Friday, February 14, 2014


The question was, "What is justice?" The young woman asked me to define it and after all these years I still find it difficult to give a simple answer. A word that we use so often but which sometimes seems hard to apply correctly.  It seems like everyone knows what it isn't, everyone seems to innately grasp what is "injustice," especially if they have been treated that way. When we see someone abused, deprived of their rights, oppressed, robbed, taken advantage of by those having power or locked out when they should be let in like everyone else we feel disturbed; like things are out of balance.  Justice is "equity" and when the balance of things is upset we should and ought to feel bothered.
   I did quote her a verse from Proverbs which says, "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully,' (28:5) NIV.  Later I turned to Webster's New World Dictionary with Student  Handbook and comment number 1. was, "being righteous."  Comment number 5. was "reward or penalty as deserved."   Under the phrase "to do justice" was comment number 1,, "to treat fitly or rightly."
    Being righteous and being just are essentially the same thing.  Proverbs has a line of reasoning that teaches if one is wise then he will be righteous, and to live in a righteous way is to live wise.  To be righteous means you will treat others with justice and you will deal justly in your affairs.  Seeking the Lord makes us righteous; without a fear of Him, without a relationship with Him it is impossible to be truly wise, and thus truly righteous, and thus truly just.
   I find the book of Proverbs to be very helpful in keeping me on track as to issues of justice.  I learn there that God cares about just measurements and weights.  This means I give everyone the same measurement, with the same standard.  In the matter of payments and costs this hopefully gives me a reputation of integrity. Most everyone wants to have their vegetables weighed by the same measure on the scale at the market, to pay for a gallon of gasoline and have your gallon be exactly the same amount of gasoline as my gallon.  This is the part of economics that is fairly simple math, but when the math gets complicated it is interesting to see how the measurements change for those who have control of it.
    In a world that has lost its foundations in accepting God's Word as Truth justice is more and more defined by groups and self interest..  In a world of people who do not seek the Lord, who do not know the fear of God, there is a free for all in defining truth and thus a difficulty to find our way to righteousness.  Justice is always overturned when the interests of one person or group is given greater emphasis, protection, or advantage than others.  The reasons for this can be for a variety of reasons such as ignorance, selfishness, greed, racism, etc. Historically people seem to have been able to perpetuate injustice against others in complete sincerity that they had a "right" to do these things to other people.  Some have known full well that there actions were wrong, unjust, or evil and they cynically continued the injustice.  Others have done it with layers of self-justification to appease their conscience.
    Having a Word from God which is absolute helps us to understand how morality affects justice.  God makes hard lines of conduct where humans could be confused and allow immorality as they pursue a faddish concept of rights.  In other words, some things we seem to innately get and some things have to be revealed to us.  If we have no fear of God than that revelation won't mean anything to us, until of course we come to the point of "reward or penalty as deserved" when we stand before God.  Christians believe this is inevitable and the fact that everybody dies reminds us of it.
    People who fear God believe that ultimately there is justice, for everyone, though it be delayed until death.  Christians base all their hope on the idea that spiritual justice was satisfied by the death of Jesus on the cross.  Since there is no difference in that all people sin we all face death with absolute bleakness as we await God's judgment on our lives.  That is, unless the penalty for our sin, guilt, and shame has been paid by the atoning death of the One for the many, the Just for the unjust, the only Righteous One for the unrighteous many.  Having this faith in the substitution of Jesus in taking their punishment gives the Christian hope, but it is proved in the Christian's transformation into a moral and just actor in this world.
    If any people ought to live justly it should be Christians. When those who have claimed Christ as their Lord have been unjust to others they have not proved out their faith and are certainly open to the charge of being hypocrites.  They have not loved their brother in those acts of injustice, and so when they say they love God they have lied.  It is hard to accept that a person has been transformed by the grace of God into a saint if they have failed to love and failed to treat others as they wish to be treated.  The balance that the Apostle John gives in the book of I John about our love for God being proved by our love for our brothers is fairly simple and straightforward, and devastating against our rationalizations.
   "The righteous care about justice for the poor but the wicked have no such concern." (Proverbs 29:7) NIV
Righteousness for the Christian goes beyond just thinking about his or her own morality but extends into caring for those who cannot defend themselves.  "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31:8-9) NIV  We are not being just if our concern for righteousness only extends to our own reputation, our own moral rectitude.  Righteousness for the Christian is not complete until his compassion and his defense extends to the rights of the helpless and the poor.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Randy.

    Here's an attempt to define what it means to "do justice" in a way that is biblical and practical. I would love to know what you think of the strengths and weaknesses of this definition or description of justice.

    What is justice? When the average American hears the word “justice” we typically think of fair punishments and procedures. For example, we talk about criminals receiving “justice” or we think of a court system or business transaction being “just” because the process used to make the decision or transaction was fair and unbiased. But when the actual terms and concept of justice are used in Scripture they tend to go beyond this. To be sure, biblical justice has never meant anything less than fair punishment and procedure (Exodus 23:2-3; Leviticus 19:15, 35-36; Proverbs 11:1). But it has always meant more.

    Fundamental to this more expansive understanding of biblical justice are key passages which link God’s justice with positive acts of restoration and generosity.

    “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18)

    “Praise the LORD! …who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.” (Psalm 146:1, 7)

    Here we see that God’s justice is both procedurally fair (e.g., he takes no bribe) and positively restorative (e.g., he gives to the needy). Thus, if God himself is to be our standard, “doing justice” would seem to mean acting in ways that are both fair and restorative.

    This understanding of what it means to do justice is quite practically illustrated at a human level in the book of Job which opens with one of the most remarkable descriptions of any human being contained in the Bible: “[This] man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). But what was it about Job that made him deserving of such inestimable praise from God? In Job 29:1-25 Job himself describes what his practice of doing justice actually looked like. And, above all, what we find is that Job’s life was characterized by a ceaseless concern for the needs of the poor and oppressed. According to Job, this is what it meant to “put on righteousness” as clothing and “justice… like a robe and a turban” (Job 29:14). Job says he was like eyes to the blind (29:15) and transportation for the disabled (29:15). This, he explains, was a matter of justice (29:14). He was a father to the poor and an advocate for the stranger (29:16). And he did not fail to vehemently oppose those who oppressed others, breaking “the fangs of the unrighteous” so as to make him drop the victims “from his teeth” (29:17). Simply put, Job’s life provides a practical portrait of what doing justice actually looks like.