of spiritual and physical peace, wholeness, and health, is at the center of the Bible’s definition of justice. Indeed, as Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. has argued in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, sin is perhaps best described as “vandalism of shalom.” If sin is the disruption of shalom, then justice must be the obverse: the restoration of shalom. It is in this context, says Steve, that lawyers must understand their vocation.

Reflect:

  • Reflect on your experience in law school and in the practice of law. How is justice defined in these contexts? How do you define justice?
  • Steve casts a vision of law as the practice of removing obstacles that stand people and shalom. Think about your own practice. Where is there opportunity to restore shalom that has been vandalized, particularly among the poor and oppressed?

A Crisis of Justice

An Opportunity for God’s People

According to a 2007 Colorado Supreme Court commission, Colorado has a “crisis of justice.” Namely, the people who need justice the most—particularly the indigent—are the ones with the least access to justice. Steve offers statistics that illustrate the problem: for example, there are roughly 16,000 indigent for every one full-time legal aid worker.

Simply put, the vast need, and the lack of access to justice, are straining our legal systems and their supporting infrastructures beyond what they can bear. But, as Steve suggests here, this crisis is actually an opportunity for the lawyers among the people of God, who “are in a unique place to obey God’s call to seek justice for people who struggle with poverty and oppression.”

By drawing on the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37, Steve issues an urgent call to action:

God calls us to seek justice for the poor. And in your practice, whatever it is that you may be doing, you should find a way to remember the poor.

Steve Thompson

What will lawyers do? That’s the question Steve leaves us with.

Reflect:

  • Read Luke 10:25–37. In this parable, the scribe of the law tries to trip Jesus up by re-defining the meaning of the word “neighbor” (typical lawyer!). We might try to excuse ourselves by arguing that our specific area of law does not concern the poor, but neither Jesus nor Steve will let us off the hook. Every sphere of law is an opportunity for God’s people. Where do you have the ability to provide access to justice, especially for the indigent, in your area of law?

  • If we get creative, there are many ways in which Christian lawyers can build “bridges to shalom” in our communities—doing pro bono work for an indigent client, volunteering your time and expertise at legal aid organizations, and billing at rates that are reasonable and fair. What is one concrete policy that you can adopt to attack the “crisis of justice” Steve alludes to here?

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