(This is another chapter from a book I recently released called “Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope.” It is available here, and an ebook version is available on Kindle, Apple Books, and Kobo.)
Is the God we meet in the Bible just? In being gracious and merciful, does God turn a blind eye to sin and injustice, and say “I just don’t care”? We often rightly care about justice and have concern for those who experience injustice. Shouldn’t God?
If a worldview or religion is to be beautiful, then won’t justice be lifted up as important? Indeed a God that has no concern for justice is a God that does not love. If God is love, we will expect God to be perfect in his justice. A religion which promotes a God with no concern for justice is ugly.
So is the God of the Bible a God of justice?
We are introduced to the theme of justice very early in the Bible;
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know, ” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.Genesis 4:9-10 (NIV)
We can assume that the blood of Abel was crying out, metaphorically speaking, to God for justice. Not too further along in the Old Testament we hear another cry for justice;
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.Exodus 2:23-25 (NIV)
The Hebrew for the last part literally and simply says “God saw the Israelites. He knew.” He knew they were experiencing injustice. Justice for Israel meant judgement for Egypt. In the plagues the Egyptians found out what it was like to be picked on, to receive what they had dealt out. The death of the firstborn males in the final plague mirrors the deaths of the Israelite male infants at the hands of the Egyptians. One is reminded of the Biblical “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Justice is held up as important.
We also find in the Book of Exodus a concern for God’s people becoming a just society. The Book of Exodus moves at a very quick pace until the people reach Mount Sinai and everyone, and everything, comes to a stop. The fast-paced action ends and suddenly we find ourselves reading about various legal matters, such as, what should happen if your ox gores someone.
Christians are not under the old covenant law as laid out in the Old Testament. However, Canadian Christians are under Canadian law. So if your neighbour’s ox gores your friend, do not wave a Bible in their face, call the police! Our nation has laws in place to ensure it is a just society. Through the Old Testament civic laws, given to a specific people at a specific time, God was ensuring that the people rescued from the injustices of Egyptian society would themselves become a just society. If those laws seem like a tedious read, try reading the Canadian law books! Both are important for the existence of a just society.
In many ways, the laws given to Israel signalled a step forward from other ancient societies with regards to justice. There were laws to ensure that no one goes hungry, that the vulnerable were taken care of, that foreigners were treated fairly, and that no child was sacrificed for religious purposes as was happening in some of the surrounding societies. Indeed, a concern for justice rings throughout the entire Bible.
While I originally planned that the title of this chapter would be “A Beautiful Vision for Justice,” I went with “A Beautiful Vision of God” instead. Why? Because in Jesus the justice of God and the mercy of God come together in a beautiful and compelling way. Consider these verses from Isaiah:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)
While these verses probably referred originally to God’s people, they became meaningful to Jesus followers as pointing out the role of Jesus when it comes to God’s justice.
For God to be considered just, there must be a consequence for sin. Sin cannot simply be wafted away as being unimportant. Yet for God to be considered merciful, our sin must be lifted from us somehow, for no one is without sin. We have no future in God’s presence without mercy. In Christ, God has been merciful in taking away our sin, and yet just, by dealing with it at the same time. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Keeping in mind that Jesus is the incarnation of God, God the Son, God Himself has been both merciful and just by bearing the punishment we deserve.
In this bringing together of justice and mercy, Christianity is unique among all the religions of the world. As Peter points out in his sermon as recorded in the Book of Acts,
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to [hu]mankind by which we must be saved.Acts 4:12 (NIV)
Salvation is found in no one else because there is no one else who could bring justice and mercy together as God has done in Jesus. There is no one else who could have done for us what God Himself could do for us. There is no one else who has done for us what God Himself has done for us.
God is consistent in his justice and mercy. Some people think that God was all justice in the Old Testament, but all merciful in the New. However, the Old Testament is a record of people experiencing both the justice and mercy of God. The New Testament is also a record of people experiencing the justice and mercy of God. God will be experienced as a God of both perfect justice and mercy in the future.
What will be the focus in your future?
Will you experience the justice of a merciful God? He will not force you to spend eternity with him if that is something you don’t want. He will do the right thing, the just thing. No one will say “that is not fair” when those who reject God find themselves no longer in his presence in any way. However, God is merciful and it does not need to end that way.
Will you experience the mercy of a just God? We will not spend eternity with God on our own merit. Yet “by his bruises we are healed.” God will do a really good thing. He will show mercy, yet in Jesus it will be consistent with his just nature.
Any religion that presents God as either lacking in justice, or lacking in mercy, is not beautiful. The God we meet in the Bible, revealed supremely in Jesus, is the God of justice and mercy. This is a beautiful vision of who God is.