September 26, 2008

The Justice of God – Part II

Justice on Earth?

Does God require justice to be practiced here on earth? As we look at the Bible, we have to answer yes to this question and disagree with the early Anabaptists who saw the practice of justice as carnal and worldly. Government is not merely a human invention organized by men to preserve order in society, or to give power to a few. God himself established the institution of government so that there might be some reflection of his character as judge in human society.

The Institution of Government

In Deuteronomy we are told how Moses appointed wise and respected leaders, chosen by the people, to rule and judge.

So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes. And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ (Deut. 1:15–17)

Moses makes a direct analogy in this passage between the judgment of God and the justice he requires human beings to practice. Because judgment is God's prerogative, the God of perfect justice demands that all human judgment should be fair and impartial to all people, whatever their place in society.

Israel's Kings

Later in Israel's history, the people demanded a king like the nations around them had, for they were dissatisfied with the Lord as their king. God gave them first Saul as king, and then the line of David. Some have argued from this that all human government and practice of justice is a "second-best," a "carnal" alternative, permitted by God because of the unspirituality of the people of Israel. This argument is then used to reject any Christian involvement in the armed forces, the police force, the government, or the judicial and penal systems. It is argued that Christians in any situation which involves the administration of justice by force are thereby going the way of the "world." However, this argument has no foundation, for, as we have seen in Deuteronomy, God had appointed judges long before the Israelites asked for a king. It was their desire to be like the nations around that was unspiritual, not the fact of government, or its forceful administration with penalties of various kinds.

The king, in fact, was called, like the judges, to revere God, to read and obey God's law himself, and to rule by it (Deut. 17:18–20). God delighted in those kings who loved him and who ruled justly according to his commandments (2 Sam. 7:8–16; Psalm 89:1–4, 19–37).

The Old Testament often spells out the relationship between divine and human justice. For example, Jehoshaphat appointed judges after a period of wickedness and lawlessness.

and said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes" (2 Chronicles 19:6, 7).

The Purposes of Government

What were the purposes for which God established human government? There are three which stand out in the Old Testament, or they are repeated many times.

  1. Maintaining justice in the fear of God according to his holy law and his wisdom (Deut. 16:18–20, Prov. 8:15, 16).
  2. Punishing disobedience to the law justly and impartially. "Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both" (Prov. 17:15; see also many passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy, especially Deut. 17:8–13).
  3. Defending the poor and needy who have no advocate against aggression and injustice, and ensuring equity for them. "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Prov. 31:8–9). God requires this attitude to the poor and oppressed from those in authority, because it is his own attitude (Psalm 146:7–9).

It should be clear from all these passages that God values justice on earth very highly, and that those who rule wisely and punish wrongdoers are honored and approved by him. So highly does God place the maintenance of justice that human rulers are given the title "gods" in Psalm 82. This psalm pictures God presiding over the assembly of human rulers from all the nations, calling them to account for their failure to judge justly and rescue the poor from the wicked who oppress them. It is because of passages like this that Calvin could write: "Civil authority is a calling not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men."

Who Are the Peacemakers?, Jerram Barrs

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