Throughout history societies have struggled in the fight for justice. Laws have been established to secure justice. People have fought and given their lives to stand for what is right.. Yet even as advances are made, the fight for justice continues. New issues arise daily as our world becomes more connected and intertwined.
God has much to say about injustice and how his people should respond to it. From the prophets in the Old Testament to Jesus’ ministry on earth, God has commanded believers to respond to injustice and be advocates1 for those who suffer.
The subject of justice is addressed throughout the Bible. Justice is close to God’s heart because of the very nature of his character. God is a just God who expects his people to enact justice. Unfortunately, people are fallen beings. The sin within us causes us to act in unjust ways towards one another. Because of their unjust actions, God spoke lessons of justice to the people of Israel in the Old Testament through his prophets.
Old Testament truths regarding social justice2 and oppression3
The entire book of Habakkuk addresses the lack of justice among the people of Judah and the injustices against the oppressed. Habakkuk was frustrated and cried out to the Lord asking,
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Hab. 1:2-4)4
Habakkuk’s cry pierced the heart of the just who were trying to live according to God’s laws. He was searching for an answer on how to live righteously in the midst of such oppression and injustice.
Did God not hear their cries for help? Did God not care about their pain and suffering? Where was the justice for those who were trying to live according to God’s commands, crushed by those who were living for themselves? God responded to Habakkuk saying, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Hab. 2:3). God’s response foretold of the punishment to come to those who oppressed their fellow brothers and sisters. Until then, God told Habakkuk to be patient—to pursue what was just. God is aware and responds to the unjust acts and oppression taking place against his people. God acts among all nations, peoples, and groups. In the end, human violence will be defeated by divine intervention when God carries out his ultimate justice on those who are injust.
During the same time Habakkuk was preaching to Judah, Amos was prophesying in Israel. Amos also saw the unjust acts of the people of God. God spoke to Amos about the punishment he was going to bring on Israel for their behavior. He said, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer… Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land…The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done’” (Amos 8:2b-7). These are the words of a God who hates injustice. God has been patient. He has given the people his laws and the ways they are to live with each other in community. Despite the Lord’s guidance, people continue to exploit others for their own profit. What they have done has not been forgotten; God will hold them accountable for their actions committed against their brothers and sisters.
Unfortunately, people today still live in defiance of God’s just laws as the Israelites did in the time of Habakkuk and Amos. Oppression and social injustice are rampant in the world. What can we do about it? Are the instructions to the Israelites still applicable to people today?
Yes, the commands of God are still applicable today. There are several passages that give instruction for how people then and now should be treating the poor and oppressed. Isaiah 1:16b-17 says, “Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” According to this passage, doing right is to seek justice and care for those who oppressed People of God should be advocates for those whose voices are not heard.
What is the role of an advocate?
An advocate is a person of action as well as a voice for those who are silenced by society. In Job 29:7-17, Job told his friends of the many acts he performed as an advocate for those who were marginalized by society. He rescued those in poverty, assisted those without parents, was a friend to those dying, brought joy to those who were widowed, was eyes to those who were blind, feet to those who could not walk, a father to those in need, a friend to those from a foreign land, and rescued those who were oppressed by the wicked. He did this by putting on righteousness and wearing justice as his clothes.
Not only was Job an advocate, he was an example and witness to all around him. In the beginning of Job chapter 29, we observe that Job should be respected and admired by young and old people, as well as the nobles. Job is an example of how God wanted Israel to live and how he intends people to live today.
Habbakuk, Amos, and Job represent God’s concern for the treatment of those who are in oppressive situations. God clearly loves and cares people who are considered less valuable by the standards of society, and He commands his people to act on their behalf. Perhaps one of the most familiar call to justice is found in Micah 6:8, “He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” The three key words in Micah 6:8 are justice, mercy, and humbly. God wants his people to act by bringing forth justice and in reforming society. Believers are to show mercy, which comes from the grace of a faithful God, to those who are imprisoned. He wants his people to humbly depend on his resources, rather than their own, in order to act for justice.5
Jesus, an advocate for the oppressed
Jesus also showed great concern for those who were discriminated against in society during his ministry on earth. The New Testament is full of stories of Jesus’ ministry to those considered less valuable. One such story is found in Luke 13:10-17, which tells of the healing of a woman who was crippled on the Sabbath. Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues when he noticed a crippled woman in the audience. He told her to come forward and healed her from the spirit which had crippled her for eighteen years.
Jesus knew the oppression that surrounded this woman. He saw the need to release her from the bondage of illness and give her relief. This women had great faith and hope in the Lord. She continued to come to the synagogue to worship despite eighteen years of unanswered prayers.6 Even though society viewed her as cursed and worthless, Jesus recognized her as a person of value and one loved by God. Jesus healed this woman on the Sabbath, a day when one was not supposed to work. He overlooked the practices of society to do what was just. He brought relief to a woman who had lived for so many years under the double burden of illness and the stigma associated with that illness.
