How does God perceive injustice?

Introduction

How does the God of the Bible perceive injustice in the world today? And how are His people called to respond? Gary Haugen’s Good News About Injustice (“GNAJ”) provides a thoughtful and heartfelt answer to these pressing questions for Christians today. Haugen, – an American lawyer and CEO of the human rights organization International Justice Mission – appeals in a compelling way to the narrative of Scripture and the action of the church throughout history to convince the reader that “the good news about injustice is that God is against it”. While focusing on the particular global concern of modern slavery and other forms of violence against the poor, the book has great potential to drive thoughtful Christian action for justice in other spheres of work.

The book is presented in three parts. In Part I, Haugen shares from his personal experience serving as the director of a United Nations investigation in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in the mid 1990s. He recounts how this experience drove him into deeper reflection upon how a Christian should respond to such acts of evil. Part II forms the theological core of the book; here the author advances the case from Scripture that justice and a compassion for the oppressed are a central aspect of God’s character. Moreover, He is determined to effect rescue for those who suffer injustice and calls His church to be agents of this rescue.  In Part III, Haugen outlines further intellectual and strategic resources for putting this biblical vision of justice into action in the world today.

Strengths of the book

A core strength of the book is how well it draws from the biblical narrative in showing the importance of justice to God’s character and His purposes for the world. I was particularly struck by the author’s use of passages from the Psalms where one can see clearly that God is one who “executes justice for the oppressed” (Psalm 146) and who seeks rescue for those suffering from the particularly injustice of violence (Psalm 10). The reader is also invited to consider how justice flows from a holistic view of Jesus’ ministry in responding to both the spiritual realities of evil and their visible consequences on earth. Jesus himself understood his ministry in this all-encompassing manner (see e.g. Luke 4:18-19).

Having convinced the reader of the importance of justice, Haugen provides substantial encouragement to the Christian church in how it can respond in action. In chapter 7 he dwells on a profound truth about the mission of the church as a whole: “two truths apply to everything that God wants accomplished on earth: (1) he could accomplish it on his own through supernatural power, but instead (2) he chooses for the most part to accomplish that which he can achieve through the obedience of his people”. In another striking passage, Haugen meditates on how this truth is evident in Jesus’ ministry as seen in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. This can and should encourage reader to have a bold faith in what God can achieve through the obedience of His people. He is able to take our limited resources and multiply them for His good purposes.

The latter sections of the book serve as a compelling witness to how Christians can respond to the particular injustice of modern slavery and other forms of violence. Chapter 11 outlines the approach taken by International Justice Mission in partnering with local governments to rescue victims through effective enforcement of existing laws. Haugen presents IJM’s fourfold methodology for effecting change in national justice systems consisting of (i) victim rescue (ii) perpetrator accountability (iii) victim aftercare and (iv) systemic reform. These sections also contain numerous personal stories of IJM clients who have rescued. The reader hears from Stephen, taken from illegal detention by corrupt police in Kenya. We also hear the story of Rosa, IJM’s first client, who through IJM’s help was able to secure a successful rape conviction in the Philippines. The range of cases in the book are striking and bolster the author’s case for a particular theory of change for international justice. 

Critical thoughts

The core argument of GNAJ is that a concern for justice should form a central part of the church’s understanding of its mission. Some Christians may respond to this message with a degree of concern that such an emphasis may distract the church from the key task of evangelism. However, Haugen himself does not diminish the value of evangelism in the book, instead referring to its importance on multiple occasions.  What is also clear is that he ties both the church’s ministry of the word and its ministry of justice together under the same overarching biblical framework: acts of love that Jesus commanded for his followers. What emerges is a holistic vision of the church’s that emphasises both evangelism and social action. This vision is not new for the evangelical church; in advancing this Haugen follows in the footsteps of highly influential leaders and theologians such as John Stott and Tim Keller.

Finally, a word on matters of work and calling. Many readers of GNAJ will leave inspired to consider dedicating their future careers to the particular cause of ending modern slavery. This is only right and good. However, following the truth that the church is a body of varied gifts and talents, not every Christian may find themselves called to this particular work. The additional value of GNAJ may lie, therefore, in inspiring Christians across many different spheres of work to think through how what they have read applies to their particular context. Such thinking is hard work! This can and should drive more dedicated Christian scholarship in areas beyond the field of International Justice Mission’s work. 

GNAJ is an incredibly valuable contribution to Christian thinking about justice that stands out for both its depth of biblical reflection and powerful storytelling. The book is recommended reading for anyone curious about the Christian response to injustice and how the church’s action can be firmly rooted in the knowledge of the character of God and of His transformative purposes for the world.