So many times I’ve heard it said, “yes, God is loving, but He is also just.” So many times, this statement goes hand in hand with explaining why God consigns men to everlasting conscious torment.
I would ask of those who say this, “Do you mean to say that God’s love would desire or allow something that His justice would not? Is God’s justice in conflict with His love? Is God in conflict with Himself?”
Personally, I think not.
I think there is a misconception about either love or justice (or both) that leads to this statement.
My last post was a gut reaction to our society’s view of justice. In it, I made a few observations and made some pretty bold (and unsubstantiated) statements. I hope to explain and further develop what I began to expound upon regarding justice.
I believe we misunderstand what justice actually is for one very good reason;
We rarely see justice fully completed.
In this “current evil age”, what do we see of justice in our lives? What have we experienced of justice?
If I have a friend, whom I love, and he betrays my trust, steals my car and wrecks it; what justice can we accomplish as humans?
The courts may decide that my friend must serve time for his infraction. Once the sentence is handed down and the time served, some may proclaim that justice is done. But what was actually accomplished here? I may have been “avenged” by the courts, but I still don’t have my car, and what’s worse; I have lost relationship with my friend! This is not justice. This is merely an attempt to deter the perpetrator (and others) from continuing to break the law.
This is an attempt to preserve society and “avenge” my loss. Nothing more.
If I took my friend to civil court over my loss, what would this accomplish? The court may decide that my friend must make recompense for the loss of my car and any inconvenience that he caused me. If my friend’s heart has not yet been softened, this would merely anger my friend and make the relationship further from healed.
If my friend begrudgingly makes payment for the lost car, then some form of recompense is accomplished on my behalf. But justice is not yet complete, because I have still lost my friend.
What would true justice actually be in this case? If justice makes right all that has gone wrong, then wouldn’t justice demand that my friend be fully penitent for his actions? Wouldn’t justice demand that he, of his own volition, would strive to make recompense for my lost car? And best of all, wouldn’t justice demand that he and I be reconciled? Wouldn’t this be true justice?
If I truly love my friend, and he has betrayed me as described above or in some way far worse, then should I not desire for true justice to be accomplished? Never mind my car… Should I not desire to see him penitent? Not for my sake, but for his; so that he may learn of his error. Should I not forgive him and desire the restoration of relationship with him? My love for my friend should cause me to desire justice be done!
I believe true justice works on the behalf of both the one wronged and the perpetrator.
Now, there are those who disagree that the definition of justice is to “make right that which has gone wrong”.
From what I’ve seen, the “other justice” is retribution, and nothing more. The “other justice” is only satisfied when revenge is accomplished. I ask; is this the Jesus we know? Is this the character of God?
Ezekiel 18 (abbreviated)
The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
” ‘The fathers eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me.
The soul who sins is the one who will die.
“Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right; —
He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD.
“Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them): —
Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.
“But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things: —
He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.
“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.
The soul who sins is the one who will die.
The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. —
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die.
But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life.
Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel?
Is it not your ways that are unjust?
“Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.
Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.
Why will you die, O house of Israel?
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!
From this passage, I think it’s very clear that God seeks repentance, not retribution. Justice is not satisfied or pleased in retribution and death; this accomplishes nothing.
If retribution is the goal of justice, then why is the man who turns from his wickedness spared?
The ultimate goal of justice is to bring repentance.
What does it take to accomplish true repentance? What does it take to accomplish true penitence that leads to reconciliation and allows for all to be “made right”?
“ Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. ”
Divine intervention is the only answer. Only God can change the heart. Only God can give a new spirit. Only God can restore what has been destroyed. This is what is accomplished in Jesus. He is both just and the justifier.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
In this current age, we have no idea what true justice is; and as Christians, we have allowed an earthly perspective of justice to creep into what we believe of God. We think that justice is merely retribution. We think that the justice of God will only accomplish revenge. What a horrible and detestable concept this is to me. His ways are higher, so much higher. (Isaiah 55:8,9)
Now, those who believe that the bible teaches retributive justice are most likely asking, “but what about ‘eye for an eye’ and ‘tooth for a tooth’ ?” (Leviticus 24:19–21, Exodus 21:22–25, Deuteronomy 19:21). To them I say, do you realize that these laws were given to limit the vindictive reaction of the one wronged?
