TLP 397: How Children Understand Justice and Injustice | and how to teach them to think biblically about it
Your children understand justice, but do they understand it the right way? The world is trying to convince them to accept a godless definition of justice, but Christian parents must teach their children how to think biblically about the issue. Today AMBrewster dives into anthropology, philosophy, and the Bible to help us teach our children to think God’s thoughts after Him.
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Today’s topic is one some podcasts are discussing over the course of hours and hours.
We don’t have that kind of time, and we have a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in.
If you are otherwise engaged and can’t write anything down, never fear, we have free episode notes and transcripts available at TakingBackTheFamily.com. And there’s a link in the description that will take you directly to it.
Today’s topic is “How Children Understand Justice and Injustice | and how to teach them to think biblically about it.”
As I’ve mentioned on previous episodes in this disjointed semi-series, our world is on fire. Here in America whole cities are being literally set ablaze over the idea of “injustice.” Police are being murdered, property is being destroyed, law-abiding citizens are afraid to leave their homes because of violent mobs. Our nation is descending to lower and lower forms of debauchery . . . but . . . they’re doing so under the noble banner of “justice.”
And your family is either being affected by it or they will be.
And even if your children are very young and seem to have no conception of what is happening in the world today, and you’re convinced it will be years and years before they’re old enough to be influenced by it . . . you need to understand that they still have an inherent philosophy — a naturally ingrained understanding — of justice and injustice. And they function off that philosophy every single day.
It doesn’t take children long to wield the sentence, “That’s not fair!” It’s commonplace to hear children explain how things should be different than they are.
In fact, all complaining is rooted in a person’s beliefs about justice.
So, today I want to start by explaining how children naturally and inherently understand justice and injustice, and then I want to take a little bit of time aiming us in the right direction so that we can further nurture the God-honoring assumptions of justice our children have while dismantling the sinful assumption they have.
1. We need to be aware of the impact God’s image has on our children’s understanding of justice.
According to Genesis 1:26, all mankind is fashioned in the image of God. That concept has a plethora of implications, but — suffice it to say — many of God’s communicable attributes are imbued in all humans. Of course, it’s important to remember that God is infinite, so He has many incommunicable attributes that mankind will never possess, and it’s vital to understand that there are communicable attributes that we can only possess if the Holy Spirit resides in us.
And even then, since we’re finite (and currently sinful) we’ll never possess all of God’s attributes to the degree that He does.
Still, human beings are creative because God is creative. We communicate and seek relationships because God does. We desire dominion and authority because God does. We long for glory because God does.
And we also have an innate sense of justice because God does.
It’s interesting to note that mankind’s lifelong pursuit for justice is actually an apologetic evidence of the existence of God. As we learn more and more about justice, we will realize that had humanity evolved from primordial slime, justice would make no sense, and we would pursue it no more than animals do.
Anyway, because God exists, justice exists, and mankind is born recognizing a few things.
A. We see the shadow of God’s image in our children’s lives in that they believe that fairness exists.
As I said earlier, animals are not concerned with justice. They do not care about what is fair. Sure, you may see a video of a gorilla apparently demanding her babies share food, but the gorilla is not doing that because it’s fair, the gorilla is doing that because she has an instinctual drive to make sure all of the babies in her care are safe and healthy. One baby hoarding all the food is unhealthy for the others. We need to stop anthropomorphizing animals. They have no concept of justice.
It’s God’s image in us that makes us fight for fairness and justice so vehemently.
B. We see the shadow of God’s image in our children because they understand that some things are wrong.
Justice is consumed with the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way. God is very passionate about having mankind understand that some things are right and some are wrong.
Animals don’t care. They don’t act out of any noble sense of right and wrong. They do what is instinctual, they do what they “think” will benefit them. As I mentioned earlier, that may sound like a low-level understanding of right and wrong, but it’s not. It may benefit one animal to eat another. The first animal doesn’t care that the second thinks him wrong.
Your kids inherently know that good and evil exist, and we should acknowledge that it comes from God. The fact that they believe eating vegetables is evil and eating candy is good finds its source in God. That’s not to say their judgment is accurate, but the fact that they can make the judgement is derived from the image of God in them.
