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Justice: Russell Board

By Russell Board

WHY DO WE VALUE JUSTICE?

Simple. Because God values justice. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures bear continual witness to God’s concern for justice.

God declares that one of His purposes in choosing Abraham is so that he may teach his children and household to “do justice” (Genesis 18:19).

The laws God gives to His people contain numerous warnings against “perverting justice” (Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19, 24:17, etc.).

King Solomon was gifted with wisdom so that he might “execute justice” (1 Kings 3:28; 10:9).

Over and over again the prophets call for the people of God to “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17), “grant justice” (Isaiah 16:3), “keep justice” (Isaiah 56:1), “execute justice” (Jeremiah 21:12), “hold fast” to justice (Hosea 12:6), “establish justice” (Amos 5:15), “know justice” (Micah 3:1), and “do justice” (Micah 6:8). Additionally, over and over again, the prophets warn that denying, neglecting, or perverting justice will result in defeat, invasion, and exile for the nation.

When we come to the New Testament, we are told that, in fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus “will proclaim justice to the Gentiles” (Matthew 12:18).

Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting justice in their pursuit of legalistic righteousness (Matthew 23:23). His parable of the sheep and the goats makes it clear that Jesus takes a personal interest in the way we treat the suffering and disadvantaged (Matthew 25:31-46).

Paul declares that Jesus will occupy the “judgment seat” from which justice is dispensed to all (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Peter describes the “day of judgment” as the appointed time for justly rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked (2 Peter 2:9).

John echoes this with a graphic description of a “great white throne” from which God judges all “the dead, great and small…according to what they [have] done” (Revelation 20:11, 12).

WHY DOES GOD CARE SO MUCH ABOUT JUSTICE?

Simple. Because God is just.

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).

“The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

“Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psalm 97:2).

“For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18).

“Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:24).

God is just by nature, and our sense of justice derives from His. To be created in His image means, in part, to share in His sense of justice. This sense of justice demands that the guilty be punished, the virtuous rewarded, and the innocent protected.

No one would claim that this happens on a consistent basis in our broken, fallen world. All too often, it seems that the guilty get away with their crimes, the virtuous are taken advantage of, and the innocent are abused. But God’s justice demands that all accounts be settled fully and completely. That’s what Judgment Day is for.

No unrepentant sinner will escape due punishment. “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil” (Romans 2:9). On the other hand, all who have suffered unjustly will be comforted and healed. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). All that is wrong will one day be set right, and justice will prevail.

This is both good news and bad news for us. We long to see justice prevail, but we realize that we are undeniably guilty of unrighteous thoughts and deeds. If God is just, how can we hope to escape the punishment we deserve?

Marvelously, graciously, God has given us this hope in Christ. Christ “suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust” (1 Peter 3:18), voluntarily taking our sins upon Himself and dying in our place. The sacrificial death of the Holy and Righteous One is sufficient to atone for every sin. The good news of the gospel offers salvation to all who repent and believe. United to Christ by faith, the guilty sinner is put to death and raised to life as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

Because God is just, He has promised to right every wrong and fully establish the Kingdom of justice when Jesus returns. “According to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

In the meantime, as citizens of the coming righteous Kingdom, we embrace and espouse its values in the midst of a fallen and unjust world. We do this in every sphere of life.

In our personal relationships, and in our churches, we “show no partiality” or favoritism (James 2:1), rejecting discrimination on the basis of race, class, gender, nationality, or political party.

This demands more than a passive acceptance of the status quo. The current fractured state of society reflects fissures caused by past and current injustices, some individual, some systemic and institutional. Under these circumstances, we must actively strive to build bridges across the divides, taking risks, leaving our comfort zones, making ourselves vulnerable, and truly listening to the stories of those who are different from us.

We must also be careful to remember the disadvantaged among us, sharing our abundance with those who lack the blessings and opportunities we enjoy: the fatherless, the widow, the homeless, the immigrant. (See Deuteronomy 10:18 above.) Justice entails that “for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

On our jobs and in our business dealings, we conduct ourselves with honesty, fairness, and integrity. “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume” (Leviticus 19:35).

As employees, we give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. “Whatever [we] do, [we] do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

As employers, we do not mistreat or exploit our employees, but treat them with dignity and respect, paying them a living wage and making sure they share in the profits of their labor. “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning” (Leviticus 19:13).

God has instituted human government in order to implement and enforce justice in society (See Romans 13:1-4). However, like every other human institution, government is often warped by the sinful creatures who run it. The power of the state can be abused and misused in ways that are unjust and oppressive.

We who live in democracies have the right and obligation to participate in the democratic process, by running for office, voting, campaigning, speaking out on behalf of justice, and calling to account officials who act unjustly. We can pray and lobby and work to correct rampant injustices, whether legal (such as abortion) or illegal (such as human trafficking). And we can be a voice for the voiceless, defending the unborn, the abused, the neglected, the destitute, the marginalized. “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).

And what if, like our fellow believers in many countries around the world, our political freedoms are stripped away and we find ourselves with no power or influence over public policy? We can still, like the prophets of old, speak out against injustice in the name of the Lord. We know that the unjust are on the wrong side of history because the justice of God will prevail in the end.

“Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:15, 24).

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