Abuse and Justice: Tim Keller’s Book “Generous Justice”
I just finished the book Generous Justice by Tim Keller and I highly recommend it. It is not about abuse or domestic violence, but it is related in that it is about the church’s responsibility of bringing justice to the “vulnerable ones”.
What I found particularly compelling was Keller’s discussion of “justice”, or the word “mishpat” in the Hebrew. He says it is “. . . giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.” For many Reformed believers, we are used to thinking of justice in terms of All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God – as my pastor says we “deserve hell before breakfast”; however, this word is not talking about how man relates to God, rather, it means looking at others as they were created in God’s likeness and addressing the inequalities. Justice in this sense is partially about punishing the wicked, but it is also about the restoration of the oppressed. Over and over again in the scripture, especially the Old Testament, God commands his people to bring justice to the vulnerable groups, usually identified as widows, orphans, and aliens.
This perspective affected my last post quite a bit as I thought about giving abuse victims “what they are due”. So often abuse victims are denied justice and told it is not their “right”; but this is in stark contrast to God who repeatedly commands those who have to give sacrificially in order to lift up those who have been oppressed. Though the church may often say differently, as image bearers of God we all “due” to be treated with respect and compassion, not oppression and violence.
Keller is mainly focused on poverty in his book, but his message is clear: we don’t help “vulnerable ones” by writing checks and getting involved from afar. True restoration requires sacrifice and commitment by individual Christians. I think of the old joke “when it comes to breakfast, chickens are involved, but pigs are committed”. Too often the church wants to be involved rather than committed, and this applies to all kinds of oppression. We would prefer these problems take place in the world of the oppressed, not our world, and have as little impact on us as possible.
I do hope the evangelical church will read this book and see that justice is more than just an atonement issue: it’s a part of how we treat one another. I also hope people will see that ignoring domestic violence is NOT just. Once again, Keller never mentions abuse, but I have no doubt if the church started really applying what he says in the book then we would see justice for abuse victims. It’s certainly worth a read for anyone who wants a more Godly picture of how we should relate to others, especially the oppressed.