Justice. It’s all the rage. People cry foul and injustice at retail giants for not paying a fair wage or for forcing workers to work on Thanksgiving. People cry foul at the immigration laws. People call foul and tell people to check their privilege (especially if they are white). People call for justice to be done and take from the rich to redistribute to the poor. Justice then becomes a call for equality by means of knocking someone down a peg.
And this call for justice, especially Christians pushing for this kind of justice, repeatedly calls upon the Bible, especially the Old Testament, for it’s existence and thought process.
It is true, God is a God of justice. He is the God of the oppressed. He is the God who calls people to take care of the widow, the fatherless, the poor, and the foreigner within your gates. He is also the God of redemption. He is also the God of restoration.
And it is in restoration that true Biblical justice comes from. The word justice itself occurs 119 times in the Old Testament. It appears 11 times in the Pentateuch (the Law/first five books of the Bible) and 14 times in the Minor Prophets.
In today’s world, justice is blind and equal. Not so much in the Bible. God gave the leaders the power and authority to enact justice, to give judgments, and to make sure that things went well and orderly. He also instilled His Laws and Statutes to make sure that His people who were once oppressed lived in such a way that they were now restored. Biblical justice is then about restoration and comes about through redemption.
This is seen prominently in God’s Law to His people especially in Leviticus (you know that book almost everyone sees as boring and hardly ever reads save to proof text something). God took His people who were foreigners and slaves in Egypt and rescued them from slavery. He redeemed them. He brought them out of slavery. And in doing so, He gave them a way to live that they not only were different from the rest of the world around them, but that they lived in such a way that they glorified God and His character.
For almost a whole year, God gave His law to His people to live differently. In Leviticus, God gives ways in which His people are to help the poor, the widow, the fatherless, the foreigners in their gates. Because they have been redeemed, they are to live in a way that shows God’s love and character for others. This is done by stooping down to help lift others up. This is restoration. They are to be restored and helped not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is in God’s character to restore people. Each of us are made in the image of God and are to reflect him. This is how we are to do so.
And this is seen the most in Leviticus 25 with the Year of Jubilee.
Every 7 days the people were to rest from work and labor as God rested on the 7th day. They were to trust in God. Every 7 years, the people were to let their fields fallow, take a rest, and trust in God fully for that year. Every 7th of the 7 years was to be a Year of Jubilee. It was to be a year of restoration. For those who lost land and property due to various reasons, it was to be restored to them. For those who became so poor and indebted and sold into slavery to pay of the debt, they and their family were to be released.
It was to be a year of celebration. It was to be a year of redemption and restoration. Those who had lost it all were bought back and restored to their rightful family land and home. Those who had lent money were to forgive debts as they had been forgiven by God. All was to be restored and made whole.
That’s the idea of Biblical justice, to restore to make whole. The Jubilee was to make all things whole again. It was to make all things the way they originally were. They were all still travelers and wanderers. The land they had wasn’t theirs, it was God’s. It belonged to Him. And because God cared for all, all were to be restored. All were to be lifted up. If you read through Leviticus and see God’s words concerning helping the poor, the widow, the fatherless, the foreigners, no one was ever brought down a peg, instead they were to stoop down to help restore because God came down and redeemed and restored His people.
To help restore someone, to help them become whole, is to reflect the character of God. This is true justice.
Many Christians rightfully cry foul at the injustices in the world. And I commend them. Yet in a push for a justice of forced equality by taking people down a peg, by forcing redistribution, by challenging privileges no one asked for, it becomes far from Biblical justice and reflecting the character of God. Much of the justice many Christians call for is a justice rooted in the idea that if we work hard enough, then God’s kingdom will come. If we work hard enough, God’s kingdom will be shown. If we work hard enough to fix the root cause of the injustice we see, then all will be fixed and made well.
The root cause of all the injustice in the world is sin. And that will not be gotten rid of until Jesus comes again. Injustice came into this world when sin did. And injustice will be removed from this world when Jesus comes again and restores us all to how things were supposed to be.
Jesus didn’t come to knock people down a peg but to restore them to their rightful place. Yes, he scathingly chided the Pharisees, but still offered them the same thing he did the sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He ate with the Pharisees as he did with the scum of society. He cleared the Temple of money changers with a fury only the Son of God could and when he comes again, it will be as a mighty warrior.
Jesus came as the Jubilee of God. He came to restore all people to their rightful place and make all one in Himself, all one in the family of God, all one where there is no longer any male or female, Jew or Greek, rich or poor, but all one in Him.
Justice isn’t about taking someone down a peg or forcing an artificial totalitarian false equality. True Biblical justice is about restoration, lifting people up, helping them become whole.
How can you today help someone become restored? How can you live as Jesus, stooping down to lift others up in redemption and restoration helping to make them whole?
For more information on this, please see Christopher JH Wright’s book The Mission of God (InterVarsity Press, 2006) pages 289-303