We like justice. Our nation cries for it, our discourse is all about it, and Generation Z in particular perceive justice as the highest good.
The Bible doesn’t disagree. Justice is good, and God is Just. In fact, justice is fundamentally good news. There is a day coming when all the evil in the world will be finally dealt with, when the Enemy and his works will be shown up for what they truly are, when everything sad will come untrue and when far more will be mended than you could imagine.
That’s justice, that’s the goal. When the works of Hell are left at the gates of the new Jerusalem and all-unburdened we dance with gladness forever and ever. I’m not sure that’s what most people asking for justice in our culture are imagining, but even if unknowingly their desire for justice is a desire for this truer, better, more wonderful story that we are built to long for. Justice is found in the gospel.
Justice is good news
And, it is genuinely good news. That every murderer, child trafficker, rapist and abuser will be dealt with at the hands of a holy God is good news. That every evil work will be ended is good news. Corporate justice is good news. Big picture justice is good news.
The thing is—and this is where our culture mostly fails at the moment—we cannot have corporate justice without individual justice. The people (and systems and demonic powers) that will be judged and found wanting are all individuals or made up of the actions of individuals.
On the face of it, individual justice seems like good news too: deal with all the bad people. Great! Of course, it requires a blindness to ourselves that is all too common to desire a faceless justice “out there” without realising that it requires a specific justice “in here”. Individual justice is not such good news, for me, because I will be judged and found wanting. The root of the works of hell grows from my heart, and from yours, not only from demonic powers and ‘bad people’ out there.
We live in a culture that loves the idea of justice but would hate it when it arrived. Our rising desires for justice have melded with our rising hyper-individualism. We want justice with bite but consider ourselves excluded from it. We aren’t the bad guys, they are. That’s all well until we find the ire of the crowd turns towards us. It eventually will.
Even if it doesn’t and we get away with it, there is a good judge who will never overlook evil. Every thought will be exposed. All the consequences of our terrible decisions, that we didn’t even know they had, will be brought to light.
We want justice, we need mercy. Gloriously in the cross of Christ I find that mercy unearned and unsought for becomes mine irrevocably. I will not face justice for my actions. That’s scandalous. That’s glorious. That’s good news.
One of the stranger features of our justice mob (which, if you’ll forgive me, I don’t yet have a better name for than the “social justice movement”) is that it has inherited a wonderfully Christian desire for justice, sometimes even accompanied by a Christian vision of justice, but it has no place for forgiveness, repentance or mercy. Once you’re done, you’re pretty much done. You, seemingly, can’t recover from being shown to be on the wrong side.
Justice “out there” is vital, but it starts with justice “in here”.
Justice starts with repentance
We have had a tendency in the last couple of centuries to read Jesus’ and the scriptures’ commands to care for those among us as general commands to care for the poor. The Bible has lots of say about caring for the downcast and downtrodden in society (it says we should do it), but we often roll the commands to be a people of love towards one another into these. Our justice is supposed to flow (like a river, Amos 5) from the mountain of God (the church, Genesis 1-2), and Jesus is clear that the river flows specifically from the hearts of Christians (John 7).
In other words, justice starts with me repenting of my sin, not pointing out yours. It then flows into the church to make us a people of repentance, forgiveness, mercy and radical love. Only then does it flow into society at large to transform us towards the kingdom of God.
We see this sort of logic in the Old Testament. God’s presence and its transforming effect is focused especially on the holy mountain, then the garden of Eden, then the outside world to its east. We see this in the way the patriarchs build altars on high places or in groves and then settle the land around it, and slowly influence the surrounding peoples. We see it in the shape of the tabernacle, with its most holy place, holy place and the altar outside the tent. There’s a progression from unclean to clean to holy, but at the same time an inward to outward transformation. We don’t simply enter in as we are sanctified, the otherness of holiness transforms outwards.
Jesus’ individualises the old order and helps us see that the temple is built with living stones, but the same pattern persists: from the Temple to the Garden to the World (Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth).
When the church does it in the wrong order, we’ll find we don’t get very far. When the world does it in the wrong order it, like all attempts to build our own garden, is doomed to fail.
Let’s be seekers of justice, so let’s repent.