Fathoming God’s Justice


How misunderstood that word has become in our fallen world. Our classic westerns illustrate our misconception well. The bad guys, masked in black, invade the village, oppressing and raping the population. After our indignation has been raised to sufficient heights, the good guy arrives on a white stallion and does everything to the bad guys that the bad guys have done to the town.

This is the justice of men.

God’s Justice Is Different

Yet God’s ways are different than man’s ways, radically different! Isaiah 55:8-9 God doesn’t deal in retributive justice (or violence of any kind). In fact, His definition of justice is totally different:

Wash yourselves clean. Stop all this evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right. See that justice is done—help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows.” Isaiah 1:16-17

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice.” Isaiah 30:18

“Give justice each morning to the people you judge! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors.” Jeremiah 21:12

Much Different

According to God, justice is delivering the oppressed, not punishing the oppressor. This is because God’s laws are design laws—the protocol for life—and deviations are destructive to the one who breaks the law of love and oppresses others in a spirit antithetical to love. All God is trying to do is warn men that our only enemy is embracing a spirit of oppression and violence against those who disagree with us or abuse us instead of a spirit of self-sacrificing love. This is only a symptom of the absence of love in the heart. Neither justice nor God’s kingdom of love come through violence. We—neither men nor God—can bring justice by imposing punishment on those who refuse to participate with us in love and who instead participate in violence against us.

JRR Tolkien Was Right

Like Gandalf says at the Council of Elrond, “The Ring is altogether evil.” Most men in The Lord of the Rings believed that they could use the power of the evil Ring to champion the cause of good, but if Tolkien is trying to teach us anything in his epic tale, it is this: violent and coercive tactics cannot be used for good. Only good can defeat evil. This is why Saint Paul exhorts us to overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

Even Men Long For This Kind of Justice

I love how Tim Jennings illustrates this principle:

“If you walk in on someone who has just hung themselves—breaking the law of respiration—what would ‘justice’ require that you do? Do you beat them for breaking the law? Do you have a trial, present evidence, and pronounce judicial findings? Or do you seek to deliver and save? If given the choice, would the parents of murdered children in school shootings prefer to punish the shooter or have their children resurrected and restored?”

“We are not to regard God as waiting to punish the sinner for his sin. The sinner brings the punishment upon himself. His own actions start a train of circumstances that bring the sure result. Every act of transgression reacts upon the sinner, works in him a change of character, and makes it more easy for him to transgress again. By choosing to sin, men separate themselves from God, cut themselves off from the channel of blessing, and the sure result is ruin and death.” – Ellen White, 1 Selected Messages 235

Judgment According to the Fruits of the Spirit

Man’s best attempts at justice fall far short of God’s ideal. Only He can bring true justice to our world, and one day He will. Yes, He will bring justice, justice that is much better than the redress of the white-clad heroes of our westerns or the judgments of our modern courts. Then, all creatures will see what kind of judgment love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control bring.