Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Establishing a throne: What is justice?

This is the fourth installment in the series entitled Establishing a throne where I look at the following verse:

In love a throne will be established;
in faithfulness a man will sit on it --
one from the house of David --
one who in judging seeks justice
and speeds the cause of righteousness.
-- Isaiah 16:5
An alternate rendering for the passage highlighted above is "In judgment He establishes justice." Psalm 89:14 tells us "justice is the foundation of His throne". There are many other similar passages.[1] Given the nature and plethora of passages, we understand that the concept of justice is very important in Jesus' kingdom.

Looking around the world, we observe varying degrees of oppression in all governments. We see decrees by court systems that seem out of alignment with our sense of justice. Moreover, at the same time, others look on these very same rulings and deem them just. Legislatures pass laws we look at with dismay. Those charged with upholding the laws too frequently undermine them. With so much seeming injustice in the world, and so many different voices in our culture claiming situations as being both just and unjust, the question is raised "What exactly is justice?"

One definition of justice is "Things in perfect accord with God's original plan."[2] This is a great definition. It works well illuminating the passages above, and elsewhere in scripture, about justice. Using this definition, decisions are just when they match God's will, heart and desires. It gives us a yardstick by which to view any given situation and evaluate what is just in that context.

This definition also explains why there is disagreement on what exactly is just by relating it back to Genesis. Originally, everything was good in God's eyes; justice ruled. The reason we yearn for justice is that it is the original intent. It is part of our hearts and souls' design. However, when disobedience entered the world, we separated from God. The reason we now have injustice is that we, corporately and individually, through our separation are no longer in perfect accord with God's plan.

Apart from God, there is no hope for lasting justice. All our fallen human institutions are corrupt: government, political parties, charitable organizations, cultures. No group of people is sinless: wealthy, poor, male, female, black and white. Because of this corruption, if we start with any other foundation than God's will, we build on the sand of human sentiment. We will inevitably take our eyes off the injustices our own soul commits and focus on injustice external to ourselves. In doing so, we forget our own depravity and think we can bring change through our own efforts.

To solve issues of injustice, we first must start with our relationship between God and ourselves. The original injustice is sin. We have all done it. We have all violated God's laws. We all need reconciliation with Him. The only way to this is through Jesus and accepting His payment on our behalf. It is only after this most basic of all relationships has been restored that we can begin pursuing and understanding what is on His heart for other relationships. This must be the foundation for establishing justice in our own life and the lives of others. If it is not, then we are fostering the spirit of anti-Christ by making people think justice can happen apart from right relationship with God.

After we have dealt with our injustice towards God by acknowledging our culpability, seeking His forgiveness and accepting His mercy, the next step is to deal with the injustices we have committed towards others. Depending on the situation, there may be various, appropriate means of dealing with the injustice. These include, but are certainly not limited to, seeking forgiveness directly from the individuals involved, providing restitution, confession to authorities and seeking forgiveness from God. Due to the various ways of dealing with these situations, seeking and doing God’s will is of utmost importance.

Injustice towards us is the last relationship with which we are personally involved. This can be a hard issue to deal with since everything in our being cries out for justice. Unfortunately, we are not objective enough to judge accurately when we are the wronged party. In these situations, remember Jesus’ example where, while suffering the greatest injustice of all on the cross, he asked God to forgive the very people committing the crime and submitted Himself to God's will.

Finally, there is the issue of injustices between third parties. This includes all the contexts where we are not one of the parties involved in the situation. One place where this occurs is the so-called Justice system. Balthazar's definition of justice explains why human courts sometimes get it right and other times wrong when it comes to their rulings. If the ruling matches what is on God's heart in the matter, they get it right. If the ruling conflicts with God, then it is wrong and needs to be changed. At one time, God's laws formed the basis for our laws. The Ten Commandments used to have a prominent place in our courthouses. Our legislation simply encoded the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian ethics and our courts followed. As our society has moved further into humanistic relativism, our legislature and courts have reflected this shift with more and more laws and rulings that are out of accord with God's law. We are slowly moving from the absolute authority of God's word to relativistic human sentiment and thought.

Another common theme associated with justice revolves around social issues relating to the oppressed and poor. All too often, we try to treat these issues outside the context of right relationship with God but the fact is God is more concerned with social issues than we are. Like the children of Israel in Egypt, He hears the cry of the downtrodden and promises aid. They will see the ultimate fulfillment when Jesus’ throne is finally established. This is the primary hope to point them to while secondarily we attempt to implement some of God’s kingdom even now.

Given all this, it is incumbent upon all of us to consider each decision in light of God's desire, first as individuals and then as leaders. Do you not think you are a leader? Consider virtually everyone is in a leadership position somewhere whether parents who guide their household or a team captain establishing rules for those they are working with or national politicians establishing and administering laws. When we make decisions, we can either seek God's will or follow our own desires.

Finally, some questions to contemplate:
  • What would my life look like arranged with everything in perfect accord with God's plan?
  • How far off is it?
  • In those areas that are off, is it due to a decision I have made or one imposed on me?
  • For those decisions I have control over, what can I do to rectify the situation such that it is closer to what I know to be His will?

Further reading

Stuart Greaves gave a talk on this topic. Notes for it are here.

Footnotes

1. Psalms 45:6, Psalms 89:14, Psalms 97:2, Isaiah 9:7, Hebrews 1:8
2. Quote attributed to Hans Urs von Balthazar.