Deuteronomy 16.19, 20 says, “You shall not pervert justice…Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
As I read this verse the other day, I thought it was a very accurate description of how many Christians today view God. For these Christians, the thinking seems to be that God is just. Therefore, justice is going to be served by God, whether in this life or in the next. Justice is someone being punished, getting what they deserved, for their sins. In other words, justice sounds like, “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
I see two reasons many western Christians think this way about justice. The first is our legal system. The system is designed to exact some sort of punishment, not restitution and reconciliation, for crimes committed. We fail to recognize how much this influences our thinking about God and Jesus and how they act in the world. Second, much of western Christianity is dominated by the thinking of John Calvin. Calvin was a lawyer. Not coincidentally, whether Calvin himself intended it or not, we have made Calvin out to make a big deal about justice.
As a result, many Christians set God’s justice on an equal footing with God’s love. For these Christians, when someone says that God is love, a typical retort is to say that God is just too.
But, is that true?
Are we to know God as love and as justice?
Is God’s justice like our justice?
Or, is God’s justice moderated by his love because God’s love supersedes any justice he brings about?
My answers would be no, no, no, and yes.
For starters, 1 John 4.8 and 16 both say, “God is love.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say God is just. God’s very nature, his very being, is love. But, we must know that God’s very nature, his very being, is not just – at least in the sense that almost all of us think of justice.
God’s actions flow out of love not out of justice.
Consider the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.1-11. Yes, this woman was being treated unfairly by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus pointed out that they were sinners just like the woman was. But, have you stopped to consider that there was an unmentioned wife in the story? Was it just that the woman (and the man by the way) caught in adultery got away unscathed, unpunished? Should not there been some sort of justice for the wife who was cheated on?
Or, consider the parable of the workers in Matthew 20.1-16. The workers started at different times during the time, but they all got the same pay. Some of these workers clearly did not think this was just. But, it did reveal God’s love.
We can see that love supersedes justice in other ways too.
Jesus’ two great commandments that the all the law hangs on are about love, not justice.
God so loved, not wanted justice for, the world that he sent Jesus.
Jesus said he gave us a new commandment to love one another as he loved us. That’s how we are to love one another, not do justice.
God showed his love, not justice, for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not justice.
Love, not justice, is the fulfilling of the law.
Love, not justice, is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not arrogant, is not rude, does not insist on its way, is not irritable, is not resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, rejoices at the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.
We are to pursue love, not justice.
We are controlled by the love, not justice, of Christ.
The only thing that counts is faith working through love, not justice.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Justice is not mentioned.
God is rich in mercy because of the great love, not justice, with which he loved us.
We are to be rooted and grounded in love, not justice.
We are to know the love, not justice, of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
We are to walk in love, not justice.
Yet, there are Christians that would say I have been brainwashed by love. They would argue that God’s love is balanced by his justice.
However, God, Jesus, the scriptures, are all about love, not justice. The scale is decisively tipped in favor of love. Everyone of the love, not justice statements above is straight from scripture. And, there are a whole lot more to go with them.
Love will bring about reconciliation, not punishment. Reconciliation is God’s justice.
We will never be able to lay down our own lives and pick up our own cross if we continue to insist that justice is on equal footing with love.