One of the themes which run through the pages of the Bible is the theme of injustice. For example take this passage from the book of James:
1 Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags.3 Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment.4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (James 5:1-4; NLT)
James condemned rich people who lived in luxury because of the mistreatment of their workers. He pointed out that this is a situation where justice will be done by God. What makes God angry about this situation is not that there rich and poor people, but that the rich take unfair advantage of the poor so they can live in even greater luxury.
Christians can look at these situations, and in our desire to bring justice, turn to the Government to use its power to make things right. We seem to have a belief that if we pass the right law, create the right federal agency, or have the right Supreme Court ruling then we can prevent injustice from happening.
An example of this is the movement to increase the minimum wage in the United States. Yes, it is true that the current minimum wage is not a livable wage, but then it was never designed to be. The reality is that the minimum wage brings with it unintended consequences that make the problem worse. As Andrew Syrios points out:
Ending poverty and giving people additional income are praiseworthy goals, but there are no free lunches in this world. And trying to force prosperity through a minimum wage simply creates a whole host of negative and unintended consequences especially for those who are the most vulnerable. (Yes, Minimum Wages Still Increases Unemployment)
The actions done with the best of intentions can make things worse. This is why we need to listen carefully to this advice offered by C.S. Lewis, “I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.” (The Weight of Glory, p. 79)
The context that Lewis is talking about is pacifism. His point is that while war is evil, it is sometimes necessary, and therefore it is illogical to be against all war. It is better to argue against the necessity of individual wars.
This thought has boarder applications.
As James pointed out, it is evil for employers to take advantage of their workers, but that doesn’t justify mandating a minimum wage on employers. A minimum wage will increase unemployment and will price low skilled people out of the job market, thus increasing the evil. A better practice is to encourage employers to pay what is fair for the production they are getting from the people who doing the work.
As Christians who are concerned about areas of injustice we need to remember that State force is not the only option to righting wrongs. In fact, State mandates often make things worse.
The best thing that we can do is tackle the evil that is in front of us the best that we can. That might look like providing charity, providing people a greater range of opportunities, and making more disciples. Individual Christians fighting against the evil in the world will bring about more good than the State could ever hope to accomplish.
This is not to say the Government play no part in bringing about justice, that is part of what Paul was talking about in Romans 13. Rather it is to say that individually we have a part to play in bringing justice into this world. As a person created in God’s image we have the responsibility to bring His wise and loving rule into this world to the best of our ability. Too often Christians look to the Government to fix the problem, rather than actively fighting against evil themselves.
I believe that as we put our creative energy and resources to work against these pockets of evil, we will discover a meaning for life that we never knew we had. It is also one way that we can demonstrate God’s character in this world.