Justice vs Love
by Dan Juster, Director, Restoration From Zion
"The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love." (Psalms 33:5 NIV)
This amazing short verse contradicts some forms of popular Christianity which teach that God's love and His justice are opposed. Here righteousness, justice and love are united.1
The Need for a Definition
The world has no common definition of justice, much less the ability to implement it with love. People argue over justice and love with no common definition upon which to base their arguments. No wonder we go nowhere!
If we rightly define justice and love from a biblical point of view, we will find them to be two sides of one coin. However, first let us note humanistic unbiblical definitions.
In the Western world, justice is linked with equality. This concept drives the progressive left. For example, income inequality is considered injustice, and economic justice seeks income equality. This idea is also behind a liberal approach to border control policy in the United States - enabling the poor of nearby countries to enter and gain better jobs and governmental benefits.
"Justice" is also applied to racial and ethnic groups by using quotas to assure equal numbers in all professions, schools, and more. This concept of equality also drives the idea that homosexual marriage should be equal to hetero-sexual marriage, and that transgender people should be able to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice. All variables that cause people to be treated differently are targeted for elimination. This then leads to the abandonment of distinctions that have been respected for thousands of years.
Justice in the Bible
The Bible explicitly defines some aspects of justice as connected to equality. For example, with regard to crimes in the society, the courts are not to show partiality to the rich or the poor, or the small or the great. Before universal ethical and civil law we are all equal. The Bible has standards to provide a form of economic liberation and redistribution of land to the original owners every fifty years (the year of Jubilee). However, with regard to trade and possessions such as livestock and more, there is no requirement for economic equality.
So what then is Biblical justice? It is an order of righteousness, where every person and every created being is enabled to fulfill their God intended destiny. The Hebrew word for righteousness () is also translated as justice and justification. In some aspects of destiny, there is equality. All are called to know and love God and to experience and enjoy his fellowship. God makes it clear that He desires provision for all people in food, shelter, and protection from evil. God desires that most people be married and have children. But at the same time, God creates distinctions whereby there is mutual dependence for blessing throughout the whole of creation. He creates male and female to be very different and to have different callings and blessings. We are wonderfully interdependent in marriage and in having children together.
God also creates people with different gifts. Some will be able to produce wealth and in that - provide employment for others. Some have greater artistic gifts. And we could go on and on. The Bible also notes that God has different callings for different individuals and peoples. Justice begins with understanding God's intention of destiny for individuals and nations.
At a Palestinian conference a few years ago, I noted that justice in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs begins with accepting that God's destiny for the Jewish people is the Land of Israel. There is not an equality of claim to this Land. However there is a clear biblical mandate for fair treatment for the stranger or sojourner who dwells in the land. Injustice is destiny prevention, and a just or righteous society maximizes destiny fulfillment. A just society enables the maximum fulfillment for people within the boundaries of God's law. Once we understand justice, we can better understand love.
What is Love?
Love is not mere human sentiment - whereby we give people what they desire as long as it does not harm others. This definition is so short sighted. It is actually a false love and it fosters easy divorce, homosexual marriage and a host of other social problems.
Love is passionate identification with the other person, perceiving their worth and seeking their good, guided by the law of God. Love is passionate because it really includes emotional caring. Good is defined as the destiny fulfillment of a person. This destiny is founded upon a loving relationship with God and others. The worth of people is defined by their being created in God's image, and by the fact that God sent his Son to die for them (John 3:16). However, the good of people has to be defined as guided by law. Nothing that goes against God's foundational moral law is ever good for people in the long run. Destiny fulfillment is always in unity with the law. This is why Biblical love is always lawful. I John is full of verses on this! This means that if we love people, we seek to establish an order of righteousness or justice for their good.
Oh for a Common Understanding
The question is what is God's will for the situations of conflict we face in this world, from marriage and family issues, congregational issues, to the issues of politics and even international relations. How can justice be implemented in love? Imagine if all followers of Yeshua were in agreement! It would change our understanding of discipleship. It would change our political and social involvements. It would help solve so many thorny problems.
"No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God" (Micah 6:8 GNT).
1 The word translated as love here is chesed, which is translated as "steadfast love" in the RSV, and "gracious love" in other versions.
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