C. We see the shadow of God’s image in our children because they believe wrong things shouldn’t occur.
Not only do your kids believe that right and wrong exist, they are convinced that bad things should not happen under any circumstances.
If they believe it’s wrong to have their toy taken or to be sent to bed before the sun sets or to not be allowed to have a boyfriend, they will fight against it because they believe that wrong should not be allowed to occur.
D. We see the shadow of God’s image in our children because they believe that wrong things should be punished.
Not only do children believe wrong exists and that it shouldn’t exist, they are prepared to punish it at every turn.
If you take my toy, I’ll hit you with the other toy with which I wasn’t playing. If you send me to bed before the sun sets, I’ll throw a fit. If you tell me I’m not allowed to have a girlfriend at the mature age of 15, I’ll threaten to run away.
All of this grows from the very godly concept that wrong shouldn’t exist and that — if it does — it must be punished.
Now, though the examples I just shared may seem negative, we need to understand that all of our children believe in right and wrong, have identified things they believe are wrong, believe those wrong things shouldn’t happen, and believe that — if they do happen — there should be consequences for it.
Many children can articulate as much, and all the others prove they believe it by their words and behavior when they are faced with perceived injustice.
Even very young babies have a perception that injustice should be punished.
And all of that is from God. It’s the divine image we all bear.
But, in the same way we need to be aware of the impact God’s image has on our children’s understanding of justice . . .
2. We need to be aware of the impact our children’s sin nature has on their understanding of justice.
And there is only one point to be made here.
I used to tell the boys at Victory this. I tell my own kids. I tell all my counselees — sin makes us stupid.
Proverbs 12:1, “He who hates reproof is stupid.” God made and commands reproof. To reject it is sin. To sin is stupid
Jeremiah 4:22, “For My people are foolish, They know Me not; They are stupid children And have no understanding. They are shrewd to do evil, But to do good they do not know.”
Our sin nature taints everything. So, we parents have to understand that our children’s conceptions about justice and injustice are going to be affected by their sin.
Now, it may seem strange to say that all humans come to many right conclusions about justice by virtue of the fact that they are God’s image bearers, but that they also mess many of them up. But that shouldn’t sound strange. We do that in everything. God makes food, we appreciate it, we understand that it keeps us alive . . . but we abuse by eating too much garbage guaranteed to slowly kill us.
We can get it right and get it wrong at the same time. And, boy, do we do this with justice.
Yes, wrong exists. Yes, it shouldn’t occur. Yes, it should be punished. But here are the ultimate questions:
A. What is “wrong”? and . . .
B. Who gets to mete out the punishment?
And that’s where sin messes everything up.
When God created the world, everything was clear. He was in charge. That meant that He had the right to decide what should and should not be done, and He also had the right to decide how evil should be punished.
And what were the first demonic and human sins? Satan decided that he would take God’s place, and then he convinced Eve to do the same.
Sin taints our ability to understand justice correctly because it convinces us that we get to decide what wrong is and how it is to be punished.
A child who’s playing god is going to decide that he is allowed to take toys from other children, but they are not allowed to do so to him. And he will punish any child who tries.
An older child would hate it if anyone lied to him, but he justifies lying to others.
And the only reason “civilized” society exists is that we’re all barely intelligent to realize that if I kill everyone who does what I think is wrong, the anarchy would destroy us all.
Well . . . at least we used to be barely intelligent enough to figure that out. Today one man’s death means we get to destroy millions of dollars of property and take multiple lives. That’s “justice.”
So, we’ve answered the first part. How do children understand justice and injustice? They rightly understand they exist, they believe injustice shouldn’t exist, and they believe injustice must be punished.
But the problem is that they believe they are the ones who get to decide what justice and injustice are and how justice is rewarded and injustice is punished.
Our children are blind to the fact that they are not God, and they cannot see that their tainted view of justice is actually injustice. Not only that, but they fail to comprehend that their justice is extraordinarily hypocritical and illogical.
But it’s not just our kids. If a person has not been taught what true justice is, they will become young people and adults who are diluted and sinfully stupid.
And that’s where our nations are today. That’s the problem.
So, what’s the cure?
