Think About It
Someone needs to hear this: God is love and God loves you.
Some of you were taught otherwise and it shows. The myopic view of God as a spiteful, rage-filled deity has discouraged many from seeking God.
Many of us grew up in faith communities that spoke bounteously about God’s punitive justice (abatement of evil) and sparingly about God’s reparative justice (restoration of good(s) lost in the sinful state).
And God’s justice is not punitive alone as many of you have been taught to believe. (Hellfire and brimstone preaching, anyone?)
Here is Timothy Keller on Herman Bavinck’s interpretation of divine justice:
“In his magisterial work on God’s attributes, Herman Bavinck argues that in the Bible, God’s justice is both retributive and reparative. It not only punishes evildoing, but it restores those who are victims of injustice. Yet interestingly, “God’s remunerative [restorative] justice is far more prominent in Scripture than his retributive justice.” God stands against “perverting the justice due the poor… slaying the innocent and righteous… accepting bribes…. oppressing the alien, the widow, and the orphan…” God “raises them to a position of honor and well-being… Doing justice with an eye to the needy becomes an act [also] of grace and mercy.” And therefore, God’s restorative justice “is not, like his anger, opposed to his steadfast love but is closely akin and synonymous with it.” His justice is “simultaneously the manifestation of his grace (Psalm 97:11-12; 112:3-6; 116:5; 118:15-19).”
One of the reasons why some of us hold hostile notions toward organized religion and suspicious sentiments toward communities of faith is because our understanding of God’s love and justice was twisted by nescient individuals within these institutions whose goal was to enslave us, not liberate us with the gospel message.
Our receptivity of God’s love for us is either amplified by a healthy understanding of God and His word or crushed by men (and women) who improperly use that same word to control people.
God reassures us that justice is a great thing. Especially when that justice is meted out to thwart and abate evil. God’s justice is also reparative in the sense that it is necessary to restore dilapidated souls, relationships, families, and communities.
God is not only in the business of neutralizing evil in the human heart. It is just of Him to stop evil. We need God to stop evil ‘out there’ in the world, physical and metaphysical, and, His grace allowing, ‘in here’ in reference to our community and also to the human heart.
God is love and this love demands that justice must exist and that it must be effective in a fallen world. We’re taught that sin breeds evil and that sin is entrenched in every heart thus postulating that every person has the propensity for evil.
Justice demands that sin be excised and abolished because its ramifications if left unchecked, spreads in the heart of the individual and in his community thus producing sinful structures.
Sin is destructive to the self and it creates systemic evils.
God’s punitive justice demands the sin in us be abolished but that sin is so engraved in our nature that to destroy sin God would have to destroy us. That’s normally what many of us know about the gospel and about redemption. Outside of the substitution of the cross, we are left on this earth as the receptacles of the full weight of God’s punitive justice; deservedly so.
That’s all some of us know. That’s all some of us were ever taught.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Learning about God must entail we learn as much as has been made available to us about God, meaning, learning more about divine justice being both retributive and reparative.
Meaning, God’s justice is set in motion not only to confront evil, which is actually an amazing thing, but also to restore that which was lost, stolen, hijacked, kidnapped, and ruined in us by sin.
Imagine a court is set in motion to hold criminals accountable for their crimes, which is a necessary aspect of a civilized society. But we must also remember that the judicial system exists to restore that which was stolen, pay back that which was sifted, repair that which was broken, remunerate where and when possible in accordance with the law.
Our earthly courts have demonstrated just how problematic it can be to only exhibit one form of justice whilst ignoring the other.
Take, for example, an innocent man wrongly convicted and forced to serve a twenty-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. Someone falsely accused him of something, his public defender was too over-encumbered with other cases to take him seriously, he was offered a plea deal to lighten the time spent behind bars, evidence was falsified against him by law enforcement, and the jury was biased against him because of the color of his skin.
Imagine fifteen years into his sentence he is exonerated. His name is cleared by his initial accuser, who still walks about free. The court does not apologize for its missteps. His public defender abandoned him years earlier. The police officers who falsified his confession have since retired with hearty pensions, without consequence. And this exonerated soul is set free into a different world from the one he left once he was incarcerated and he has no money or land to his name.
The courts did right by punishing evil (or at least it thought it did by punishing someone for a crime) but it failed to restore and repair that which was broken once the truth came out.
Justice must punish wrongdoing and at the same time, it must repair the breach the initial wrong caused.
Divine Justice is equally retributive and reparative.
What would make this case end on a brighter note is to imagine the man exonerated, his accusers jailed and tried for falsifying evidence, statements, perjury, and fraud. And also, that the court apologizes for its initial mistake and then repays the man the millions and millions of dollars owed to him for the harms he suffered behind bars all those years and as a means by which he can restart his life with something rather than nothing to his name.
The police officers involved must then lose their pensions for falsifying evidence. This seems extreme but perjury is a crime that deserves a consequence.
Justice is set in motion to hold wrongdoing accountable and deliver the victim of these wrongs into a place, a state of being, an identification of being restored by the systems set in place to restore righteousness to the land.
Justice is righteous, you know.
The cross is where punitive and reparative justice intersects to benefit us spiritually and physically.
Christ is punished for our sins and Christ is also the avenue by which we are restored not only to God but also to one another.
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelations 21:5 is not indicative of just the new heavens and the new earth, but of a new people, transformed into the likeness of Jesus, living, breathing, operating, and working to live as He did on earth.
So, in light of this renewal, this indwelling, this transformative Person guiding us through life, we must walk as He did, restoring, repairing, and restituting wherever possible.
This is hope-inspiring for victims of abuse, mistreatment, violence, terror, and all categories of wrongs. It is refreshing to know that God is bent toward justice and He seeks not only to obstruct evil but also the infrastructure created by sin on which evil travels.
God’s justice abates evil and repairs brokenness.
If you are a victim, a destitute soul who has been harmed by a sinful world, seek God’s justice, not just in this life but the next.
To rectify wrongs and heal wounds.
Thank God we can seek both.