In our city, a man was angry with his wife, jumped in his car and instead of putting it in reverse, he drove it into the outdoor patio of a restaurant and killed a child. Understandably, the child’s family are crying for justice. They want retribution for their enormous loss with some sort of adequate punishment for this careless man.
Justice is a huge theme in the Word of God. From the blood of Abel in Genesis through each phase of Israel’s history, He deals with those who oppose righteousness. He hears the cries of the downtrodden also, even to the end of Scripture and this world when the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne cry out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9–10) Not only is God just, He expects us to be the same.
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? (Micah 6:8)
We tend to think of justice as a sort of vengeance, getting or making things even. That is, you steal my sheep and I must give it back, plus one of mine. But the justice of God adds something unexpected. For those who become His people by faith, His justice includes vindication and redemption.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider Your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of Your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make known His mighty power. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and He led them through the deep as through a desert. So He saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. (Psalm 106:7–10)
The justice of God might be retributive, for we are all sinners and deserve it. But His justice can be vindictive to those who are objects of mercy in Christ Jesus. Instead of punishing us, He saves and delivers us because Jesus bore our full penalty, satisfying the justice of God.
… For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22–26)
God has every right to send us all as far from Him as He can, even to the pit of hell. We break His commands and shake our fists in His face. Those whose hearts have become distressed about sin may seek salvation on the basis of God’ mercy, yet that would leave justice unsatisfied.
Instead, God in great grace includes retribution for us in the offer of faith in Jesus Christ. This faith includes recognition that full justice has been satisfied at Calvary. Jesus took our punishment for sin. Those who seek forgiveness and salvation realize that in Christ, justice has a far more glorious satisfaction than ever it will have in the damnation of sinners. In punishing sin in Christ, God’s vindictive justice is cleared and vindicated. When He pardons sin through Christ, he is also merciful as well as just.
In the losses of life, I could hang on to vengeance, demand justice, cry for punishment against those who take from me. God could have done the same, but instead sent Jesus to take all that upon Himself. The laws of my country might demand retribution, and so they should. However, for me personally, and because I am a child of faith, I recognize that the price for my sins and any sins against me has already been paid.