On another occasion, as Jesus taught on the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46), he outlined the criteria by which he would judge people’s actions. One of the key determining factors was based on their treatment of the oppressed. This same priority of caring for the oppressed is found in Isaiah 58:6-12. Jesus expected his followers to care for the oppressed in the same way outlined by the prophets in the Old Testament: they were to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, and visit those in bondage (Mt 25:31-46; Lu 10:30-37). These expectations were not only for the people of the Old and New Testament times; they apply to all of us today as well. The need for God’s people to be agents of change and advocates for justice are as critical today as they were 2000 years ago.
Human Trafficking: an example of current injustice and oppression
Human trafficking has been in existence for thousands of years. One of the first written records of human trafficking can be found in Genesis 37:26-36, when Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Midianites, who then sold him to Potiphar. Joseph became one of Potiphar’s servants and was held in bondage under the household of Potiphar.
Four thousand years later, people are still being sold into slavery. After illegal weapons and drugs, human trafficking is the third fastest growing business of organized crime in the world, producing $10 billion in profit.7 Due to the nature of the crime, it is hard to determine accurately the number of people trafficked each year, but it is estimated that roughly four million humans are trafficked domestically and internationally every year. Of that number, women and children make up the majority.8
Since women and children tend to be the most economically and physically vulnerable members of society, they are the most likely victims of human trafficking. Examples of these marginalized members of society include: those who are widowed, wives and children who are abandoned, children with no parents, those who are refugees, and children who live on the streets. They often come from societies suffering from war, political instability, natural disasters—and nearly all suffer from gender discrimination.9 Most of them come out of an oppressive home life only to be sold into another one, now controlled by the trafficker. Everything about human trafficking is unjust and strips humans of their God-intended purpose.
Consequences of human trafficking
Trafficked women and children are often conditioned into submission through such methods as starvation, imprisonment, beatings, torture, rape, drugs, and threats.10 Once they are submissive and comply with their captors, they can be exploited as domestic labor, child soldiers, forced labor, and organ donors; or become subject to pornography, prostitution, slavery, begging, illegal adoption, sexual slavery by military troops, sex tourism, child marriage, hazardous labor, and forced marriage.11 As a result, victims are at risk for HIV/AIDS and pregnancy, which in turn can lead to forced abortion.12
Human trafficking is the epitome of social injustice. The industry thrives on oppressing those who are the most vulnerable of society to exploit them for selfish gain. It degrades the humanity of the people who are trafficked and strips them of their dignity as people created in the image of God.
Victims of human trafficking are often caught in a situation where they have no way to ask for help. They are trapped in a situation where they are physically vulnerable and dependant on their captors. Many times people are moved across borders to countries where they have no family and do not speak the language. God commands us to be advocates for people in these situations as a voice for those who are ignored and forgotten.
Conclusion: Call for advocacy
Who will be the advocates for the millions of victims of human trafficking? Who will see them and help them as Jesus commanded? Who will be their voice when they are silenced? Who will stand up against the societal norms and demand change? Who will work to see them freed from their bondage? Who will love them and walk beside them?
The people of God are the ones that need to be the advocates for the victims of human trafficking. The Old and New Testaments demonstrate that God is a God of social justice. He expects his people to fight social injustice and rescue those who are in oppressive circumstances; God will hold accountable those who neglect their responsibility as agents of redemption. Jesus spent a significant amount of time ministering to those affected by injustice. He taught his followers to rescue those who were in bondage and to oppose the societal structures that contribute to oppression.
I believe we have an obligation as children of God and followers of Jesus to be advocates for those who are oppressed and to speak out against social injustice. I believe God is calling his followers to care for his hurting children and to help them to recover their dignity and divine purpose. We have been commissioned to be a light for those who lives are covered in darkness. Will you accept that call? Will you be an advocate for those who are ignored and forgotten?
- Advocacy is the act of arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy. An advocate then, is one who argues for a cause or pleads in another’s behalf. The American Heritage Dictionary: Third Edition (New York: Dell Publishing, 1994), 13.
- Social Justice refers to conceptions of justice applied to an entire society. It is based on the idea of a just society, which gives individuals and groups fair treatment and a just share of the benefits of society. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice.
- Oppression is to keep down by unjust use of force or authority. The American Heritage Dictionary: Third Edition (New York: Dell Publishing, 1994), 585.
- All Bible references are from the Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 2005).
- The Word In Life Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 1538.
- Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans, eds., The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary: An indispensable resource for all who want to view Scripture through different eyes (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 577.
- See the article entitled “Sexual Trafficking: Fighting the New Slave Trade,” All the World (July 1, 2004), http://www1.salvationarmy.org.
- Christa Foster Crawford and Mark Crawford, “Human Trafficking: Children and the Sex Trade,” In Theology News & Notes: Volume 52, No. 3 (Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005), 17.
- Ibid, 18.