What is justice? In our culture justice is
- doing things as the law directs
- making things equal – level
Wikipedia: “The association of justice with fairness is thus historically and culturally inalienable.”
But what if the Bible’s understanding of justice differs from ours? If the Bible says that something is just, and our culture says it is unjust, who is right? It depends on your point of view.
People who have committed themselves to God’s authority understand that His kingdom is fundamentally different from the kingdom of this world. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
People who have not committed themselves to God’s authority won’t understand this. To them, some of the actions of God as recorded in the Bible are incomprehensible and, for many, unacceptable. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Christians, who (presumably) are committed to God’s authority, nevertheless find it sometimes difficult to understand some of the actions that God is said to have taken in the Bible. It is difficult being “in the world but not of the world” – like growing up in one culture and then moving to another one that is completely different.
It is therefore important for us, as Christians who are living in the Kingdom of God, to gain an understanding of justice as God defines it and practices it. Without an understanding of God’s justice, we won’t be able to understand what He did in the Bible stories or what He is doing now.
The New Bible Dictionary outlines nine stages of the development of the concept of justice in the Bible. I’ve summarized them here.
- The word “justice” is related to the word “righteousness.” In Hebrew (in the Old Testament) these concepts are inseparable. This is also true in the Greek language of the New Testament, where the word for justice is closely related to the word for righteousness.
- Justice implies conformity to the accepted law. “Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 25:13-15)
- Justice implies conformity to God’s will. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14).
- Justice is a moral standard by which God measures human conduct. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13).
- Under God’s justice, evil must be punished. “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Hab. 1:13).
- God’s justice also includes blessing for righteousness. “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous” (Prov. 3:33).
- God’s justice includes blessing for the undeserving (grace!) as well. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- God’s justice can be imparted to those accept His grace. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, quoting Gen. 15:6). So Abraham was justified (aha!) by his faith.
- God’s people must dispense God’s justice in the form of grace. “Seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Is. 1:17).
(The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Gen. Ed. Eerdmans, 1962. Article on “Justice” pp. 681-682)