We try to have regular gatherings of Christians and Muslims to discuss shared moral values or beliefs as a way to better understand each other and build relationships on common ground. We call these Lunch & Learns and the gathering is what it sounds like. We learn about each other, and then eat lunch! It’s a great time every time! We just recently had one of these Lunch & Learns on the topic of Justice. Here’s a quick recap of what we, as the Christians, had to say.
What is Justice?
Justice is rendering to everyone that which they are due.
So, if you break the law, justice demands that the penalty you are due should be rendered to you. That would be what we might call negative justice. On the other hand if you are a worker and you perform the work you have been hired to do, justice would demand that you be paid according to what was agreed to be rendered. This would be what we might call positive justice.
The nature of justice is relational. Where there is no plurality of parties there can be no such thing as justice. This may seem like common sense but there’s a deeper truth to be learned there.
What is God’s Justice?
God’s justice is when God renders to all that which is due.
God is the one who determines every aspect of what should be rendered, how it should be rendered, and when it will be rendered. In the Bible we read passages such as Deuteronomy 28- 30 which speak of the blessings which God will render to those who obey him and the curses which he will render to those who disobey him (covering both the positive and negative sides of justice). Even Adam, who was told that in the day he ate of the forbidden tree he would die, faced God’s justice when he disobeyed. In fact, just like with Adam, the punishment for even one sin has remained death, per God’s unchanging justice as it was given to Adam in that first command not to eat of the forbidden tree. When we read in Genesis that God allowed for a substitute death of an animal in Adam’s place, this speaks also to the mercy of God who allows his rebellious creation to live and still receive blessing in this life in spite of our sinfulness; until the day we die and are faced with the righteous Judge of all the earth who does not spare the guilty.
God’s justice is part of his very nature. It is uncreated, eternal, and has its being in God. God, being eternally unchanging, has always perfectly executed his justice. But how? Justice is relational in nature. To whom has God eternally rendered that which is due? Is there something outside of God that is co-eternal with him? No, not at all. Instead we, as Christians, know the truth: God is relational in his very being. The one true God is not unitary but triune. A unitary God is incapable of having justice within himself, because he is one in person and one in essence. It is not until he creates something with moral capability that he would be able to have even the capacity for justice. This kind of god (a unitary one) could therefore not be immutable (unchanging) because he would be adding to his character a new trait upon creation; namely, justice. Instead, the triune God who eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (one in essence and three in person) is perfectly capable of rendering justice within himself and thereby remaining unchanging when he creates.
How do Christians see justice?
First of all, we as Christians (as well as all humanity) are charged to render to God that which he is due and to render to others that which they are due. We echo what Jesus said the two greatest commandments are. The first is to love God will all our heart, soul, and mind. The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Since none of us is capable of doing these things perfectly, we execute, at best, imperfect justice. But to say that we execute imperfect justice is merely a polite way of saying we are unjust. And the penalty due from God to us for this injustice? Death. Just the same as it was set up in the beginning with Adam.
Because God is perfect in his justice this penalty which is due to us must be rendered to us. But God, in his grace, allows for a substitute to take what is due to us on our behalf. For example, it does not matter who is fouled in a soccer match, the penalty kick is assigned to the best player. That player takes the place of another and is able to perform on behalf of the entire team. Likewise, God allows what is due to us to be taken by a substitute. Historically this was seen in animal sacrifice, as God did the first one in the garden on behalf of Adam, but saw its ultimate and final fulfillment in Jesus. For more on this substitution, please see our post on Sacrifice.
In keeping with the same example above, we as Christians understand that Jesus lived perfectly on our behalf too. Just as the best penalty kicker is used in soccer to represent the entire team, God has given us Jesus – the only perfect one – to represent what is owed to God on our behalf. Jesus is the only one who both loved God and people perfectly, thusly rendering to God that which is his due on behalf of human flesh.
So, Christians still must render to God and neighbor that which is due. We cannot neglect justice in any way. But because of the perfect life of Jesus on our behalf our imperfect justice is made perfect in God’s sight through the substitutionary life of Jesus. Seeking to render justice in our daily lives here on earth is an outworking of our understanding what Jesus has done for us – he has won our eternal salvation. This does not let us off the hook for daily actions, but those daily actions will never add to or take away from what Jesus has rendered to God on our behalf – perfect justice.