Ambassador of Reconciliation
1/28/12 at 11:09 PM 0 Comments

"Let Justice Roll On Like a River"

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Reading George Sarris’s post about justice reminded me of an essay I wrote in 2010. Our human justice system can give us insight into God’s justice, because our sense of justice is derived from the conscience and reason He has given us. He has planted in us a sense of right and wrong, and although it is imperfect, we should pay attention to what it tells us.

Recently I have been giving thought to the whole concept of justice. What constitutes true justice? How is human justice similar to and different from divine justice? Will there ever be complete justice?

The dictionary defines justice as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness; the administering of deserved punishment or reward.” That which is just is “guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness; in keeping with truth or fact; rightful, equitable; given or awarded rightly; deserved, as a sentence, punishment, or reward.”

What does justice look like in our human legal system? Let’s take the case of robbery: a thief breaks into a home and steals a diamond ring. Justice would involve capturing the thief, trying and punishing him, returning the ring to its rightful owner, and perhaps rewarding someone who helped recover the ring. What about someone who embezzles an elderly couple’s life savings? Again, justice means making it right: punishing the perpetrator and forcing him to restore what he has taken unlawfully.

So true justice involves punishing the wrongdoer and making restitution to those who have been wronged. Full justice also includes just compensation for those who do right. Can our human justice system bring about this complete justice? Of course not; it can provide only a shadow of real justice. If our legal system manages to capture a criminal, give him a fair trial, impose a fair sentence, and compel him to make restitution to the victim, it will have done its job.

Even at its best, the human justice system cannot provide perfect justice. Can it restore the peace of mind of the homeowner whose refuge has been violated and whose security has been shattered? Can it restore the health and joy of the elderly couple who worked their whole lives in anticipation of spending their golden years together and now have worried themselves sick over the ruin of their dreams? Can it restore the virginity of the rape victim? The lost years of an innocent person wrongly imprisoned?

At its worst, our legal system can create a complete travesty of justice. It can be guilty of the charge Isaiah made in 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Given the limited knowledge of human beings and our inability to discern wisely and our capacity for evil, it is to be expected that complete justice will never be realized in this life.

We comfort ourselves with the fact that God is the Just Judge and will ultimately bring about complete and perfect justice. Every injustice perpetrated in our world will be corrected by the One who judges justly. In His infinite wisdom He knows all the hurts that have been suffered, and He will perfectly execute all the components of justice: punishing all the evildoers for their sins against God and against mankind, making restitution to all who have been wronged, and rewarding all who do good.

But how can this be? All of us have been both victims and wrongdoers. The sexual predator was probably a victim himself as a defenseless little child. What would justice for him look like? The thief who steals to support his drug habit may have been born of a drug-addicted mother. What is an equitable outcome of such a situation? Even those of us who are not overtly depraved are a complex mixture of good and evil. Yes, our sins are forgiven in Christ, but is that the end of the story? Will there not be final resolution of and restitution for all the injustices in our world?

Most troubling of all, what about murder? How often have family members and friends of a murder victim expressed relief that some measure of justice has been accomplished with the conviction of the murderer, only to add “It will never bring our loved one back.” No, our human justice system is absolutely powerless to bring about full justice in the sense of restoring the lives of those who have been murdered. We can take another life to even the score, but we can’t achieve real equity.

But God can! He is fully able to bring about complete restitution for all losses, including bringing murder victims back from the dead to be reunited with their loved ones in heaven. But what if the murder victim is himself an unbeliever? The traditional Christian view says that that person will spend eternity in hell, forever separated from loved ones. His punishment means that justice for his loved ones—i.e., restoration of what was stolen from them—is not achieved.

Is this the way God operates? I don’t think so! I believe that His infinite wisdom and infinite power and infinite righteousness will be able to achieve perfect justice. And I believe it includes bringing back from the dead those who have lost their lives unjustly. They themselves will undergo judgment and will have to answer for their own sins, but they will ultimately be restored to those they have been taken from. Only God can transform lives and weave together the infinite number of factors in the lives of all humanity to bring about perfect justice for all. There is hope! God will punish all evil, reward all good, and restore all that has been lost. He will establish justice on the earth and lead justice to victory!

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Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25)

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep. (Psalm 36:6)

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. (Psalm 45:6)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you. (Psalm 89:14)

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
Till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope.
Isaiah 42:1–4

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
Till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.
Matthew 12:18–21

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