Art by Lulu Pearse, Cathedral Grammar

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Rom 14:17

What it is:

If peace is a state where everyone and everything is in right relationship to everyone and everything else, justice is the process whereby that state can be reached. It’s a complex process, and it’s a complex word. 

When we use a Maori value like “Rangatiratanga” on this site, you’ll see we link it with a number of English words. That’s because there is no one English word that encompasses the shades of meaning understood by rangatiratanga. Our New Testament was translated from the Greek, which in turn translated the Aramaic of Jesus and Hebrew of the Old Testament –  all of which had different shades of meaning attached to the word we translate “justice”. You can see how complicated it gets! But if we hold these words together in a word cloud, we begin to get an idea of what the concept of justice can cover.

What it isn’t

Justice does not mean “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – not since Old Testament times, anyway, and even then it was more complex than that sounds! Justice is not vengeance or retribution. It is not necessarily punitive. Nor is justice the same as equality or even equity. Justice does not just treat everyone equally or ensure everyone has access to similar benefits (although both those things are part of justice). Justice also addresses the root causes of injustice.

What makes this a Christian value?

The people of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) regularly cry out to God for justice. What they mean by “justice” is that those who are oppressed will be set free, the poor will be given food to eat, those who have been wronged will have the wrong put right. It is not so much a legal concept as the putting right of things that are wrong. Through both the Old and New Testaments it is inextricably linked with “righteousness” – being in right relationship with God. This in turn connects to the Biblical hope of peace, which is founded on right relationships.

Christian justice demands love, forgiveness, and a willingness to suffer for the sake of others if necessary. It demands attention to those who are normally overlooked, and a challenging of unjust structures as well as personal responses to individual injustices.