The horrific blaze at Grenfell Tower last June has seared scars deep into public memory.
As a tower block made up almost entirely of social housing was engulfed in flames, what might have been a one-off tragedy came to symbolise an unjust divide between rich and poor in the heart of London. ‘If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower’, wrote Ben Okri in a response poem for the Financial Times.
Now, almost a year later and following the five published reports this week, the word ‘justice’ is reappearing in headlines. As various factors are discussed, from the combustible cladding to the emergency services, the ongoing inquiry marks what the Grenfell United organisation has called ‘the beginning of a long road to justice’. But what kind of justice do we all want?
Does justice mean a furious public outcry and punishment for those most responsible? Compensation and rehabilitation for the survivors who are still living in hotels? Rapid intervention and legislation change to prevent similar scenarios in future? All of the above?
Psalm 9 reminds us:
‘The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.’
God can be trusted to exercise complete and impartial justice, and the call on his people to act justly is a major and recurring command throughout his word.
As Tim Keller explains in Generous Justice, the Hebrew word for ‘justice’, mishpat, appears more than 200 times in the Old Testament. It means both punishing wrongdoers and caring for the vulnerable. But biblical justice also involves tzadeqah, which Keller describes as ‘righteousness’ or ‘being just’: this is a hallmark of a life in which all relationships are conducted with fairness, generosity, and equity. It’s a form of living that flows out of right relationship with God. Biblical justice is not solely reactive but proactive.
As the Grenfell inquiry continues and tensions mount, ‘justice’ may become a shout which accrues a weight of public outrage. May it be a word which we speak back in prayer and live out in action. God calls his people to be characterised by justice – both mishpat and tzadeqah – in the way that we speak, serve, and give, seeking to transform culture more into the likeness of the coming kingdom.
Katherine is in her final year studying English at Cambridge University. She blogs the occasional thought here.