Our problems with justice today began with those entrusted with judgment in ancient Israel. They rejected God’s moral authority over them. They made the law void. The problem continues to this day in that God’s moral authority is also rejected by those entrusted to uphold it now.
The Enlightenment, a movement in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, promoted reason and reason alone as the method of obtaining truth. Nietzsche, a man famous for saying God is dead said, “The exemplary human being must craft his or her identity through self-realization and do so without relying on anything transcending that life such as God.” These ideas became embedded in society. We craft our identity through self-realization.
Many of our social issues need to be evaluated from this perspective. The present culture wars are tearing the heart out of our institutions and the legal system is no exception. For a long time, society has lived by the “Rule of Law”, a legal system that was initially separate from politics. That is no longer the case. Some may think that social issues like Critical Race Theory are recent constructs. A book published in 1996 contains information on CRT. The book also addressed Critical Legal Studies which has not drawn as much attention but are a part of the “Culture Wars” today. CLS claims that law has no objective basis. The underpinnings of both are the destruction of Western society. The result of CLS is that the Rule of Law is now being influenced by racial, gender and cultural politics.
The bottom line of Critical Legal Studies is the belief that we have no way to know what is right or what is wrong so therefore nobody has a right to decree a law that says something is right or something is wrong. Deconstruction of the legal system is what it is all about. If there is no agreement on ethical or moral standards what judgments will a court of law administer? It is more about power than it is about ethical or moral standards.
After the reign of Christ is established on the earth, we are going to see a dominant quality beginning to be practiced as a vital element for the well-being of all society. It’s the quality of justice. Justice, from a biblical perspective is best understood as “conformity to an ethical or moral standard”. Christ’s rule will provide that conformity. No human reasoning will be involved in establishing the ethical and moral standards. The complexities that our nations are facing regarding the systems of justice today are overwhelming. Hence the need for a legal system anchored in just judgments.
Isaiah tells us that Christ will come, and the government will be upon His shoulder. “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. . . . Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice. . .” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Peace and justice are connected within the government of God. Christ will bring the order of the heavenly realm into being on earth. That order will be based on judgement and justice working together. Judgment implies the administration of justice. So, righteousness flows from the application of justice. And Christ will have the authority to establish the conformity.
The function of the government in bringing about justice is spelled out in Isaiah 11:3-4: “His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; . . .”
So, justice will not be practiced solely by what is seen and heard. Mercy is also a component of God’s justice system (Psalm 51: 1-19). Because Christ has the ability to discern the heart, motive and intent can be established as can one’s regret and desire to change (Proverbs 21:2). This becomes important because in the New Testament the word justice is not used, but the word righteousness is. Christ’s rule, His governance, will administer conformity to God’s ethical and moral standards. Injustice will not exist in His “Rule of Law”. Godly righteousness will always prevail.
When God set ancient Israel in its land He gave them a system of justice, a system that exemplified God. “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). It’s a way of loving your neighbor as yourself. To be just, to practice justice is beneficial to the other person.
Today we see the poor and the rich are largely separated by the justice system. If you are rich and can afford a team of lawyers, you are probably going to benefit greatly over the poor who can’t do that. God says: “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:35–36).
This injustice or the application of justice has a lot to do with the expression of God and godly character. Deuteronomy 32:4 ascribe greatness to God: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”
This is the source of justice that was given to Israel. They had access to the complete system of justice which would have ordered their society extremely well. It would have allowed people to get just judgments on issues that they needed to sort out between themselves. It would have been a beautiful system, however, the justice which reflected the nature of God was repudiated by Israel. They rejected it:
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear . . . The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whoever takes that way shall not know peace” (Isaiah 59:1-2,8). Nevertheless, mankind wants a manmade system.
The question is never that God withholds His justice. He’s ready to give it at any time. “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalms 145:18). However, the prophets document Israel’s rejection very clearly. “They hate the one (prophet) who rebukes in the gate, And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly. Therefore, because you tread down the poor And take grain taxes from him, Though you have built houses of hewn stone, Yet you shall not dwell in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, But you shall not drink wine from them. For I know your manifold transgressions And your mighty sins: Afflicting the just and taking bribes; Diverting the poor from justice at the gate” (Amos 5:10-13). A judgment from a court will be handed down but it’s not likely to be a just judgment: “. . . you have turned justice into gall,” (Amos 5:6).
Our current justice systems today reflect human nature: “That they may successfully do evil with both hands— The prince asks for gifts, The judge seeks a bribe, And the great man utters his evil desire; So they scheme together.” “Her heads judge for a bribe, Her priests teach for pay, And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the LORD, and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No harm can come upon us” (Micah 7:3; Micah 3:11).
The modernization of these verses is not difficult. Today’s justice systems do not administer justice. They work on a different basis. We live in the midst of a lot of strife and contention, plundering and violence. The end result is described in Habakkuk 1:3-4: “Why do You (God) show me (Habakkuk) iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.” This describes man’s governmental judicial systems now.
In Deuteronomy 16:18-20, we can look at law from a godly point of view: “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” The judges were to conform to an ethical and moral standard, one that God set.
God expanded His system through Moses when he needed more help with the nation of Israel during the wilderness years:
“How can I (Moses) alone bear your problems and your burdens and your complaints? Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.’ And you answered me and said, ‘The thing which you have told us to do is good.’ So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and knowledgeable men, and made them heads over you, leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, leaders of tens, and officers for your tribes. Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it’ ” (Deuteronomy 1:12–17). Again, the judges were commanded to render righteous judgments based on God’s moral standards.
God also set the way in the early Church when many people were joining the Church (Acts 6:3,5). The Apostles were overwhelmed with their responsibilities and duties, so they got some help with the ordination of deacons who were to be faithful servants full of the Holy Spirit. Such a person would express outgoing concern for the other people in the application of a just judgment especially to the poor, the widows, and the fatherless (Isaiah 10: 1-2). God always expects equal justice for everyone.
But what is the origin of injustice?
The innermost being of man is where injustice originates. It develops in the human heart and works its way forward in expression. Solomon makes a general proclamation: “Moreover I saw under the sun: In the place of judgment, Wickedness was there; And in the place of righteousness, Iniquity was there” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). Solomon says the entire system is corrupt to the core. “If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them” (Ecclesiastes 5:8).
So why is the entire system corrupt? “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, . . .” (Matthew 15:18-20). Therein lies the source of the problems with man’s legal systems.
When Christ returns, He will establish a justice system that benefits all peoples, healing broken relationships with just judgments and peace. It will not be about power. Until then, followers of Christ in this world should obey the apostle Paul’s admonition to us in Philippians:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness [justice] which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).