How do we teach them to think biblically about justice and injustice?
Well, let’s do a quick review of our past episodes while we work through the question “How do we teach them to think biblically about justice and injustice?”
1. We must be biblical.
Last Season we talked about defensible parenting and we used the example of the Rich Young Ruler to illustrate the absolute necessity of parenting from God’s Word.
Our first episode of Season 16 continued that theme by looking at David’s dying words to Solomon.
Then episode 392 was the biblical reality of rebellion against God and His Word and 393 was the consequences of that rebellion. They substantiated the fact that sin makes us stupid and showed us the deleterious consequences of our unjust actions.
If we are not going to turn our family’s gaze toward God — the ultimate standard of what is just and right — then all we can do is convince them that some human or institution made up of humans is the standard of justice. And — if that’s the case — your children will quickly figure out that no human is intrinsically better than any other human, so their opinion is just as good as yours. So, if humanity is to be trusted with the ability to correctly define justice, then their opinions are equally as valid.
We absolutely must teach our children to understand and interpret life through the lens of Scripture. To not do so is child endangerment. It’s child abuse. You’re lying to your child if you don’t root their understanding of life in God’s Word.
“How do we teach them to think biblically about justice and injustice?”
First, it must be biblical.
2. We must teach them to think.
Episodes 394 and 395 dealt with teaching our kids to think using God and the Scriptures as our guide.
Listen, if we don’t teach them how to think according to God’s Word, they will be no better off than every other human instinctually reacting from their own delusion of divine grandeur.
Once we have those two foundation stones: 1. That we’re basing all of our parenting in Scripture, and 2. We’re teaching our children to think God’s thoughts after Him, then we can go to the Bible to see how God discusses justice.
Now, I don’t want to take a ton of time with this. Again, it’s a big topic, but we all need to have these conversations with our kids, so I want to get that ball rolling.
So — of course — it will be important to . . .
1. Define your terms. Therefore, I submit Merriam-Webster as the definition for the English word “justice.” Justice is “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments, the quality of being just, impartial, or fair, conformity to truth, fact, or reason.”
And then we have to look up what it means to be just. To be just is "having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason, acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good.”
Do you see the problem that is inherent in the system? When you jettison God from the discourse, who gets to decide what is morally upright and good?
Well, parent’s believe they’re the ones. The government believe’s they’re the one. Whole demographics believe they have the moral high ground. The UN has thrown their opinion into the mix. And basically we find that might makes right. Whoever can subjugate the dissenters gets to say what is right.
This can be the pedophile, homosexual, child sacrificer, wholesale manslaughterer, and the countless of other historical examples man’s stupidity has provided us.
And — honestly — returning Merry-Web’s definition, they hit the nail on the head. And we’re going to find that the biblical understanding of justice is very similar.
There are a number of Greek and Hebrew words that are translated justice, and I would strongly encourage you and your family to do a word study. All of the tools are available to you online. My friend, Rand Hummel, once said that no English speaking Christian can ever make the claim that they can’t know what God has said in His Word. And that is so true.
And when you do your word study, you’ll find that the Greek and Hebrew words refer to justice as being acts of divine justice that is meted out on those who don’t know God and reject the Gospel. It can refer to that which is right, righteous, and straight — as in a standard for righteousness. It can also refer to judicial authority, condemnation, a verdict, and the like.
Those words communicate the same concepts. There is an established righteousness, and anyone who doesn’t hold to that standard receives a consequences to themselves from a worthy judge.
So, after you’ve defined your terms, there are a couple things that may come next.
For some of you, your kids already accept the fact that God exists, has communicated Himself through the Bible, and is the perfect standard of righteousness. In those cases, your task will be to teach your children what God says about justice and then help them apply it practically.
Of course, some of you are going to first have to establish Who God is, what His Word is, and that He is the perfect standard of righteousness Who has the right to expect us to meet up to that standard or receive the consequences.
Let’s be honest, a person who doesn’t accept those basic premises aren’t going to care what the Bible has to say about anything. I’ll illustrate that in a more stunning way in a minute.
But, let’s say that you either have children willing to submit to God’s Truth as recorded in the Scripture or your children come to accept that reality . . .
