I’ve been writing a lot about justice, but why does any of it matter? Why are we having this conversation at all? Justice is a word that has often been muddied, distorted, and even disregarded. To be God’s agents of justice, we have to work through the mud and distortion and bring clarity to true justice.
Daniel Webster said, “Justice is the great interest of man on earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.” Justice is the glue that holds society together, but it’s more than glue. When we act justly, we experience the true joy of Jesus. As he said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:10–11).
As Christians, it’s paramount to understand biblical justice because what we think about justice influences almost every area of our lives. This is why I’ve been focusing on justice. The biblical concept of justice needs to be restored.
To restore justice, we need to understand a few critical concepts. The first is God’s call to justice. Justice is important to God. There are more than two thousand verses in the Bible directly related to justice. There are twice as many references to justice as to prayer, almost three times the references to love, and three times the number of references to money (which is often actually a justice issue).
Second, God delights in justice. Jeremiah says, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things” (Jer. 9:23–24).
Third, God’s kingdom is defined by justice. The psalmist says, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad. Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psalm 97:1–2).
Lastly, God wants us to pursue justice in our lives: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut. 16:20).
God calls us to justice, but what do we mean by justice? Is our common understanding of justice the same thing that God means by justice? What is justice?
Justice is a universal moral principle, and it’s an objective moral good. It’s the single best word to capture God’s purpose for human conduct, individually and corporately (i.e. governments). The standard of what’s just and unjust is not a matter of personal opinion or preference. In this way, justice is a category of truth, with an important difference. Standard truth claims correspond to what is. Justice corresponds to what ought to be. Justice tells us what should be.
When we “do justice,” it means we render to each what each is due. Doing justice involves impartiality and is based on the image of God in each person. James said, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1).
All human beings, in virtue of being human, bear God’s image, from the greatest to the least. The image of God is foundational to understanding how and why we do justice. It’s that image which creates the standard that lends to each person’s transcendent value, requiring us to treat all humans with dignity and worth. Without this standard, justice isn’t possible.