53 God's Justice, Jackson and Sophie
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
It seems most people want justice and a bit of revenge on those who have hurt us. Discover the difference between Punitive and Restorative Justice and which of those God asks us to join Him in giving it liberally.
The Justice of God
Victims want justice. For example, President Bush vowing to bring the perpetrators of the destruction of the Twin Towers to justice. Justice in this case is a thinly disguised synonym for revenge. Is God’s justice a desire for revenge too? This essay has its origins many decades ago when I read that “justice and mercy” kissed at the cross. I never could understand this statement. Now I do and this essay is the result.
Traditional Definition of God’s Justice
God’s justice, as is commonly understood, means that he does not allow evil to continue ad infinitum but will bring an end to it with overwhelming violence. This violent end is pictured as a lake of fire in which the wicked are tortured for eternity. that perfection of his nature whereby he is infinitely righteous in himself and in all he does, the righteousness of the divine nature exercised in his moral government. At first God imposes righteous laws on his creatures and executes them righteously. Justice is not an optional product of his will, but an unchangeable principle of his very nature. His legislative justice is his requiring of his rational creatures conformity in all respects to the moral law. His rectoral or distributive justice is his dealing with his accountable creatures according to the requirements of the law in rewarding or punishing them ( Psalms 89:14 ). In remunerative justice he distributes rewards ( James 1:12 ; 2 Tim 4:8 ); in vindictive or punitive justice he inflicts punishment on account of transgression ( 2 Thessalonians 1:6 ). He cannot, as being infinitely righteous, do otherwise than regard and hate sin as intrinsically hateful and deserving of punishment. "He cannot deny himself" ( 2 Timothy 2:13 ). His essential and eternal righteousness immutably determines him to visit every sin as such with merited punishment.
Punitive and Restorative Justice
In this Bible Dictionary God’s justice is seen as punitive and is premised on the concept that the more painful and intense the threatened punishment, the less likely perpetrators will offend. This thinking was the motivation for the death penalty for millennia, but we now know that perpetrators are not much deterred by penalties. There is another possibility, that of restorative justice. No one on this planet ever chose to be born and live here. If one had a choice and there was a choice between our planet and pain free and guilt free planets in the universe no one would choose to live here. God’s justice could be to give everyone a chance to escape the awful predicament we find ourselves in. The Bible has evidence that God does not regard us as guilty of Adam’s sin (2 Corinthians 5:14-21) and while we can take some responsibility for our own short comings (Romans 3:23) we can never live a perfectly selfless life the way Jesus Christ did. We thus need a Saviour. If we could live a perfect life, then we would only need a helper.
Our longing for Justice
God’s justice may lie in that he does not wish to punish us but to heal us of our bent to selfishness, our burden of guilt and shame, and our inability to imagine the life of happiness and joy he designed us for. Here is the definition of the Justice of God according to Easton's Bible Dictionary. The last sentence sums it all up if the wording is burdensome.
Justice, together with truth and beauty are the longings of the human heart. We want justice but we also want beauty in our lives, be it a sunset, a new baby, a painting, a home, a smile, new clothes or a fancy car. Music and art reflect these longings for beauty. Then we also want to know the truth about life. Where we came from and what our responsibility is and where we are going. Punitive justice and revenge are Siamese twins and often blurred together in our thinking. Punitive justice or revenge is about punishing perpetrators while restorative justice is about restoring what has been lost by the victim. King David had a lot to say about his desire for God to bring justice by which he meant the execution of his enemies (Read Psalm 58 NLT). This desire for revenge is often a major concern for those who are unaware that they are also perpetrators of evil in the world. If we are all sinners, then we have all contributed to the evil in the world. We have wounded others and they might be crying out to God for revenge on us. Here are some of the different perspectives for those who desire justice. For a framed prisoner it means a longing for the truth to be told. For the abused it is the longing for escape, security and safety. For a slave it is the longing for freedom from oppression. For the poor it is the longing for a little money to have comfort and hope. For the hungry it is food. For the blind it is the miracle of sight. For the rich and comfortable it is the longing to be free from worry and loss. We all desire justice or fairness.
There are more creative ways of healing the suffering victims on this planet besides executing the perpetrators. God could take the victims away and let mortal perpetrators live out their miserable lives until they perish from their own folly and sin. God=s justice is mostly about how He treats those who did not ask to be born into the chaos we call earth. Here are some perspectives from the Old Testament. Isaiah 1:17 NLT Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 30:18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! Isaiah 58:3-7 NLT 3 ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. 4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. 5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD? 6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free and remove the chains that bind people. 7 Share your food with the hungry and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Ezekiel 45:9 A>This is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have gone far enough, O princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. The dictionary definition of Ajust@ is acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good. For God to be just He must then do what is morally upright for people who have lost fairness, beauty and truth.
