Justice is tough because it’s hard to quantify and measure. It is a truth, a philosophy, which we must theorize about concerning thousands of matters in life. One of God’s chief characteristics is justice, and the Christian must walk all of the way around it to make sure he or she understands the whole matter, not just part of it.
The pendulum swing is inevitable with anything that is not black and white. When it comes to murder, we say, no, you should not murder your neighbor because they took your parking spot after you shoveled it out (for my Florida friends I’m referring to snow, it’s this white stuff that falls from the sky in the winter up north). But is it “just” for him or her to take that spot after you worked so hard? What does a just resolution look like?
Like any of God’s attributes or commands, when the pendulum starts swinging some of us run to one way, and the rest of us run to the other. We avoid what’s right, and over decades or centuries we keep on swinging it from side to side.
So when it comes to justice the two extremes include, let’s punish everyone for every little thing to the greatest extent; or, we don’t want any consequences for anything wrong someone has done. Ironically the more these two sides push against each other, the more they run from each other, which is what makes this extraordinary gap between the two sides.
To not make someone repay those they wronged is not unjust. True justice repays the victims. But it is not justice to make the person pay back an exorbitant amount more than is reasonable either. This is neither just to the guilty person or to the victim.
For true justice to take place, there are natural and even social punishments for those who commit big and little crimes. All of these punishments are not bad like I stated above. While the Christian should be concerned about retribution being paid, we also should be concerned about the issue of over criminalization and unjust punishments.
I will not go into detail of what I believe is over criminalization or unjust punishments in our current society, but I believe we see much of this now in our country. Some of you will immediately push back and state some nonsense like, “Tim doesn’t believe that people should be punished for wrong actions, and thereby is encouraging wrongdoing.” If this popped into your mind before you read the rest of the article, you are the person I am speaking to. Please read through the rest of the article and think and pray on what may be a new perspective for you.
One of my favorite stories is Les Miserables. Victor Hugo’s book deals largely with the issue of justice. Jean Valjean, the central character of the story, has stolen a loaf of bread and has been incarcerated for five years for the minor crime. Let’s put that in today’s terms. Someone steals a $3 loaf of bread and their criminal punishment is somewhere around $200,000 in lost wages and benefits. When we look at it that way no one would say that was a just punishment. Even Zacchaeus, the corrupt tax collector who exploited people, gave back only four times of what he had stolen. I’m not saying that the story of Zacchaeus is a barometer for criminal justice theory, but if we applied this punishment to Jean Valjean, he would owe only a couple dollars to the store owner.
Does God want justice? Let me share a couple quick verses about justice, highlighting the word. Job 34:12 says, “Truly, God will not do wickedly, The Almighty will not twist JUSTICE.” Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are JUSTICE. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, JUST and upright is He.” Hosea 12:6, “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and JUSTICE, and always depend on Him.” Amos 5:24, “But let JUSTICE roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek JUSTICE, correct oppression; bring JUSTICE to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case.”
Think about several times throughout Scripture where injustice was suffered by some of the heroes of the faith. Joseph was locked up for years because he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of sexual harassment. Some of the disciples were jailed for sharing their faith in Jesus. Jesus Himself was crucified for rightly claiming to be God. Even if this was not Jesus, but a crazy man claiming deity, would crucifixion and the death penalty be appropriate for stating you were God?
One might say “If it wasn’t for that false accusation of Joseph millions, of Egyptians and Israelites would’ve died from famine.” Or, “If Jesus was not crucified, Christians would not have their sins forgiven.” What we need to remember though is that these are descriptive texts not prescriptive text. They’re describing something, not prescribing it. To understand this concept read this past blog Just because it happened, does not mean it was just.
So when it comes to the idea of justice, the Christian cannot only be concerned about justice for someone who has committed a criminal offense. If you’re a true believer in God, you need to care about justice both ways. We must believe that the punishment needs to fit the crime. To punish someone for something they have done to excess is not justice. Take some time to think through some of the crimes that are punished in our society and to what extent they are punished. Are we acting justly every time? If not, maybe Christians need to be out front in the cause to make sure justice is happening correctly everywhere.
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, Pa 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.