2. Study what God says about justice.
I would encourage you to do a word search in an online Bible or app and read relevant passages concerning justice, righteousness, and the like. You can even type “what does the Bible say about justice” into Google and find a bunch of helpful passages collected by openbible.info. For example that search provided these verses:
Proverbs 21:15, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”
Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Romans 12:19 is very important, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
And Isaiah 1:17 reads, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”
And there are many many more.
A word study about righteousness would provide this important reminder from Jesus in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Once you’ve defined your terms and studied what the Bible says about it, you will need to . . .
3. Discuss what the world says about justice.
You can’t go overboard studying God’s word, but you can drown yourself trying to figure out what the world says things about this.
I’m going to link a good video in the description of today’s episode, but in the video the speaker said, “Social justice means anything its champion wants it to mean.”
So, I would recommend choosing a few prominent ideas to compare with Scripture.
However, before you do that, I recommend you start with Acts 28:1-6. This passage perfectly illustrates the fact that people can very easily misunderstand justice. That’s why we need God to define it for us. Let me read you the passage.
Luke starts talking about a recent shipwreck and subsequent rescue. “When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. 3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.”
I’ll read the final two verses in a moment so as not to leave you in suspense, but these natives of Malta believed that Paul must have been wicked person who deserved death. They had established that murder was unjust. And had Paul drown in the sea, he would have received his just reward, but since he survived, justice still had it out for him.
Well, verses 5 and 6 read, “5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.”
Clearly their standard of right and wrong is not rooted in God’s expectations, and they had to change their theory when their expectations didn’t add up.
In the same way, the world is floundering for a definition of justice. They are fighting to be the ones to interpret each event, and they desperately want to be the ones to mete out the righteous punishment for the sins they perceive.
In addition to the video I’ll link, allow me to give you some examples of the Failure Philosophies of the world when it comes to justice.
David Hume in his work An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals asserted that when “every individual finds himself fully provided with whatever his most voracious appetites can want . . . the cautious, jealous virtue of justice would never once have been dreamed of.”
Hume believed if everyone always received what they wanted, they would never find an injustice. Of course, that isn’t only a literal impossibility, it’s an ideological impossibility as well. If there were $10 available to be had by you or me, it’s impossible that we would both simultaneously experience justice. We can’t both have the $10.
But the main observation is that Hume beautifully illustrates that mankind must be the determiner of what is right based off his “voracious appetites.”
And that is exactly what the world believes.
According to Mary FioRito there are two ways of approaching the discussion about justice. She says that either “Justice means that every person must be treated equally in every circumstance without regard to the difference between people.” Or that a just society is one that “allows for the unique potential of each human being to be fully achieved.”
That is a very wise delineation between the two persuasive movements of the day. I personally would agree with the second definition more than the first, but we still must take it back to the Bible. If one would argue that a murderer is not allowed to achieve his full potential were he to receive the death sentence, the arguer would be denying an expectation of justice that God Himself ordained.
But please allow me to cite a few more examples of how people define justice, and — more specifically in these examples— social justice.
According to the Center for Economic and Social Justice, “Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.”
That sounds really good until you ask who gets to define what is good for the person.
The National Association of Social Workers propounds, “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.”
“Everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.” Does that line up with Scripture?
You will need to discuss that with your kids.
But here’s the real kicker.
Listen to a statement from the United Nations. “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth. Social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.”
Okay, so it’s clear they hold to the idea that justice “means that every person must be treated equally in every circumstance without regard to the difference between people.”
But listen to this. They go on to say, “Present-day believers in an absolute truth identified with virtue and justice are neither willing nor desirable companions for defenders of social justice.”
Let me read that sentence again. This is from the United Nations. “Present-day believers in an absolute truth identified with virtue and justice [are you kidding me!] are neither willing nor desirable companions for defenders of social justice.”
What’s amazing about this is that the United Nations gets it. They realize that if God exists, they have no right to decide that justice means we take everyone’s money and equally distribute it to everyone regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.
If God exists they don’t get to decide what’s right and wrong. They don’t get to choose the punishment for wrong. They don’t get to do what God says is wrong and escape the consequences.
