If God is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, it stands to reason that they must also be just. It’s a fair assumption and one that we even sing about. But scripture and our own experiences suggest otherwise; that justice is not an attribute we should so freely associate with God.
The Bible is full of instances when people have cried out for God’s intervention, outpouring of justice and retribution only to be left frustrated. There are few better examples than the parable of Job; a righteous man who is tested in the most terrible of ways. It is an exploration of the lack of justice and an attempt to understand the apparent absence of God. Still today, God’s justice seems conceptual at best. The marginalised are evermore so and the powers against which we struggle are stronger, more celebrated and rewarded than ever before. One would be forgiven for assuming God is on the side of corporations who cheat the poor, refuse to pay taxes and fill their gilt-lined pockets. And how can God be on the side of the weak; those who are left without water and sanitation, and often condemned for their struggle against a system that degrades them? So where is God’s justice?
Our problem is primarily one of semantics. Justice is an entirely human concept predicated on shared human values: money, life and liberty. Justice, we all assume, can be restored through the redistribution of these things, through fines or prison sentences and in some cases even the death penalty. But what if these are not the right values? What if these are not God’s values? Our second problem is that our systems of justice work to restore a sense of equality, but our entire society thrives on inequality and competition.
500 years before Moses was concealed in the bulrushes, there was a Babylonian King called Hammurabi. He established a code, a set of rules or laws, for his people to live by. Remarkably, thousands of years later, the code was rediscovered, etched into a huge stone tablet. One of the lines reads:
“If a man destroys the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one breaks a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroys the eye of a freeman or breaks the bone of a freeman he shall pay one mana of silver. If one destroys the eye of a man’s slave or breaks a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.”
Familiar? It’s a lot like the code God later gave Moses, and yet, the code we find in Exodus 21, Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19, is scented with the reimagining of a different kind of justice.
If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
There is no distinction between slave and free; all people are to be treated as equals. Then, roughly 1,400 years later, Jesus reimagined it again.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.’ Matthew 5:38-39
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:44
So here it is, the unmasked justice of God. It is not the redistribution or measure of nouns. It is… love. Love unmeasured.
Everything. When the son crawled back to his father having wished him dead so that he could burn through his inheritance on the hedonistic dream, justice dictates that he should have been turned away or have his status stripped; it’s what he expected, and it is what his brother wanted. But that is not what happened. Instead he was welcomed back, no questions asked, status immediately restored, party invitations sent.
This is the injustice of God; that we are loved. And when we deserve something less, we are loved. At our best or at our lowest we are loved. And the challenge to us, is to love the same way. What would that look like?
Dan Chalke runs People, a charity which works alongside local people to empower impoverished communities. Dan is married to Ruth and proud dad to Reuben and Ari. Instagram: @people.org.uk @dan.chalke