Chris Howles started a conversation about the concept of justice in East Africa and lots of questions emerged from the discussion:
- How is it that often the public is content for war criminals and officials involved in massive corruption to walk away unpunished and yet suspected petty thieves are often lynched on the street?
- Is the communal instinct stronger/more important than our sense of justice?
- Could there also be a lack of confidence in the State as the bearer of the sword of judgement? Since many have escaped judgement through corruption historically, could that have eroded confidence in our judicial systems and also impaired our view of justice/?
- Could there be a sense in which we rely more on supernatural justice – either now (“whatever happens here on earth will be repaid on earth”) or in terms of Judgement Day?
- Could we be more inclined to the Mercy side of judgement rather than retribution?
- Can you forgive someone and still pursue criminal charges against them?
- What does Jesus mean when he says – I condemn you neither, go and sin no more?
- What do we understand by ‘forgiveness’ – ours and God’s – are they different?
- What actually happened at the Cross? And how can we explain it so it cuts home?
- Is the desire for justice and fairness an innate human characteristic / image of God thing or is it something learned from the Bible or a culture deeply influenced by the Bible?
Please comment on these questions below. But in the meantime, here is something on justice from 2 Chronicles 19…
JUSTICE IS A WONDERFUL THING
INJUSTICE IS A TERRIBLE THING
We tend to think that justice is a cold, oppressive, threatening or at least tedious. We associate it with judgmentalism and mean spiritedness.
The Bible doesn’t think of judgement like that at all.
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:18)
Justice = Love.
The fatherless, widows, sojourners, the vulnerable, the ones who get oppressed, robbed, raped, abused – for them justice is very good news.
Look at the Book of Judges.
There you see the people again and again crying out under the oppression of their enemies and what does God do? He sends them a Judge to save them.
Judge = Saviour.
And as you work through the Book of Judges you find that the big thing the people need saving from is themselves. The book ends with a picture of the utter carnage you get where there is no justice, no judge, no good king bringing justice.
Move onto the Psalms and again and again you see praise for God’s justice and judgements.
Contrary to what we normally think, the Psalmist thinks it is a wonderful thing that God judges the earth.
Then you get to Solomon, and what does he ask for? Wisdom to judge the people (2 Chronicles 1:10).
But Solomon and the kings following him are not perfect judges. Isaiah looks forward to a better Judge-King:
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:3-4)
By his perfect judgement he will bring in the new Eden (Isaiah 11:6-9) where ‘nothing will hurt or destroy’. What a great place that will be? No fear of robbers or rapists, no need for security companies, no need for keys, a place where you’d be happy for your three-year-old daughter to play away from the home all day and not even worried if she didn’t come back in the evening.
Are we not longing for this kind of justice?
Remember the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) – what was she crying out for? Justice.
And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? (Luke 18:7)
And then we get to the middle of 2 Chronicles and we find a king whose name is Jehovah-Judges: Jeho-shaphat.
– Revival (v4)
– Appoints county courts (v5)
– Charges the country judges (v6-7)
– Appoints a supreme court / appeal court (v8)
– Charges supreme court judges (v9-11)
‘Jehoshaphat… went out’. There is humility. He doesn’t just sit in his palace and wait for people to come to him, he goes out to seek the lost, the king goes out amongst the wananchi, goes up country ‘to the hill country’, to the muddy roads, to the highways and byways.
‘…and brought them back…’ to church? to morality? No. ‘…to the LORD’. That is the gospel – being brought to the Lord, being united to the person of Christ. That is true gospel revival, people turning back to the Lord.
Legal reform (v5-11)
Revival is followed by legal reform. We see this again and again in history:
- in the UK in the later 18th century revival was followed in the early 19th century with legislation to abolish slavery and reform working conditions, mental and public health and education;
- when the gospel started to take root in Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean in the later 19th century there was a consequent turning away from cannibalism, war, murder, infanticide, wife beating, widow sacrifice anarchy to almost wholesale peace, justice and order;
- from the East African Revival there are wonderful stories of revival leading to the return of stolen property and the righting of injustices.
First, there is a thorough appointment system, not favouring one part of the country as usually happens but going throughout it (v5).
Then the king tells the new judges that they are not judging for man but for God (v6-7). This is servant leadership. You serve the people but they are not your boss – God is.
And there are two awesome reasons for their right judgement:
- ‘the LORD… is with you’ (v6);
- the character of God – ‘no injustice or partiality or bribery’ (v7). There’s an echo of Deuteronomy 10:17. Man-made religion works like man-made justice – you can bribe. If you want your god to give you a good verdict or outcome you give him a little something. But the true LORD God owns the universe and everything in it (Deut. 10:14). You can’t bribe him. When he loves his people it is purely because he chooses to love them, pure grace (Deut. 10:15 cf. 9:5). That’s kind of scary – because there’s no way you can twist this God’s arm or pay him off – but wonderful – pure grace – He doesn’t want you to pay him, he wants a relationship with you where he can lavish his love on you.
The supreme court is set up in Jerusalem (v8) and then the supreme court judges are given this wonderful charge (v9-11). They are to be faithful (v9) and courageous (v11). That’s the sort of judge you need to stand against injustice, stand firm against powerful vested interested, to do the right thing and the hard thing. If you’re a mayor in Mexico’s drug cartel country and you want to stand up against highly organised murderers then you’ve got to be very courageous.
‘…that they may not incur guilt before the LORD and wrath may not come upon you and your brothers’ (v10). This is the big issue . The big issue in the Bible. The big issue for the human race. This is why justice is scary – because we know, deep down, that we cannot stand before God’s justice. Justice is a good thing, the world is so evil, we want justice… but then we realise that we are part of the problem and that justice will sweep us away too.
Notice here, sin is not the big problem, wrath is.
And that is what the gospel answers. The Great Jeho-Shaphat. The God-Judge who is judged as a man for all my sin. The Judge who will one day bring complete justice to the whole earth (Isa. 11) has, amazingly, already endured the wrath I deserve.
Does that mean we’re not concerned about justice in the here and now? No. We have been brought to the LORD of Justice (v4), the LORD of Justice is with us till the end of the age (v7). Of course we’re going to be concerned for the things he is concerned about. Of course we’ll be wanting to be more like him and to please him.
The order is important here.
It is not Justice and then Revival. You cannot legislate your way to a revival.
It is Revival then Justice. Being united to justice and then justice begins to flow. Not being just as a way to pay back God – he is not a God who accepts bribes – but simply out of a life being the child of the Good Just God.