At the beginning of his book, the prophet Isaiah convicts a “sinful nation, people laden with iniquity” (1:4). The society he describes is full of bribes (1:23), fixes itself on material wealth (2:7) and denies justice to orphans and widows (1:23). Even the worship of the people is meaningless without justice: “bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me” (1:13).
The prophet implores the people to “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (1:17). As Christians, what do we to in response to this call to social justice? How can we be “repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets” (58:12)? Reflecting on the words of Isaiah, here are some thoughts on how we can faithfully approach justice issues today.
1. Build Theological Knowledge
Unfortunately many injustices have been perpetuated by theologies that seek to build wealth and retain power. One way to confront these forces is by reading the Old Testament prophets. The prophetic word exposes collective, societal sins, such as denying justice to orphans, widows and the poor. After announcing God’s judgment on nations and rulers, Isaiah reveals God’s vision of a just future as nonviolence (2:4), equity for the poor (11:4) and a renewed creation (65:17-25).
The words of the prophets and the example of Jesus affirm that Christians are called to stand with vulnerable people. Fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah (61:1), Jesus announces his mission in Luke 4:18:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.
Accordingly, during his ministry, Jesus identified himself with the poor (Matt 8:2; 2 Cor 8:9), urged followers to sell their possessions (Matt 19:21) and imagined a future in which the guests of honor will be the poor and oppressed (Luke 14:12–14). The words and actions of Jesus have inspired liberation theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez and James Cone to argue that God’s justice for the oppressed is at the heart of the gospel.
2. Learn About Injustice Today
The complexity of human societies make it difficult to know how approach justice issues. Often we participate in systems that have upheld social inequality. This means it is important acknowledge the ways in which society has been constructed that have given us an advantage. Recognizing these power dynamics, Isaiah speaks often about God’s great reversal: the proud will be cast down and the lowly will be lifted up (5:15, 11:4, 14:30). This means that responding to God’s call for justice means listening to the marginalized people (Phil 2:4). We can do this by approaching conversations openly and embracing uncomfortable moments as a chance to learn and grow.
It can be helpful to start by exploring the historical context behind one issue. Drawing inspiration from the language of Isaiah, concerning issues today include gun violence (2:4), land appropriation (5:8), government corruption (10:1-4) and the climate crisis (24:4-5). Joining a justice-seeking community such as a church ministry or an advocacy group is a a great way to learn about local efforts to combat injustice.
3. Speak Out
Inspired by the example of the prophets and apostles, Christians are called to advocate for a just society today by speaking the truth to power and performing nonviolent direct action. While it is easier to stay neutral, the gospel is inherently political and has implications for public policy. Isaiah openly confronts the sins of oppressive political leaders, saying “ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right” (Isaiah 10:1-2; see also Matt 23:23). While we do not need to walk around naked for three years (Isaiah 20:2-4) or cook food over human waste (Ezekiel 4:9-13), we can draw inspiration from the prophets, who spoke out boldly against injustice.
In the midst of the struggle for justice it is also important that we are called to pray for and love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). Amidst God’s judgment, Isaiah reminds his readers that “[God’s] hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 5:25, 9:12, 9:17, 9:21, 10:4, 14:26) and on the day of the Lord, even Assyria, Babylon and Israel will together be a “blessing in the midst of the earth” (Isaiah 19:24-25). By serving in humility (Matt 23:11-12) we admit our mistakes and rely on God’s grace (Isaiah 30:18).
Furthermore, we acknowledge that human political systems are deeply flawed. While confronting unjust leaders, the early church boldly proclaimed that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). No political party will be able to bring about a completely just society, no particular candidate can be our “savior” and no earthly nation will thrive forever (Dan 2:44-45; Isaiah 60:12). The good news is that Jesus is the true ruler of the world (Isaiah 9:7; Rom 1:1-4). As Christians we are called to participate in building God’s kingdom of justice and peace: “Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1).
Potential Resources and Readings
- All Faith Alliance for Refugees
- Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence
- Lansing Peace Quest
- Evangelical Environmental Network
- Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by Walter Brueggemann
- God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis
– Mitchell Eithun, Campus Edge pastoral intern