God and moral uprightness or compassion.
We are born on this dark planet and know mostly sorrow, failure and heartache. We never asked to be born here. When we came to consciousness we were already caught up in this nightmare of suffering, disease and death, punctuated by only a few moments of transient joy. We had no choice in the matter of which planet we would like to be born on and our circumstances on this planet overwhelm us all some of the time. For the sensitive, suicide is often the only solution. The rest find solace in self- pity, drugs, busyness, gossip, overeating, and hedonism. Periodically we cry out for justice or redress from the unjust world we live in. Sports stars, who add little value to the real world, are filthy rich and billions of peasant farmers are honestly, dirt poor. It seems as if there is little, if any, fairness or justice at all. Does anyone really care? Another world cup, another Olympic extravaganza, another fundraising dinner for the rich, another unmarked grave for the poor. Where is there justice? Who cares? God cares and Jesus is the pre-eminent care giver. He is the one who brings justice. Hear this scripture which the religious leaders of his day could not hear: Matthew 12:15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16 warning them not to tell who he was. 17 This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18 AHere is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. 21 In his name the nations will put their hope.@ I will put my This passage explains that God brought justice to those who lived 2000 years ago. Jesus opened the gates of heaven for sinners and to confirm this mission he healed and comforted the ill and disadvantaged left, right and centre. This was all indicative of the greater healing from injustice that He had come to bring. Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 AThe Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord=s favour.@ 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. Jesus then proceeded to perform these miracles all through His ministry. All His miracles of healing and comforting were performed unconditionally in the same way the ark was opened unconditionally to the anti-diluvian world. Anyone and everyone could come and experience the salvation or healing of God through Noah. In the same way Jesus healed entire villages. God knows the pickle we are in and Jesus came to proclaim, Ajustice to the nations.@ He came to lead Ajustice to victory.@ He came to restore and save all people from the injustice of sin. He came to bring restorative justice through healing us spiritually, emotionally and physically. All this He will accomplish in His time. He will bring justice to all.
Requirement for God to be Just.
Of course, this will only true when everyone on the planet will finally say, AGod gave me the break I never had as a sinner.@ There cannot be one individual who cries, AUnfair@ about God if God is to be perceived as a God of justice. To be morally upright there can be no exceptions. Moral rectitude was compromised by stealing one apple, once. That is all it took to open the flood gates of sin in Eden. Everyone must understand God=s actions. Everyone must have the opportunity to give their witness about God. The universe must be searched for any evidence of one immoral act by God if we are to be certain that God is morally upright or just. Even the dead must be raised to give their witness. No stone must be left unturned on this vital matter. Their verdict is vital to any questions about the character of God. Is God fair? Is God unselfish? Does God care? This is not a legal matter but a moral matter about heart which made all hearts. Was Jesus authentically God or only the kinder half of God? Hebrews 9:27-28 Christ will come again not to deal with our sins but to bring salvation to all. Eleven-year-old Sophie was grounded for visiting the mall with her friend Jenny without permission from her parents. She was watching Jackson, the African Grey Parrot her parents had owned since before her birth. Jackson could imitate the telephone, the doorbell and calling Kipper the dog so well that even her parents were taken in some of the time. As Sophie watched Jackson climbing around in his cage, she thought about her own plight of being grounded. Jackson had been grounded all his life. Never once had he flown over trees and shrubs like his wild relatives did in the Ituri forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All his life he had been spent cooped up in a metal cage with water, a few seeds, and an occasional piece of fruit. What went on his Jackson’s brain, if he had one, Sophie wondered? Sophie tried to imagine how she would cope in a metal cage a few times bigger than herself with all the world watching her do what she had to do from time to time. No privacy except when darkness came. What would go in her brain? Sophie was excited to think these thoughts. She was sure she would be angry watching other humans come and go as they pleased. She was also sure that she would yell and scream at first but then later, as she tired, she would whine and plead for freedom from the cage. This must be