The base response of a man who is slapped is to permanently maim the one who slapped him. We always look to hit back harder, don’t we? This is why the law, “eye for an eye,” was given. It was to limit the reaction of the one wronged.
“An eye for an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
“An eye for an eye” is the primary example of mankind not being able to accomplish true justice. God knows we are not capable of true justice; we are not omniscient nor omnipotent. We don’t have the knowledge of heart issues or power to restore.
We humans cannot give sight for blindness; we can only give blindness for blindness.
He has given the law of “an eye for an eye” as a means by which we can maintain some kind of order; it is for the preservation of society. God knows that left to our own base responses, our “justice” would overstep and become disproportionate to the infraction. This is not the way of God; He gave us this law to limit our “justice”.
When Jesus came, he called us to a higher standard than was even written in OT law.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Is Jesus saying that we should not desire justice? Absolutely not!! He is calling us to love and faith. Love for our brother, that we may forgive him and continue to seek relationship with him and faith that God will accomplish justice for us and the one who wronged us.
Jesus is not sidestepping justice here because justice is about seeking repentance, not retribution!!
I have come to believe that the love of God demands justice. Love and justice are not two contrary attributes of God, where one would have something that the other would not allow. True justice is merely one facet of love in action.
Love desires for relationship; When there is a break in relationship because of transgression of the law, justice works to bring about repentance so that relationship may be restored.
I have come to the place in my faith where I understand that;
Justice accomplishes what Love desires.
Now, don’t get me wrong, justice may demand some very severe things. Some have a hard time reconciling love with severity. When they think of love, they think of the hippies, “peace, dude”. This is also a perversion of love. If I love my friend, then I seek what is best for him. This might not always be so peaceful… I’m sure we’ve all heard of “tough love”. This is what I’m talking about.
To demonstrate this point, what do we think of parents whose son is constantly getting himself into trouble, and yet the parents continually bail the son out. The son never learns anything.
In this circumstance, the parents are doing a great injustice to their son. It would be far more merciful for the parents to allow the consequences to fall upon the son so that the he may learn from his error. The consequences may be severe and dreadful, but love may demand the son suffer them, and this would be just. Love would demand justice so that the son may learn and not repeat his error.
I believe that there is a coming judgment, Love demands it. This will be a time when all men will be brought before the great white throne. This day will be a dreadful and yet wonderful day.
It will be dreadful because there will be a great many who will stand in defiance of our almighty God, and He will show the wrath that is demanded by His love. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. However literal or figurative it is, anyone who’s name is not found in the lamb’s book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death. (Rev 20)
However, I believe this day will also be wonderful, because His justice will be accomplishing the desires of His love; For He is love and He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13, 1 John 4).
I believe that the lake of fire is not the end of the story; it is only a necessary part of it. I believe this because Love and Justice will not be satisfied in retribution, but only in repentance and restoration.
If repentance is not reached, justice is not accomplished.
Therefore, I believe the end of the story is:
“for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive”
(Rom 8, 1 Cor 15).
This is justice; to make right what has gone wrong.
I believe that the end of the story is when God has reconciled all men to himself and He is all in all (Col 1, 1 Cor 15). On this day, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God (Isaiah 45, Phil 2).
I believe this will be done because God loves His creation and wants the best for His creatures. What is best for His creation is for His creation to be reconciled to Him, glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever.
Again, those who have a hard time reconciling love with severity will read these comments and think, “what kind of God would torment His children until they decide to repent?”
To this question I respond:
I am in no way saying that God will torment until repentance is accomplished. We are tormenting ourselves. We are the ones choosing sin, death, and destruction, all the while, He is using the consequences of our sin for our good.
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”
“The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
“For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new”
As for the weeping and gnashing of teeth; Jennae and I have taught our 18 month old boy to stay away from the electrical outlets in our home. But if I find him playing with one, he will weep and gnash his teeth when I lightly flick his little hand and pull him away from playing with it.
Should I not discipline him because I know the weeping and gnashing of teeth that will come of it?
No, in love, I must teach him what is best for him.
Am I full of wrath and retribution towards him because he has disobeyed?
No, I love him beyond words.