Social justice and repentance

By Dave Henning / August 23, 2023

“Usually those who are most concerned about working for social justice do not stand up and speak clearly about the God of the Bible’s judgment on those who do not do his will.  On the other hand, those who publicly preach repentance most forcefully are not usually known for demanding justice for the oppressed.”- Timothy Keller

“Let [God’s] justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty river.”- Amos 5:24 (NIV)

In Chapter 7 (“Doing Justice, Preaching Wrath”) of The Prodigal Prophet, Timothy Keller notes that God seeks social reform in Nineveh through His prophet Jonah.  However, God also directs Jonah to tell the city about a God of wrath who will punish sin.

Therefore, as Jacques Ellul explains in The Judgment of Jonah:

“[Jonah] . . . did not become free to select for himself what he would say to men. . . .  He did not decide the content of his preaching. . . .  Thus . . . our witness is fast bound to the word of God.  The greatest saint or mystic can say nothing of value unless it is based solely on God’s Word.”

Most significantly, Pastor Keller states, it’s impossible to understand the breakdown of societies, empires, institutions, and lives unless we understand the wrath of God.  Hence, the social destruction that results from evil and injustice expresses God’s wrath.

Thus, Pastor Keller stresses, God created the world with natural consequences for cruelty, greed, and exploitation. As a result, these serve to manifest His anger toward evil.

Again, working for social justice and calling people to repentance before God interlock theologically.  In his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. . . .  How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?  A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.  An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

Today’s question: Do you see the need for both social justice and repentance?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “True bottom line – highest love”

About the author

Dave Henning

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