Monday, August 25, 2008

Two Sides of Justice

I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.
(Ecc 3:16-18 ESV)

Christian leaders are rarely at a loss for words on the topic of justice. We demand justice. We insist on it. We even pray to God for justice. I'm just not convinced we know what we're talking about. And if we did, I'm relatively certain we wouldn't be praying for it.

Many people like to talk about justice. Prophets, preachers, presidents and paupers... we all like to say we want it. But justice is a coin with two faces, and everybody wants it to land with their side up. Certainly we all want a kind of justice, the kind that works out for us - not against us.

It's important to remember that temporal justice, from God's perspective, is not always in our favor. If you disagree, let me offer you the history of Israel as evidence. Or perhaps we could take a look at our own lives - corrupted and dirty as they are. The last thing we should be looking for is justice.

Maybe you're still not convinced, so consider Jesus. Did justice - from the human perspective - work out in his favor? Yes, yes... from the eternal perspective it worked out for immeasurable glory and perhaps even perfect justice. But from the human perspective? Does what happened to Jesus factor out to justice using our math?

I suppose I can't speak for you, but my opinion is that justice doesn't even begin to describe it. And I'm in good company, because that seems to be a significant reason why so many Jewish people couldn't bring themselves to accept Christ as the messiah. If justice was being served in Jesus on the cross, then it was justice that pretty much knocked him out of the running for the messiah position. In fact, this whole suffering-messiah-sacrificed-for-sinful-humanity gig spits in the face of our kind of justice!

Consider this passage of scripture:

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
(Jas 2:13 ESV)

This verse is all the more powerful because the book of James - given its overall tone - is actually the last place one would expect to find it! It's interesting that the word translated here as "judgment" carries with it the flavor of judgment between right and wrong - judgment according to justice or divine law. It can even be directly translated as "justice." In fact, with little or no liberty taken, the above statement could be translated, "Mercy triumphs over justice." This is God's judgment.

Dirty Harry, vigilante style justice? Oh yeah, you can sign us up in droves! But when it comes down to God's justice... not so much. And why? Because with God's justice, the bad guys don't always get it in the end - and it's a good thing too, 'cause we're all bad guys. Because in God's justice, glory often has to be set aside - at least for a time. And even more uncomfortably, because when considering justice from God's perspective, we may be the ones standing in its way. That might not sit well with our self-righteous sensibilities, but it's a fact.

So the next time you are tempted to comment boldly and unashamedly on the "plain truth of God's justice", remember that you could be the one who ends up on the tails side of that coin. And the next time you're lobbying the cause of justice for your favorite cause, nation, person or self, consider carefully which side of the scale you're on and remember that justice tends to balance those scales. In the final analysis, the Bible indicates that in a match between mercy and justice... mercy is the surest bet.

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