“For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18 ESV
Last August, our family moved to Mississippi from the Raleigh-Durham area, one of the fastest growing metroplexes in the country. One thing we do not miss is the traffic. Few things were more annoying than sitting daily in the line of cars at a near standstill on I-440, watching some car come streaking down the passing lane, only to cut in ahead of the other cars just before the lane ended.
Why do things like that annoy us? Because of our sense of justice. We wait our turn and when somebody doesn’t, our first thought is, “That isn’t fair!” Or, stated differently, we might say that cutting in line isn’t just. These are, of course, trivial examples. But all of us have an innate sense of justice. We hate to see injustice, whether in traffic on the highway or in the courts of law in our land.
The reason why we all have a sense of justice is because we are made in the image of God who, as the prophet Isaiah told us above, is a God of justice. We could say that justice is who God is, in a sense. That is, the concept of “justice” is not something God measures up to; he simply is the very standard of justice. His basic nature is just (Ps 9:7, 97:2) and therefore he only and ever does what is just (Deut 32:4). As a result, he expects his people to love and practice justice (Deut 16:20, Isaiah 1:17, Micah 6:8).
Roughly stated, in the Bible justice means fair and equitable treatment under the law. For example, Deuteronomy 25:13 applies this definition of justice to ancient economics: “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small.” When it comes to a court of law, God makes it clear that justice means impartiality in judgment. “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (Lev 19:15) The apostle James likely has this text in mind when he writes, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 2:1)
What does the Bible’s teaching on justice mean for us today? Two things come to mind. First, we must see that none of us has met God’s standard for justice. We defer to the rich and overlook the poor. We are not fair. In short, we sin against God by our injustices. Mercifully, God has sent Jesus to be our substitute, so that God “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:26) Therefore, the only way unjust people like us learn to love justice is by faith alone in the Just One, Jesus, who died for all our sins, including our love of injustice. Once again, the gospel meets our deepest needs!
Second, there is a lot of talk about social justice today. Unfortunately, the term is rarely defined. In popular usage, it seems to refer to everything from feeding orphans to wealth redistribution. While Christians should be concerned to care for the poor, those subject to injustice, and anyone suffering from the effects of the fall, the kind of social justice called for today seldom, if ever, has anything to do with the Biblical conception of justice outlined above. For example, the Bible nowhere views an inequality of resources as an injustice. Instead, the Bible teaches, “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.” (1 Sam 2:7). God is sovereign over all our resources. This does not at all mean that we should not be concerned about helping the poor. Not in the least. Christians, of all people, who know God’s extravagant generosity to us in Christ, should be the most generous! (2 Cor 8:9) However, it is false to call an inequality of resources an injustice. “Social justice,” as typically understood, is not a helpful category.
In the end, God’s justice means that he will always do what is fair and right. He calls on his people to do the same. One final thought. Some people object that it isn’t fair (just!) that God saves some and not others. In the week ahead, consider this: we should never ask for justice from God when it comes to our sin. After all, none of us has kept God’s law perfectly. Therefore, his justice only condemns us. If we got strict justice from God, we would only have the fearful prospect of everlasting punishment before us. But, in his matchless grace, God has sent Jesus to meet the demands of his justice so that unjust people like us would get grace beyond our wildest imaginations. With his grace as our only hope, we who have been declared just in God’s sight can begin to love justice!