I have known since childhood that the God of the Bible is a God who cares for the needy. I don’t know if this was a concept I learned from reading the Bible since I was a kid, or something I picked up being raised by my parents who continue to believe this passionately.
So it wasn’t a surprise when I picked up Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice, on God as a God who is for the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the immigrants in our societies and communities. What did come as a surprise to me was Keller’s statement on the importance of this aspect of God regarding other matters: “The mishpat, or justness of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups” (4-5). Keller goes on to state that “Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet [the widow, the fatherless, the immigrant and the poor] is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity, but a violation of justice, of mishpat” (5).
According to Keller, minister at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, the very fact that God introduces himself as the defender of this “quartet of the vulnerable,” depicts a special emphasis and care that God has for these groups, and therefore, a justifiable standard for the level of justness of a society and community (look up Psalm 68:4-5). Keller states that “[God] identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause” (6). Unlike the gods of other religions and other nations, the God of the Bible doesn’t identify with the kings, military leaders, or religious patriarchs of society, but the outcasts. Since these groups are at the very lowest levels of power and wealth in every society, they are at the greatest risk of facing injustice and harm by others.
As a God who loves and has a passion for the widows, the fatherless, the immigrants, and the poor, Keller states that God’s people should reflect God’s zeal for justice. God himself includes His passion for justice into the type of worship He ought to receive from His people (Deutoronomy 27:19; Jeremiah 22:3).
Tim Keller concludes his opening chapter of Generous Justice by defining a second Hebrew term, tzadeqah, as “being righteous,” especially “right with God and therefore committed to putting right all other relationships in life” (10). Because of this term and its definition, used all over the Scriptures alongside mishpat (justice), we can conclude that justice, and living right, are almost entirely social (Job 29:12-17, 31:13-28; Ezekiel 18:5, 7-8a). Because justice and righteousness involve a very real social element, Keller concludes, generosity (not charity) are demanded, not simply recommended.
Dr. Keller concludes the chapter with the following statement:
“Nevertheless, if you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable. This kind of life reflects the character of God.” (18)
I find myself in agreement with Dr. Tim Keller’s views on God’s attitude towards justice and just living; however, there are areas in my life in which I have the opportunity to grow in greater passion for the oppressed, the widow, the poor, the immigrant, and the fatherless. There are still areas in my life where I can grow to reflect more of God’s zeal for humanity and more compassion for the needy. What about my society? How does your society stand on its treatment of these groups? Are there areas in your life where God’s heart and His desires can continue to expand? I pray that is the case. Be blessed.