What is justice?

Justice continues to be a major concern for Americans, and rightly so. All citizens have good reason to be concerned that we live in a just society. Americans should lawfully oppose and correct injustice. Americans should pursue justice. God requires His people “to do justly.” To do justly the Christian must first have a right understanding of justice. To pursue justice, the citizen must have a correct understanding of what he is pursuing. How does the Bible describe justice?

This article will not examine everything the Bible says about justice. The aspects of individual justice will be untouched to focus instead on governmental and legal justice. The starting point to understanding justice is the character of God. Justice must conform to the character of Him who is Just. Any law or judgment that does not conform to the character of God is inherently unjust. For example, the laws which decreed blacks to be 3/5ths of a person were unjust and laws which decree homosexual relationships to be moral are equally unjust.

Only one nation has received its laws and jurisprudence directly from God. That nation is Israel. As a result, Israel is a case study in Divine justice in a society. However, not all of Israel’s laws are directly applicable to modern day nations. Few would suggest that it would be just for any nation today to impose penalties on those who eat shellfish. Nor can it be said that Israel’s system of laws is the absolutely perfect ideal. Jesus Himself declared that portions of the law were given as an accommodation to the sinfulness of men. (Matthew 19:8) Despite these limitations, principles of governance that transcend cultures are found in God’s instructions to Israel.

Certain of the universal principles found in the law of Moses are restated in the New Testament. God specifically ordained governments to oppose evil and promote good. (Romans 13:3) Governments are ministers of God for the good of their citizens. Governments are to execute wrath on those who do wrong. (Romans 13:4) The role of government is retributory, bringing consequences on those who do wrong. This includes execution of certain criminals. (Roman 13:4; Genesis 9:6) How the government is to exercise this responsibility is not directly addressed in the New Testament, but it is modeled by Israel in the Old Testament.

Israel’s laws reveal that God’s justice is concerned with equal treatment of all individuals. Equal treatment is founded on the truth that all people are created in the image of God. No person is a lesser being because of their position in society. All are equally bearers of God’s image. Biblical justice treats all equally, regardless of citizenship, power or wealth. (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Justice is also concerned with the protection of the weak. Governments are to ensure that the powerful do not take advantage of the weak (Exodus 22:22; Leviticus 19:14) and that the seller does not take advantage of the buyer. (Deuteronomy 25:13) The government should take care to protect the weak from being wronged by the powerful, but in criminal matters it is never to give special consideration to a person’s financial status or social condition. (Leviticus 19:15) In general, Biblical justice is about protection of individuals, equal treatment under the law and judgment of evil that is exacted without regard to the status of the person.

However, the Bible also teaches that injustice will persist in this world. This is not intended to produce apathy towards injustice in this world. Instead, the Bible points Christians to the future that they may be faithful to perform and promote justice now. The Christian can continue to pursue justice in this world because in the end justice will be perfectly and fully executed. When Jesus returns He will judge the world in righteousness. He will punish all sin with perfect justice. He will establish righteousness across the world. He will judge all people based upon full and exact knowledge of all sin and without favor towards their status, wealth, ethnicity or culture. In the end none will escape justice, and none will be cheated the justice they deserve.

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