A Just and Righteous God

By Kristin Donohue

"Something is Terribly Wrong"

As I've read the news and come across pictures of different protests and marches that have filled the streets this year, I've noticed a sign that is often held up in the crowds. It says: NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. The image of that sign has never left me, because I've realized that all of us, whatever our political leanings, long for justice. We want things to be better than they are, for evil to be punished and for good to rule. I love the way Fleming Rutledge puts it: "In our world, something is terribly wrong and cries out to be put right."  I feel this deeply sometimes. My heart cries out in anger when I hear of atrocities and injustices that are happening around the world and in our country. But as my anger is welling up and I long for true justice and righteousness, I notice that the world is quick to offer me useless counterfeits of the real thing. And so I've been doing some reading and searching of Scripture to find out what real, biblical justice actually looks like, and what it means for God to be just.

Longing for Salvation

I found that the Hebrew Bible gives a realistic picture of our world as a place in which there is in fact something very wrong, in which sin reigns and evil exalts itself over the whole earth. The prophets were prophesying at a time when injustices were rampant, when the vulnerable were oppressed and the people had turned away from worship of the one true God. This state of injustice, while grievous, was not new, but flowed out of the sin that had entered the world the moment that Eve bit into the forbidden fruit.

But even as atrocities were committed and the people worshiped idols, the Scriptures continually declared that God would make things right again. In Isaiah 1:27 the prophet declares that "Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness." In 61:1-2 we hear a voice crying out: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God." The promise was that God would act with a strong arm to redeem Israel and save the whole world, restoring everything to the way it should be. And the promise was also that the evil that had exalted itself in triumph over the earth would be decidedly cast down by God's wrath. 

The Shock of the Cross

When Jesus was born, those who had been waiting to see this great salvation of the Lord knew that someone important had arrived. But from the beginning Jesus had been set apart to die. The great shock for everyone who had been waiting and watching was that in the end, all of God's wrath -- the wrath that had been stored up for centuries against injustice, against all that would impede God's redeeming work in the world -- would come down on God himself. And all of it happened on the Cross. Hanging on the Cross in agony, Jesus, God's own Son, became a curse, became sin itself, and received on himself the just punishment for evil. Instead of wiping out the world, God let himself be wiped out, placed in a tomb, and counted among the dead and gone.

In my search for an account of biblical justice, it stopped me in my tracks to realize that God bore in his own body the just punishment for the evil that so enrages us. I came to see that while my anger rises at the injustices that I see committed in the world, the truth is that, as an author named Solzhenitsyn says, "The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." It cuts through mine.

I think this is where the biblical concept of justice opposes all secular accounts. Secular ideologies say that if we just align ourselves with the right movement, or political party, or ideology, then we will be on the "good side" and can wield power with righteousness. But the Bible tells us that evil has been rooted so deeply in the heart of mankind that Jesus had to go down to the dead to pull it out. I can't begin to truly act in a just, righteous, and merciful way in the world until I realize that judgment and redemption began in the decisive act of Jesus on the Cross to save the world -- and to save me. 

Grace Poured Out

When this truth has lodged itself in my heart -- that I have been saved by the mercy of God -- I can seek to enact change in this world from a place of humility. I can seek to bless others out of gratitude for the grace that was poured out on me by Jesus. Though I was lost in sin, he saved me through his death and made me a beloved daughter of God. From this gratitude I begin to desire to pour out that same undeserved grace on those around me. I join with other Christians as we seek to do justice by lifting our neighbors out of their misery, setting right what is wrong, and making our community a place where the most needy and vulnerable can receive the care they need. We do this as a way of participating in the great saving work of God that was begun on the Cross for us and for all of Creation. We do this as a way of welcoming the Kingdom of God to this earth. 

Fulfillment of the Kingdom

This Kingdom of God, the one that Jesus continually announced as a realm in which God's just and righteous will would finally be done, was inaugurated in the person of Jesus himself. In Luke 4 we see Jesus stand in the synagogue, unroll the scroll of Scripture, and read from Isaiah 61:1-2: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Rolling up the scroll and sitting down Jesus declared: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." It was, and is, fulfilled in himself.

And the power of his Kingdom was demonstrated further when he rose from the dead. Death couldn't hold him; he burst out of the tomb and, after appearing to many, ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father and reign over the whole earth. We're promised that if we put our faith in him we will have eternal life and will be resurrected on the last day, to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth with him forever. In this new heavens and new earth there will be no more sin, or suffering, or injustice. That vision helps us to persevere in our work to set things right in this world, because we know that though we will never achieve perfect justice before that day, God's purpose and actions are oriented towards a day when all things will be made new, and when his glory will be revealed for all to see. 

Justice Rolling Down

And so I've learned that true justice is only found when we accept Jesus' invitation to enter fully into the Kingdom of God, an invitation won for us by his death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead. May we act justly in this world out of a profound gratitude for His grace that was poured out on us, and out of a hope for His coming Kingdom. May we pray for justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). And may our Just and Righteous God fill the whole earth with the knowledge of His glory, as the waters cover the sea. 
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