what prison is like, she thought. Her cage would be like a glass jail cell every day, all day. Then she remembered having heard that even prisoners in solitary confinement were allowed an hour a day for exercise, often in the fresh air. Jackson had no such privileges. His wing feathers were cut so he could come out of the cage and not be able to fly away. When Jackson was occasionally allowed out, he chewed on the blinds or bit the ear of the person on whose shoulder he sat on or chewed on any soft fabric around. Jackson also left his calling card on the furniture and floor, and since no one really enjoyed cleaning up or fixing up after Jackson, he spent most of the time in the cage. Sophie wondered if Jackson had been really that bad as a young parrot to earn the punishment of being grounded in a cage for the rest of life. It did not seem fair to Sophie who was grounded for two days. Then she remembered that Jackson had been born in captivity so what was the reason Jackson was grounded for life? Sophie thought about that for a long time and could not come up with any answer that satisfied her 11-year-old brain. It seemed very unfair to her. She thought about letting Jackson out of the cage, but this would be cruel since Jackson could not fly with his wing feathers cut short. How would Jackson survive the eagles and hawks around? How would Jackson survive the teenage boys in the neighbourhood with their BB guns? A thought entered Sophie’s head. Perhaps her parents were protecting her from “eagles” and “hawks” that preyed on teenage girls. She quickly forgot about such a cowardly thought. She and Jenny could take on anybody. They often took on older boys and even took the teachers on at school and defended themselves very well. They usually came off best. It was 5pm and soon her family would be back, and she would forget about Jackson and spend her time and energy trying to negotiate a reduction in the time she had left in her grounding. Perhaps she could negotiate the remaining day down to just the afternoon. Grounding really slowed time down and made life miserable. It was boring to say the least. She though briefly of Jackson but very briefly. He seemed happy enough spitting sunflower hulls onto the floor and clicking his bill. Grounded for life? Was there any justice for Jackson? She would rather die than be caged for life!
Punishment, Consequences and Justice
Death and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ are not a punishment or justice for sinners from God. It is the opening of Jackson’s cage with the resurrection to the expansive freedom of innocence, joy, and happiness. This is the justice of God. It is the beginning of the life that God always planned to us to have. The life that was stolen from us by the serpent in the garden many millennia ago. We are grounded by the actions of our first parents. There is no justice in being punished for an affliction not of our own choosing like Down’s Syndrome or PTSD or Parkinson’s or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or SIN. I can understand this, and I am not kinder than God. “Jesus wept” might turn out to be the most significant statement in the Bible concerning the character of God. He understands our desperate situation and is in the healing or delivering business, not the blaming and condemning business.
When he comes on his white horse with blood on his uniform and his sword in his mouth (Revelation 19) it is not to exact vengeance but to deliver us from our “cage,” to deliver us from being grounded forever and forever. This is true justice! Hear now how God brought justice to us according to the mind of the apostle Paul. Romans 3:21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunishedC 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law. No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all. Rather, we uphold the law. Righteousness or rightness before the law means perfect obedience from the moment of birth to the instant of death. For a sinner to claim righteousness would be false, yet this perfect obedience is the qualification for heaven. The standard cannot be lowered because this would place heaven in jeopardy. So, God gives sinners this perfect righteousness. This act of God is called justification and means they are then innocent of any wrongdoing (justified). It is as if they had never sinned. This is how God views the matter. Faith is seeing the situation with God=s eyes rather than our own eyes which are full of condemnation and judgment. It is this attitude of God that makes Him just and the justifier of believing sinners (vs 26).
Justice is always Costly.
Justice cost God His beloved, only Son so that every sinner might be saved from the hopelessness of this planet. Jesus came to love us to the uttermost to demonstrate the justice of God. If he had stopped short of the worst that has ever happened on the planet someone could claim God did not understand his suffering and so God could not be fair and just to him or her. This is not only good news, but also stunning, superb, sensational, supreme good news. Too good, far too good to be kept secret or private. I have to tell somebody. I have to tell somebody now. I have to tell somebody tomorrow and tomorrow and the next day.
The implications of God’s justice for me
And what is your part in the matter of salvation? God has lifted you out of this chaotic environment through the inspirational life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can you believe this? If you can believe it, your whole life will change because you then have heaven in your heart, and this perspective affects the way you think and feel and so finally, your actions. You become an ardent ambassador for the God who brought us justice through His Son. You become the salt of the earth the light on a hill. This is the choice you have in the chaos called earth. One day all this chaos will be
ordered in God=s way and it will be the new earth. You can be there! God means you to be there. God wants you to be there. This is God=s marvellous, restorative justice. Even so come Lord Jesus. Ian Hartley, January 2021