In Romans 13:8, Paul writes, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
You can listen to our “Four Family Loves” series to hear more about how God defines love, but the short of it is that I want and work toward God’s best interest in the life of the person I love. It’s not about what will pander to them and tolerate them and make them feel good. It’s about what God says they need.
And yes, the Bible has a lot to say about God’s people caring for the poor. But It has far more to say about how we worship the Lord. While Judas was sneering at Mary because instead of selling her spikenard and giving the money to the poor — by the way, Judas was the perfect picture of a modern day social justice warrior. His whole goal was to take what should have been given to God, say he was going to give it to the poor, but then hoard it all for him. Anyway, while Judas was trash taking Mary’s worship, Jesus said in Mark 14:6-9, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
Sometimes the best thing you can do with your resources is pour them over God’s hands and feet.
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is bring biblical consequences into their lives. In Ecclesiastes 8:11 we read, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.”
It isn’t in anyone’s best interest to give themselves to evil. Therefore, God says that if they have perpetuated an evil deed, a biblical injustice, the most loving thing you can do for them is execute the sentence of their punishment quickly.
We need to teach our kids that true justice is objective; it’s grounded in God’s expectations for how people relate to each other. But it is also subjective in that people can and should glorify God by relating to each other differently in appropriate situations.
There is no one-size-fits-all justice. Genuine biblical love is going to act according to the need of the moment. I love my wife very different than I love all the other women in my life. That’s not injustice, that’s obedience to God.
Now, as I finish up here, I want to share one more example of how we can never attain true justice as long as we reject God and His Word.
There is a philosophical ideology called Utilitarianism. Generally speaking, that philosophy is very good because it attempts to achieve the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.
Now, of course, if we don’t know what true good and happiness is, that philosophy is just as wicked as the rest. But — biblically speaking — to love everyone (including our enemies) is to want and work toward the greatest good (aka: God’s good) for the greatest number of people I can.
Now, here’s why I bring this up.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the world’s concept of justice cannot comfortably fit with Utilitarianism. Allow me to quote the article and then I’ll explain the problem.
“Can justice be understood in utilitarian terms? This may in the first place depend on how we interpret utilitarianism. We treat it here as a normative theory whose aim is to supply a criterion – the greatest happiness principle – that can be used, directly or indirectly, both by individuals and by institutions . . . in deciding what to do, rather than simply as a tool for evaluating states of affairs. Utilitarianism cannot plausibly provide a theory of justice unless it is interpreted in this action-guiding way . . . . We also assume that the most likely candidate will be a rule-utilitarian view that treats principles of justice as belonging to the set of rules which when followed by the relevant agents will tend to produce the greatest total utility.”
One of the few human philosophies that has enough common grace poured on it to approximate a biblical philosophy of love cannot work with a godless form of “justice” unless the philosophy is used to create rules that must be followed.
At that point, utilitarianism has ceased to be utilitarianism and becomes another version of same old thing. “You do what I say, and you will receive the rewards I have decided will make you happy. You don’t do what I say, and you will receive the consequences I have decided you deserve.”
That’s not utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a critical tool that judges whether or not a rule is valuable based off the objective realities concerning what’s good for the people it affects.
I don’t know that I’ve explained this as clearly as I see it in my own head, so I’ll sum it up this way. Modern concepts of justice absolutely — at their very core — reject God, His Truth, and any human philosophy that functions off that Truth regardless of how secular it may already be.
Thank you for your patience today. I pray it was rewarded with a deeper understanding of how your children naturally think about justice.
And I pray you have a trajectory for helping your kids think biblically about the topic.
Given the world events and the beliefs of the United Nations, I will strongly encourage you to share this episode on your favorite social media outlets. Christians need to hear what God has to say about justice. Christians need to teach the next generation to see life through the lens of the Scriptures.
If we want our children to grow up into Christ, we must parent in truth revealed in God’s Word and the love revealed in God’s character.
To that end, join us next time as we look at another controversial subject, “What Makes Children Naturally Not Racist.”
And, in case you’re wondering, the episode after that will be “What Makes Children Naturally Racist.”
And we plan to follow that up with “Teach Your Children What the Bible Says about Racism.”
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