Thomas Jefferson, in a somber moment, noted: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” How long will God put up with a people who have turned from Him and have forsaken righteousness? We may question why God punishes sin, but we also need to also ask why He tolerates the world’s ongoing depravity. God is not indifferent to evil.
On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday I recall Desert Storm. As the ground war began I found myself atop a 5-ton truck going into Iraq. As we crossed the border, I wondered if God was about to judge America for the holocaust of abortion (which kills more people every two months than the Nazis did in twelve years). God stayed His hand, yet for how long?
Last Sunday we considered the comforting love of God. This morning we look at the more solemn justice of God. God is love, yet He does not ignore sin. R.C. Sproul observed: “If life is to be meaningful there must be a God who ensures justice.” And the Bible provides the basis for justice. Social justice comes from God’s character. He is the Standard of what is right. This is why Jesus embraced the powerless. He invested in people who had nothing to give in return.
Justice needs some definition--Justice refers to the rule of divine law, both in punishing evil-doers and giving the weak and vulnerable their due. When we say that God is just, we’re saying that He does what is right. He is the Author, the origin of all moral truth. He judges humankind, and in rendering judgment He brings justice to our lives. This doesn’t mean God will always be predictable. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.”
When a criminal is set free on a technicality, we’re outraged, we want to yell at the judge: “Your honor, I object!” (I’ve always wanted to do that!)…yet that criminal will one day stand before another Judge. God’s justice is inevitable. Because He is just, there will be a Day of Judgment. Paul warns in II Corinthians 5:10, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” For believers, this will be a day of reward; to be welcomed, not feared. The idea of a future judgment is either ignored or mocked by the world, but no one can avoid this meeting. We need to proclaim the gospel with a sense of urgency.
God’s justice goes beyond the question of whether actions are legal. Nations determine what is legal. A nation not ruled by God could easily be ruled by tyrants who call evil good. They don’t break the law because they change the rules. “The greatest evil comes from people who are convinced there is no God they must answer to” (Koukl). Divine justice is about what is moral--not merely legal. Abraham pleaded with God, saying “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). God treats us according to His moral perfection. Justice is a quality of His nature. He both hates our sin and desires our happiness.
God’s Law, the Bible, is the document detailing His justice. God’s law library has only one volume. It would be inconsistent if God established right and wrong, and then kept us in the dark, unaware, guided only by guesswork. A just God reveals what is right…and in so doing, we are left without excuse. We know what justice looks like.
To argue “It would be a better world if we all cared about others,” sounds reasonable, but is actually a hard-sell because it is a mere opinion, without authority. We’re not morally obligated to care about anyone but ourselves if there are no moral absolutes.
Psalm 146:7 describes God as the One “who executes justice for the oppressed.” We may be quick to condemn evil doers, but are we lifting up the oppressed, helping the poor and disadvantaged? Are we caring for their needs? That too is executing justice. Being charitable to the powerless is being God-like. Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of You? To act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” To do justice is to repair the shattered peace, to heal the lives of those defaced by sin.
As one who is entirely just, God gives us a desire for justice and requires justice in human relationships. Justice demands that we love our neighbor as our self. The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that our “neighbor” is anyone in need. Many people are being unjustly harmed, persecuted, and imprisoned. Let’s not ignore their plight. To turn our backs is to deny justice to people. “You can’t love people in word only” (Keller). We can’t help everyone but we can all do something.
We sin by silence in the face of injustice. It is unjust to do nothing. Here’s a quote from 20th Century prophet and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spike into the wheel itself. Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
In Christ, the justice and wrath of God was satisfied. God does not excuse our sin; it must be punished—and it was—on the Cross. “Justice is so important that God couldn’t set it aside. Jesus had to die for us, the perpetrators of injustice. Jesus did not come to earth to bring justice but rather to bear it. The judgment came down on Him” (Tim Keller). Jesus “was the only innocent man to be punished by God” (R.C. Sproul). “God is just in punishing sin, yet in Jesus God has taken our sin upon Himself” (Oden).
The only time God is not just is when He chooses to show mercy. This is not injustice. We can demand our “just deserts” or ask for mercy. God isn’t obligated to pardon us. If God were as “fair” as we demand, we’d be soon begging for forgiveness. If we want justice untempered by mercy, none of us will make it to Heaven. If you insist on justice, you’ll get it. D.A. Carson writes, “Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice? Then go to Hell.”
God makes us just, not by coercion, but by changing our hearts and outlook. If we’re not just, we haven’t been “justified by faith.”
Life is seldom fair. Have you ever been a victim of injustice, treated unfairly? In trying times we wonder, “Where’s the justice in all this?” Meanwhile, God “prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies.” He will vindicate and deliver us. One day evil will be conquered and justice will be served.