Compassion or Justice

love and justice 2As we look at the world around us, we see so much suffering, and so much injustice. There are a number of ways we can react to this suffering. We can get involved in a charity which seeks to address the problem. Alternatively we may choose to join an action group which seeks to resolve the problem directly through campaigning for justice. Which is the best way? Sometimes we hear someone say that we need to get to the root the problem not just apply sticking plasters. Someone else will say that this is all very well, but until the problem is eliminated, we must meet the needs through compassion and love. I the rest of this blog I will say that we need both approaches.


  • It is wrong that there are over 200 million malaria cases each year when relatively inexpensive programs could be developed to control and eventually eliminate the disease.
  • It is wrong that 90% of malaria deaths are in Africa mostly among children under five years of age.
  • It is wrong that an estimated 27 million people live in slavery, or virtual slavery, in a world where slavery is illegal but is tolerated.
  • It is wrong that 1,400 million people live on less than $1.25 per day and 80% of the world live on less than $10 a day.
  • It is wrong that 69 million children are denied any form of education and therefore any chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Justice and righteousness in the Bible

In the Bible, justice is closely linked with righteousness. Righteousness is about our standing with God; Justice is about our relationship with other human beings. In the law given to the people of Israel, the strands of justice run throughout the law, defining our relationships with our wives and families, our employers or employees and foreigners living amongst us. The principles of justice can be found in the Psalms and Proverbs and most particularly in the writings of the prophets.

The law

Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Deut 16:20 NIV)

The Psalms:

How long will you judge unjustly,
 and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the poor and fatherless; 
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy;
 Free them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 84: 2-4)

Amos said:

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24 ESV)

Jesus in the New Testament

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. (Luke 11:42 NIV)


Charity is not an organisation. Charity is more than a gesture of feeing sorry for someone and making a token contribution. Charity can be condescending; a giving from someone who has plenty to someone in need.

A man who finds himself in poorly paid employment may say, “I don’t want charity”. What he really needs is the dignity of living in a just society where people are appreciated for their labour and true worth.

The original, if somewhat old-fashioned, meaning of charity is love, or better still, compassion. True compassion protects the dignity of the beneficiary. It says in effect, “I may not be able to do much to solve the whole problem, but please accept my help from one human being to another”.

Charity, love and compassion in the Bible.

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18 NASB)

But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion (Luke 10:33)

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Charity is not enough

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.” (Nelson Mandela)

Mandela was not saying that charity is useless, but he did state that justice is required and, because poverty is man-made, justice can be applied and it can be eliminated. 

Personal appeal

This is a call to the next generation. My generation has started the ball rolling but evils like poverty take time to overcome. To all in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s:

  • Do not be complacent or indifferent.
  • Do not let the size of the problem overwhelm you.
  • Extreme poverty can be eliminated by compassionate love in action and by campaigning for justice.
  • Make sure that our politicians know how you feel. Do not accept the media wrongly denying the truth.
  • Support a charity.
  • Join a campaigning group.
  • Use social networking, and all forms of interaction with your contemporaries until the mass of people say, “this is no longer acceptable”.
  • Then the media will take note and politicians will have the will to bring full justice to bear and finally abolish the terrible evil of poverty. – George Dowdell

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

4 thoughts on “Compassion or Justice”

  1. Well said George. I also feel that every purchase of a Fairtrade product, or to some extent organic product is a vote for the wellbeing of the producer of the product.
    On the other hand, a purchase of a product produced by badly treated labourers in poor conditions (often by an unethical corporation) is a vote to propagate the corrupt system.


  2. Thanks,
    As far as I see it, the difference between charity and justice giving is in the feeling that accompanies the act. This is why each time I give something I try to ask for something else in return, like direction to some location from a beggar, just to give him the feeling that it is not a charity, but a justice barter.


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