Scriptures

The Justice of God

Introduction

A man once wrote to a newspaper editor,

‘Sir, I ploughed my field on a Sunday, planted it on Sunday, I dressed it on Sunday and reaped it on Sunday. I carted the crop home on Sunday. My neighbours went to church on Sunday. And now, Mr. Editor, what is the result. I have more bushels to the acre than any of my neighbours have this September.’

The editor printed the letter and then added this comment,

‘God does not settle everything in September.’

The writer of the letter had no conception of the justice of God. No man can truly know God until he comprehends the divine characteristic. An understanding here will help remove many problems regarding God’s dealings with man which arise in our minds.

Justice defined

By the justice of God, we understand that universal rectitude of his nature, whereby, in his government of the world, he does all things with perfect righteousness, giving to everyone his due. Justice may be either remunerative or punitive. In the first case God rewards our obedience.

In the second case he inflicts punishment for our sin and disobedience. But regardless of the nature of his dealings with us, what he does is always right.

Why God is just

We know that God is all-knowing and all-wise, that he is completely holy, and that he is all-powerful. These attributes make him absolutely just. His knowledge and wisdom assure us that he always knows what is right; his holiness guarantees his desire to do what is right, and his power ensures his ability to perform what is right.

God’s justice is taught throughout the Bible. Yahweh asserts through the prophet Isaiah.

‘There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.’ Isaiah 45:21

Moses declares that he is ‘a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.’ Deuteronomy 32:4

Zephaniah states,

‘The LORD within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.’ Zephaniah 3:5

Understanding God’s justice

Many times, people ask such questions as, why did God create man so that he could sin? or would a just God condemn a person to an eternal hell?

Sometimes those who have been afflicted with some great personal tragedy are inclined to blame God for their misfortunes and they may be heard to say,

‘I can’t see the justice in it all’

There are many things about the Bible and God’s ways that we cannot completely understand. Moses exhorted Israel saying,

‘The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.’ Deuteronomy 29:29

But our failure to understand is not God’s fault. The difficulty is that man is so limited in his knowledge and wisdom that he can no more comprehend all of God’s ways than a five-year-old child can understand the theory of calculus.

The Lord declares,

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ Isaiah 55:8-9

Paul states,

‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ Romans 11:33-34

The complete supremacy of the mind of God over that of man is further expressed.

‘The foolishness of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’ 1 Corinthians 1:25

This being true, it is not our place as fallible, finite human beings to question the wisdom and justice of an omniscient God. If we cannot understand the workings of God let us realise that our lack of knowledge and wisdom, not his lack of justice, is responsible.

A case in point is that of Paul who three times asked God to remove from him some kind of affliction which he calls a

‘thorn in the flesh.’

No doubt Paul felt he would be more effective as a worker for God if this were done. The answer of God was,

‘My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9

Paul might have argued that God was unjust to allow him to heal others while he himself possessed an affliction. Yet, when he learned that the thorn in the flesh would remain, he accepted it as the will of God and found himself able to understand the reason for his affliction, namely, that it was given him lest he

‘should be exalted above measure.’ 2 Corinthians 12:7

We can understand much of God’s justice if we will first submit ourselves to his will, but if after so doing we still are at a loss for an explanation, let us realise that God is just, even though at the moment we may not be able to see why or how.

Does mercy nullify justice?

The scriptures abundantly teach that God is merciful. They affirm that he is

‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ 2 Peter 3:9

Some have difficulty, therefore, in reconciling his mercy in saving man with the scriptural teaching of hell. They ask, how could a God of mercy consign his children to an eternal, burning hell?

The fact that the Bible teaches that there is a hell should be enough for us and we should accept it as true even though we cannot completely understand it.

However, we must realise that while God is a God of mercy, his grace does not contradict his justice. The mercy of God, as well as his love, is shown in the giving of his son to die for man. But the sacrifice of Christ also shows the justice of God.

Mercy required that man be saved. Justice required that payment be made for the sins of man. Since man could not atone for his own sins it became necessary that someone else pay the price.

Therefore, we read,

‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ John 3:16

When Christ died on the cross he expressed the mercy of God in that salvation for all men was made possible, but he also showed the justice of God in paying the price required for our sinfulness. Therefore, we must conclude that the sum total of God’s mercy is found in his giving Jesus Christ to atone for our sins.

If we reject Christ, we reject the mercy of God and the Almighty has no alternative but to punish us for disobedience. Furthermore, since he has informed us that the unrighteous will be cast in to hell, he would be unjust if he did not reward the faithful with an eternal home.

The terrible nature of hell should serve to make man turn to God and no doubt that is one reason God has made hell so terrifying. A man who had been taught that there is no eternal punishment was once heard to say,

‘Well, if here isn’t a hell I might as well go on living a life of sin because the worst that can happen to me is that I will cease to exist.’

No doubt many people would make no effort to serve God if they were not aware of the awful consequences promised for a life of wilful sin.

God’s justice and the wicked

Many a person has wondered why a just God allows the wicked to prosper, and the righteous sometimes to suffer. This was the problem of Habakkuk. The prophet asked God why he allowed evil to go unpunished. Yahweh replied that he was raising the Chaldeans to punish the Jews.

Then Habakkuk asked why God would allow a terrible, evil nation like the Chaldeans to punish a country more righteous than themselves.

The answer of God was that there would be a day of reckoning for all and that the Chaldeans would eventually be punished for their sins, for, as the editor expressed it,

‘God does not settle everything in September.’

David wrestled with the same problem. He counselled,

‘Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.’ Psalm 37:7-10

Jesus shows in the parable of the talents that God’s retribution against evil will await the judgment, Matthew 13, and Peter assures us that ungodly men shall be brought to an accounting in that day,

‘By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.’ 2 Peter 3:7

The Potter and the vessel

In Romans 9 Paul raises several questions relating to justice. He asks why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart when Israel was led out of Egypt by Moses. In answering he compares the role of God in making man to that of a potter who makes a vessel. He shows that as the potter can make a vessel to suit himself, so God, being the creator can use us as he sees fit. It is not our place to argue with our maker.

He reasons that Pharaoh was a vessel fitted for destruction, that is, that he was of bad character, and that God simply used him to demonstrate his divine power. We know that when Pharaoh was placed in a certain set of circumstances his evil nature came to the fore.

God may bear patiently with an evil man to display his power, but he never will make a good man do evil.

Why does God allow man to sin?

God, in placing man in the Garden of Eden, could have kept him from sinning by removing all temptation. Since death and suffering entered the world by sin, why did he not do this?

The answer is found in the nature of man, God created us as free moral agents capable of choosing our own course. We all prize our liberty and our right to make our own decisions, even though they may not always be best.

Rather than make us robots, God, in his wisdom, saw fit to give us a choice that we might serve him willingly instead of by compulsion. We are made in the image of God, but if our power to choose and think for ourselves were removed, we would cease to be patterned after him.

Leaving the judgment to God

Sometimes a person will say,

‘If I were baptised, I would be condemning my parents!’

Naturally we are bound by ties of love to our dear ones, even after they have died. But we must realise that when a person has departed, we can do nothing to alter his destiny. We know that the dead are in the hands of a just and merciful God and our primary concern should be for the souls of the living, including our own.

Those who fail to obey the Gospel because of a desire to justify their loved ones do not possess the honesty of the departed who might have obeyed the gospel had they known the truth. God will not have mercy upon us if we wilfully flout his will. Let us remember that

‘every one of us shall give account of himself to God’. Romans 14:12

and let us leave the judgment of others to our heavenly Father.

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

1 John 3:16

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