For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
– Colossians 1:9-14
You’ll hear a lot of talk about justice in the world, in the media these days. There’s “justice” for fathers, incensed in their belief that mothers have more legal rights to child custody after sad and unfortunate marital splits—men starting colorful demonstrations and costumed protests to attract media attention. There’s “justice” for those affected by violence and the outcomes of violent events, people who want those responsible to be tried and found guilty. There’s “justice” for the victims and the families of accidents and incidents of negligence—anything from horrific car crashes and tragic crushes in stadium rock shows, to slips and trips and burns from hot coffee.
So many different cries for justice in the world, some seemingly deserving, others seemingly not, and yet is there real justice to be found? What’s called for is judgment, often legal—a desire for people to be held accountable. For punishment, for condemnation. For those afflicted to act out, to gain some measure of satisfaction, to have the popular consensus finally align with their perception of reality. Whether spurious or serious, immature or emotive, rudely aggressive or rightfully aggrieved, the goal is always the same. Someone is to blame, and that someone will pay. Whether financially, with loss of prestige, with a prison sentence or worse, they will be made to suffer for what they may—or may not—have done.
This is a common mindset, repeated across cultures and generations, not just a product of the digital age or our difficult transition to the twenty-first century. Something bad has happened, therefore somebody can be held accountable for it, and the desired outcome for the aggrieved party is always that, whatever else, they will be made to feel better purely by the punishment of the party to blame. The problem is that we, as people, have to create laws—rules enshrined in authority to back them up—to ensure that the weak and disenfranchised are protected from the corrupt strong—and those laws must hold provision for all who claim their protection, regardless of the provenance of the case that they bring to bear. And so we get the weighty debated alongside the weightless, genuine grievances aired beside shallow grudge play.
One of the oddest stories in the Bible concerns the prophet Jonah and the task that he was blessed with, to deliver God’s word to the wicked inhabitants of the great city of Nineveh. A man given to grand and somewhat foolish gestures, Jonah rebels and takes ship in the opposite direction. God’s response to this childish act is to show His servant what grand gestures are all about—first by setting a storm about the ship, then by sending a whale to swallow Jonah for three days and three nights. Stripped of drama, however, it is clear that Jonah was given time and space free of distractions to think about what he should really be doing. When he repented his foolishness, the whale spat him out onto dry land and again God directed Jonah to go to Nineveh and speak to the people there. There’s no intimation of blame or anger on God’s part here, only infinite patience (and a rather dry sense of humour).
True to his task at last, Jonah appeared in Nineveh and walked across the city spreading God’s warning about their wickedness…and wholly unexpectedly, the people and their king actually heed the warning, and turn from their sinful ways to fast and pray that the judgment of God might be set aside. And God, ever loving and ever compassionate, does that very thing. Jonah, however, was still a man given to childish gestures. He railed against God’s mercy, claiming that he’d run away in the first instance because he knew that God would forgive the Ninevites if they repented their ways…and then he went to sit in the desert and sulk, saying rather stroppily that he wished he were dead. It’s then that God came to Jonah once more and gently showed him the error of his ways, demonstrating that His love and patience are vast and endless…whether for the hundreds of thousands of people in the wicked city of Nineveh, or for His silly but beloved servant.
Justice in Christ is never solely about punishment. Justice in Christ is about righteousness with integrity, truth with dignity. There is no condemnation there—God is never ashamed of us or angry with us when we fall short. Blame is responsibility gone toxic, and such poison is antithetical to the heart of the Father.
The Holy Spirit was given to us to help us become more like Christ, to allow us to accomplish things in His heart that would be impossible on our own. Archimedes, the classical world’s greatest mathematician, famously said on the subject of leverage, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.” Christ is our place to stand, and the Holy Spirit is the lever that God has provided to us to effect such massive spiritual change, in ourselves and in others.
But the truly awe-inspiring thing about God’s heart for us is that He points to where we fall short in order to raise us in that place to somewhere greater. Just as God chose a foolish man to deliver His warning to the greatest city in the world in order to teach him of the folly of judgement without mercy (and a little lesson about maturity in the Kingdom), so He plans brilliant things for the deficient parts of our own lives. He can’t help it. He loves to deliver us from the foolishness and short-sightedness of the flesh, because He sees how we torment ourselves in the moments where we fall short, and He has better things for us to be doing with our lives. He loved the world so much that He gave his Son to save it, to deliver us from ourselves.
And God’s excitement is infectious! His laughter causes us to smile, and then to laugh in response. This is what happens when we apply justice without judgement, mercy without punishment. As we become more like Christ, as the way we live our lives becomes a living, breathing testament to Him, so we begin to apply this teaching to others, because what is Good News for but for sharing?
We’re given the gift of trial in order to raise ourselves to a new level of awareness in the Kingdom. God doesn’t point out our shameful parts to blame us, but to challenge us, to bless us, to show us where His next miracle is going to take place. There’s a promise and a provision set aside for us in every problem, and it’s easy to love the truly loveable. To love those who have wronged us…to forgive those who have caused grievance…to bless those who have hurt us…to thank God for those who have betrayed us. That’s the heart of Christ. The reason that the world teaches judgement instead of justice is that the world doesn’t know the heart of Christ, and it’s for us to show the world that heart by example.
We’ve all been hurt and felt the desire to lash out in response, and it’s an ongoing thing, because the world can be a cruel place. You may be reading this and feel echoes of this hurt in your life right now and believe it to be an impossible and unfair thing that God asks of you. The Father’s response is the same as it always has been. It’s gentle, and wry, and full of compassion and good humor. He simply asks us to see ourselves as He sees us. To see the opportunity that He has blessed us with. To feel the excitement that He feels for us, knowing that this is the moment that He has set aside for our deliverance. The promise, and the provision for something brilliant, and the joy that we’re about to experience in moving past and beyond the flesh and into the Kingdom.