How to Live the Bible — Hope for the Justice of God
This is the one-hundred-seventh lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Mel is the author of the upcoming A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life After Traumatic Loss.
When there seem to be so many things going wrong in the world people wonder whether there is any hope for things to be made right. This is exactly the point of the justice of God. There is hope that things will be made right, because justice is at the heart of who God is.
The vocabulary of faith in Scripture includes these fundamental ideals: righteousness and justice. These are not separate realities; they are bound to each other.
Righteousness is when things are “right”; justice is how things get set “right.” It’s all about being right, or getting right while living in a world that is wrong. So wrong. In so many ways wrong. It’s also about being wise enough to realize the problem is not “out there,” but resides in and emanates from human nature.
A London newspaper one day posed a philosophical question to its readers: “What is wrong with the world?” The brilliant writer G. K. Chesterton sent a letter to the editor:
Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton
“Righteous” people are simply people who are “right” with God. They were estranged from God, sometimes hostile toward God, other times indifferent toward God, and now—by God’s grace alone—they have a restored relationship with God.
Our broken friendship has been restored (reconciliation). Like convicted criminals we’ve been acquitted in a courtroom (justification). Like slaves we’ve been given freedom (redemption). We’re like orphans who’ve been taken in by a loving family (adoption). We’re sinners who need the kind of forgiveness that can only be won by a sacrifice of ultimate value (atonement).
Righteousness is not a halo that appears over our heads because we have cultivated virtue or are simply behaving ourselves. Righteousness, according to most biblical scholars, is not a personal attribute at all—it’s the spiritual state of a real relationship with God.
And in this is a most amazing spiritual power. People who become right with God have the desire, the calling, and the power to make things right with other people. This is the spiritual logic of justice. God’s act of restoring rightness in human beings carries through to acts of righteousness and justice between human beings. This is true spiritual influence—righteousness flows to us, and then it can flow from us.
The mandate to make things right is repeated many times in the Old Testament.
This is what the LORD Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”—Zechariah 7:9–10
This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.—Jeremiah 22:3
The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.—Psalm 33:5
Just pause and let that single verse from Psalm 33 sink in. The earth is full of God’s unfailing love. This world—this broken, diseased, corrupted, inequitable, uncertain, catastrophe-prone world—is loved by God. The way he loves it is by loving and promoting righteousness and justice.
God knows it’s not too late for the world. Berlin may smolder—until it is rebuilt. A girl in India may be held as a sexual slave—until someone rescues her. Malaria may kill children—until generous people purchase mosquito netting for a whole nation in sub-Saharan Africa. A socially awkward teenager may be bullied at school—until parents and school administrators take a stand against it. A drug addict may get released from jail one more time, vulnerable to the same pattern of addiction and crime—until he finds an effective recovery program that includes a loving community.
Injustice corrodes our humanity wherever we experience it. This is not the way things were supposed to be. Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to disobey God. Cain wasn’t supposed to kill his brother Abel. One out of seven people in the world should not go to bed hungry tonight because of problems of politics and distribution. We have to be indignant about injustice in order to be champions of justice.
Across history human beings have shown just how many ways the crooked and darkened soul can mess things up. And so the call of God comes. He has shown us what is good and what he requires. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. Make things right—whenever you can, wherever you can.
If we have the potential to make things right (in any measure), one would think we would clamor for the opportunity. But rightness and justice cut against human nature because they come with a cost. Making things right is always right but never easy.
The law of the jungle seems to be the natural way of the world. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed. Might makes right. Grab before someone else takes. Hoard because you don’t know if your supply will run low. Follow the inverted golden rule (he who has the gold, rules).
It is telling that we have so many ways of expressing this fatalistic view of life. Frighteningly, this fatalistic view neither remembers nor respects righteousness. Shame on us when we acquiesce to it in the name of being “realists.”
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.
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