For my Old Testament Prophets class I am reading selections from Abraham Heschel's classic work entitled "The Prophets". He explores the role of the prophet in ancient Israel and seeks to understand their experience of God. Here is some food for thought:
"The purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness," Heschel says (1:17).
"The prophet is prepared for pain. One of the effects of his presence is to intensify the people's capacity for suffering, to rend the veil that lies between life and pain." (1:179) Later he explains, "Through suffering lies the way to restoration and to the implanting of His will in the hearts of regenerated people." (1:187)
"It is an act of evil to accept the state of evil as either inevitable or final. Others may be satisfied with improvement, the prophets insist upon redemption." (1:181) This reminds me of Walter Brueggeman's book, "The Prophetic Imagination" (another great read), which speaks of the prophet as articulating an alternative way of viewing reality, giving a God's-eye view of history to the masses who are blinded by the dominant worldview which says that things are just fine the way they are.
At the end of the first volume Heschel devotes an entire chapter to the concept of JUSTICE in the prophets, and his penetrating insights bear repeating. Heschel argues that justice is not simply the absense of oppression, it is preference for those who cannot defend themselves (1:201). Justice is to be sought and pursued (1:207). Justice is so important that we cannot really know God without practicing it (see Jer 9:23-24; 22:15-16. Heschel, 1:210-211).
But here's the thing that really grabbed me. Heschel argues that "justice is not important for its own sake" (1:216). It is not as if there is a principle entitled "JUSTICE" upon which the world is founded and which must be maintained. No, "there are no ultimate laws, no eternal ideas. The Lord alone is ultimate and eternal. The laws are His creation, and the moral ideas are not entities apart from Him; they are His concern." (1:217)
According to the prophets, Heschel says, justice is primarily relational. "An act of injustice is condemned, not because the law was broken, but because a person has been hurt" (1:216). Ultimately, the relationship affected is that between people and God.
Gone is the idea of justice for its own sake. We "do justly" (Micah 6:8) not because it's the "right" thing to do in an abstract sense, but because God requires it of us, and we desire to be in "right" relationship with Him.