Question: What is justice, from a biblical point of view?
This is a very important question because we typically think of justice in terms of our legal system and in terms of people getting what they deserve for crimes or offenses they have committed. Consequently, we tend to view justice almost totally in terms of fairness and punishment for unfair treatment:
Prov. 11:1 The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.
But this is only an offshoot of justice as found in Scripture, not justice in its full sense. In fact, justice is virtually synonymous with righteousness in the Old and New Testaments alike—so much so that the word “justice” does not even occur in the New Testament. “Righteousness” is usually found in its place. For us to exercise justice, then, means:
Is. 1:16-17 …wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
Perhaps the best way to understand the biblical concept of “justice” is to understand its origins and its purpose.
Justice originates in the very nature of God. He does not simply exercise justice or demand justice from us—God is just. And because He is just, He makes things right. The purpose of justice is to eradicate sin and evil and establish righteousness in their place:
1John 3:7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Because God is holy, sin is abhorrent to Him. It disgusts Him and tears at His heart because He created all things to be holy as He is holy. Sin and evil destroy that. So His very nature demands that sin and evil be removed, eradicated completely.
At the same time…
Ps. 103:8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
Love and grace are just as much a part of God’s nature as is justice. You could even say justice is a demonstration of God’s love, grace and mercy. For, it is the Lord Himself who established forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. When sin is forgiven it is cancelled out completely, because justice has been met at the cross of Christ. That is why…
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
So, on the human side of the equation, justice is doing all we can to restore what sin and evil have taken and destroyed, replacing unrighteousness with what is right. On God’s side of the equation, justice is also restoring holiness and righteousness, sometimes through judgment and sometimes through forgiveness, but always as an act of redeeming love.
Is. 45:21-22 …And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth…”