I find that I have a very ambivalent relationship with Justice.
Like every human being made in the image of God (well, I guess that’s all of us!), my instinct for justice is undeniable. Murderers should be severely punished. Thieves (corporate or otherwise) should be locked up and have their assets liquidated and returned to their victims. People who do great work should be promoted.
Some feel squeamish about justice. But steal our wallet, smash our car, hurt our kids – we pretty quickly find out that we yearn for justice like everyone else. On a personal and societal level.
But then I read statements like this today, in Psalm 58:
Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth!
…and I look around and say, where? Isn’t it often the case that the wicked “get away with it” while the righteous suffer (see Psalm 73)? If God is just, and a Judge over all the earth, why is there so much injustice? In the timeline of our experience, it all seems so uneven and inconsistent. What’s up with that?
This can be a real stumbling block to faith. Of course, reading through the Scriptures, we do find numerous places where God actively brings judgment on those who oppose Him, and even judges His people when they stray off from His ways. But other times, He seems silent. Is this injustice? Impotence? Absence? Or something else?
From our (admittedly limited) perspective, it looks like there’s not a whole lot of justice going on! But maybe – just maybe – this is a good thing.
The same psalm opens with this bald statement of our universal human sin: “the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth speaking lies.” If just our little white lies were subject to the justice they deserve, we’d all be living through a Category 10 hurricane of wrath each day. Let alone all the other ways in which we daily fall pitifully short of perfect holiness.
God is just…and patient (or, in older English – longsuffering). God is a God of justice…and mercy. God is opposed to the wicked…and inscrutably wise in His eternal purposes.
In other words, justice will not always occur in the way and in the timing we expect. It WILL occur, as sure as day follows night – but, as for me, I am glad it is not immediate and fitting to the crime. Because I’d be a dead man 100,000 times over for all of my violations – in action and in heart – of God’s law.
Throughout the Torah, we see the principle of substitutionary sacrifice for sin – justice taken out on an animal substitute, such as a spotless lamb. Blood was shed as payment for human sin. Day after day, year after year. This understanding continued forward into the Christian faith, with the full outworking being a once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, for sinners of every race.
Justice satisfied via sacrificial substitute??? My sin cancelled out by the sword of justice falling on a willing, and faultless, sacrifice?? What’s up with that?
Scandalous idea. And that, my friends, is the gospel.
It’s God’s idea of justice, linked in mysterious wisdom to mercy for fallen men and women. Justice, and deliverance from justice. Holiness meeting humanity over a table of atoning love.
I’ll take that over my idea of justice any day.