"When I give food to the poor, they call me a
saint. When I ask why the poor have no
food, they call me a communist." Dom
Hélder Pessoa Câmara (Brazilian priest and archbishop)
Christians throughout the centuries have had a strong tradition
of acts of mercy and compassion to the poor, the needy and the
vulnerable. If God so loved the world, then so must we. The Bible
clearly calls us to show compassion towards the weakest in society:
the poor, the hungry, the widowed, the orphan and the stranger.
The Bible also talks about a God of righteousness - showing not
just compassion for the individual, but a vision for all humankind.
'Shalom' encapsulates how God intends things to be. It is a
condition of rightness, when a person's entire being - physical
well-being, relationships with God and others, personal character -
is as it ought to be. If there is injustice there cannot be shalom
for not everything is right.
Our response to God's love requires us to seek what God wants
for the world, to act justly (Micah 6:8), and to thereby to work
towards God's hopeful future.
What is justice?
Justice is not a straightforward concept. Have you ever played
the Justice Game? Give a cake to a group of people, and ask them to
divide it justly. They may decide to cut it into equal pieces - but
what if one member of the group hasn't eaten that day and is really
hungry? What if one member of the group has paid for it themselves?
What if it's someone's birthday? What about the people who are
outside the group who might also like cake? It soon becomes clear
that concepts of justice are often contested, and can depend on
where you stand.
But our Christian faith offers us particular understandings of
Justice is about relationships. The covenant between God and
God's people grew out of a relationship with a God who was
personal, faithful and concerned for the shalom of everyone. When
the prophets of the Old Testament attacked the people for their
failure to keep the covenant they were attacking a failure to
maintain relationships. Justice requires a community of restored
relationships and healed memories.
Justice has a future dimension. Restoration rather than
retribution is key - God does not give up, God is merciful and
compassionate, God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. The
fight for justice in a world where there is so much injustice will
never be fully won by humankind on earth. But the Christian vision
looks beyond, to the coming of the kingdom of God.
Acts of mercy and acts of justice bring hope
Christians need to care about the well-being of people in our
communities and around the world. However demonstrating compassion
for our fellow humans is not all that is required of us.
If you see someone being swept along a river shouting for help
you might try to rescue them or throw them a lifebelt. Then if
another person is swept past you, you might try to help them too.
By the time you see a third person in the river you go upstream to
find out who is pushing them in.
We are not only called to do acts of mercy, but also acts of
justice. We are not only called up on to feed the poor, but to ask
why they have no food. We need not only to pull people out of the
river, but discover who is pushing them in.
Do we focus solely on treating the symptoms - feeding the
hungry, finding accommodation for the homeless, comforting the
lonely - and fail to ask 'why'. Why are people in our world hungry?
What prevents people in our own country being able adequately to
feed themselves and their families? Why are increasing numbers of
people facing homelessness? Why are so many young people
unemployed? Our acts of compassion should prompt us to engage with
By focusing on the individual or on organised acts of kindness
towards them, we are in danger of looking on individuals as both
the source of the problem and as its solution. We see the homeless
person and provide food for them, or even a bed. But we do not ask
why they became homeless, or work with others to build the
political will for the change needed to prevent homelessness.
Living for justice involves asking the big 'why?' and also
aligning our lives and our actions towards shalom (peace with
justice) in the world. By responding to God's love for us and the
world, we experience God's peace with justice, rooted in
relationships and telling of the coming kingdom. It is about being
a world-changing disciple, and living out a hope-filled
In this section of the website you will soon be able to explore
ways of acting justly and find further resources to help work
towards a hopeful future.
the Explore section, there will be
reflections on how we can act justly in different areas and aspects
of our lives.
Further Resources will offer deeper
reflections and longer opportunities for training.
The Challenge section will
introduce the opportunity to engage in a short 'experience' of just
living in a context different to your own.
the Stories section is
your opportunity to share your experience, and encourage others on
their own journey of transformational, graceful, compassionate,
- ResourcesResources to help you further explore 'just living'Read more
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