December 15, 2017.
This is a continuation of The Divine Love series. For a full-text PDF, click here!
What about justice?
I think we must go on, however, with this understanding and framework to address what all this means for us, if anything. Sure, it is good to develop theology and to think well about the world- a practical gain in and of itself. But the Divine Love goes further, because it asks us all the questions- What will you do with this Jesus? The death and resurrection does not leave an option for a neutral state. To quote once again from C.S. Lewis:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The Christian understanding about what the death and resurrection did is clear: Through the power of divine love, Jesus is Lord (Acts 10:36, Romans 10:9, I Cor. 1:2, 8:6, Phil. 2:5-11). Those who put their faith in (pledge allegiance to) Jesus enter into a new kingdom, a kingdom of love.
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Though we chose to rebel against our true vocation, God has provided a way through love that we can once again be restored to this vocation. However, just as God cannot snap his fingers and make sin and evil go away (without also taking love away in the process), there must be a free will choice involved on our part. This is where I think justice comes into the picture.
The God of the bible is consistently pictured as a God of love and justice. Sometimes these two concepts seem to be in tension with one another, but they need not be. In fact, many times we wouldn’t dare separate love and justice. The mother of a daughter who has been sexually assaulted is driven by her love for her daughter to seek justice. The hearts of the jury moved with love for a poor (financially) old man who is has been scammed by a large corporation seek justice in their determination. It is love, truly wanting the best for someone else, which moves us to make things right for those who are oppressed. This is, too, the love of God.
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
For I the Lord love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.”
(Isaiah 61:1-3, 8)
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
If love is the fundamental truth, it means that love itself is truth. It cannot act in a way that is contrary to truth; this is why Paul can say that love “rejoices with truth” (I Cor. 13:6). Love seeks that which is wrong to be made right, restored, reconciled. Justice and love are two sides of the same coin. Love as the fundamental truth says that evil and suffering are real- we can’t make them disappear by deciding they don’t exist. Nor can they simply be “declared right.”
Yet, if we all have partaken in the rebellion and have contributed to the overall evil in the world, how can we say that we ourselves are exempt from justice? In truth, I don’t believe we can. This is where forgiveness, grace and mercy come into play. Again, these terms often are thought to be in conflict with one another, fundamentally. But I think that if we consider more closely, we will see that they complement each other.
On a surface level, I think we understand this. When we think about love, we often pair love with forgiveness and mercy. It makes sense that love and forgiveness go hand in hand. But why is this so, especially if love and justice also go hand in hand? I think the problem and tension we often see between these concepts comes from situations in which they truly do stand in tension. Justice is about restoring a situation to its properly functioning context. When the offending party is not willing to seek this restoration, it is often hard to see forgiveness and reconciliation. However, if the party is willing and has a heart of repentance, reconciliation can be made, often without even “fixing” everything that we done (i.e. things that cannot physically be restored).
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
In the criminal justice world, I believe this concept is called “restorative justice.” In Christianity, it is called repentance and reconciliation. And reconciliation is one of the core goals of love when things are out of place. This is why it was through Divine Love that God forged a path of reconciliation. Not because we deserved it, but because he truly has our best interests in mind. It is in love that he throws out the lifeline, giving himself as a sacrifice and rising again to offer us hope.
However, because love is a choice, we must choose to love God to act in harmony with the fundamental truth. Just as we cannot pretend that evil doesn’t exist, we too cannot be reconciled without true repentance, a turn from our rebellion and willing submission to the Lord. This process of conversion is pictured as death with the Messiah and rising again with him to new life:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus’ death and resurrection won the victory over the power of sin and death, and it is through uniting with Jesus’ death and resurrection that we too gain the victory that Christ won. But this submission to Christ, putting him in in baptism, necessitates a loyalty change. It calls for true repentance, for we can no longer live out of harmony with the fundamental truth- that’s what put us in the place we were to begin with. Justice says things must be restored to their proper function, and this is precisely what happens when we come to Jesus. We leave the path of rejection behind and pledge to be restored to our true vocation through the power of the Spirit. We have been raised to new life, a restored life, with Christ, and we now seek the things that are above (Col. 3:1-4).
It may be necessary here to point out that though we have indeed been raised to new life, the kingdom of God has been set forth in a two stage plan. The kingdom has been inaugurated, but waits to be consummated at the second coming of Christ. We too start living the new life now, but that in no way means that we are expected to be perfect. We still live in a fallen world; we still reside in a corruptible body. One day all creation will be restored (Rom. 8:18-24, Isaiah 65:17-25) and we will put on an incorruptible body (I Cor. 15:42-57). For now, we ever seek to continually be conformed to the image of Christ, until that day when we will be ultimately glorified to be like him; then, we will be truly functioning with the fundamental truth of love. At that point, justice will find it ultimate fulfilment in love.
(to be continued in part 5)
 For a better understanding of what the early Christians meant by “faith”, see Salvation by Allegiance Alone by Matthew Bates.
 Note here that I am going to speak about forgiveness in the ultimate sense of a restoration, of God setting things right. I am not speaking here of forgiveness on the personal level- I think that we must extend forgiveness personally regardless of whether the offending party is remorseful or not. It is not our job to take vengeance- that is the Lord’s, for He is the one that can do it perfectly. Further, forgiveness on the personal level is often more about releasing our own heart from bitterness and anger and liberating ourselves to live holy lives more than it is about the other person; though if they are willing, forgiveness heals all parties involved.