One of the things closest to God’s heart is justice. Justice is a theme running throughout the Mosaic law, the prophets, Jesus’ own ministry, and “being justified” is a major theme in Paul’s writings. Something so important and so close to the heart of God needs to be emphasized and understood. As I started to look at how often justice, mercy, and righteousness are together in Scripture, it made me realize that these work together, they are not opposites.
Our American idea of justice is more influenced by our court system than by Scripture. We think of justice as synonymous with punishment. We mess up, we pay the price, and justice is accomplished. There are several examples in Scripture where God brings justice by punishment, both individual and entire nations. But this is only a way of accomplishing justice, it is not the same as justice. God’s idea of justice has much more to do with protecting the innocent.
The best definition I have heard of justice is “justice is to make things right.” To be justified is to be brought into a right relationship with God. God chose to do this not by punishing us, but by sending Himself in the flesh to become our sacrifice. Punishment happened, but our justice is accomplished by God’s mercy and grace.
I have heard many conversations about God having to balance his mercy and justice, or His love and holiness. This is a bunch of nonsense. God is not divided and He has to balance nothing. His justice and mercy work together. He is holy because He loves and He loves because He is holy. He can only be wrathful because He loves so much. Because He loves so much He wants justice, and He will often use mercy to accomplish it.
How is justice accomplished? It can be through punishment, but more often it is through mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love. Justice is accomplished when a relationship that has been destroyed is rebuilt. It takes whatever was wrong and makes it right.
I have noticed that most people want “justice” for the one who hurt them, but when they are the responsible party, they want “mercy.” What if we made decisions that accomplished both?
Making things right has nothing to do with letting people off the hook and ignoring wrong. That is neither justice nor mercy. If wrongdoing and sin is not acknowledged, than there is no way to make a relationship right. Being dismissive and rationalizing sin is far from the heart of God. Justice demands that wrong is dealt with. What mercy does is allows the one wrong to be restored a stronger person who has learned from what they have done.
As a church, we must be about justice. We need to be in the work of restoring what was wrong. We don’t punish wrong (that is the Lord’s job alone) but we work to redeem it (the greatest work our Lord does, and He invites us to share in it). It is not easy, or comfortable, but it is absolutely right. To ignore justice in our world is to ignore and make light of the very heart of God. We have been justified by grace. May we spread that message.
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
-written to "Black Like Sunday" by King's X