What Is True Justice?

Author Jonathan Noyes Published on 03/29/2022

We’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted. While our conversations have been profitable, the issue of justice has unfortunately been derailed by distractions about critical race theory.

CRT has turned into something like a piñata in many circles. We love to take turns whacking at it, hoping to see a reward tumble out. I took a whack at that piñata in an article I wrote last September. If we would stop and take a closer look, though, we’d find CRT advocates are touching a real issue. It’s an issue that only biblical justice has the answer for.

Instead of honestly acknowledging that some of the social ills CRT attempts to diagnose exist, we just take another whack. I’m tired of hitting the piñata. Instead, I want to understand what true, biblical justice is so I can offer the solution that CRT can’t.

What is justice? Justice means rendering to someone what they’re due. Keep in mind, true justice requires the existence of an objective standard. True justice flows from the character of God. That’s why anything outside a theistic system ultimately fails.

In Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice, E. Calvin Beisner says, “The biblical concept of justice is rendering impartially and proportionally to everyone his due in accord with the righteous standard of God’s moral law.”

Notice, biblical justice requires several things.

First, true justice is impartial. Listen to how Moses instructs the judges of Israel in Deuteronomy 1:16–17: “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen and judge righteously between a person and his fellow countryman, or the stranger who is with him. You are not to show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You are not to be afraid of any person, for the judgment is God’s.”

God's justice puts a spotlight on those who are most vulnerable to injustice, securing for them equality in defense. An example of this today is seen as lawyers are encouraged to offer pro bono defense to clients who need it the most.

Yes, God shines a spotlight on the poor, but he never bends his standard of justice in their direction. We are not to favor the rich in judgment, but neither are we to favor the poor. That’s God’s law. Both are unjust. In Exodus 23:3, Moses instructs Israel to never show favoritism to the poor in a dispute. God’s focus is true justice, not preferential treatment under the law. The standard never bends.

Second, true justice renders to each what is due. We see this in the case laws in Exodus 21 and 22. “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them,” God says before laying out a system of specific crimes and the penalties for violating specific laws.

This principle is repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jesus alludes to this rule when talking about ultimate justice in Matthew 16:27: “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every person according to his deeds.”

Third, true justice is proportional. With true justice, there’s a balance between actions and their rewards or punishments. For example, Leviticus 24 distinguishes between crimes done to a person and crimes done to property. The penalty for taking the life of a human being is different from the penalty for taking the life of a cow.

Proportionality also distinguishes accidental crimes from intentional. If a person accidentally damages his neighbor’s property, true justice requires that the cost be split between the two parties. However, if there’s negligence, or if the act is deliberate, the neighbor must bear the full price alone (Ex. 21:36, Ex. 22:6).

The concept of proportionality is where we get the saying that “the punishment should fit the crime.”

Fourth, true justice conforms to God’s moral law, which we learn about through the Ten Commandments as well as all the moral statutes and ordinances throughout the case laws mentioned above. True justice flows from God’s character and is revealed in his laws.

This is where we get our understanding of rights. Keep in mind, a right is a just and appropriate claim to something. Note, God-given rights are not guarantees that something will be given to us (a common misunderstanding these days), but rather guarantees that what is properly ours will not be unjustly taken from us.

So now we’re at a crossroads. Do we keep merely banging away at the CRT piñata, or do we labor to pursue true justice—God’s justice—in our communities?