Watching the news has always been depressing, but what has really struck me of late is the world’s call for justice. Justice. What does it even mean? One of the definitions of justice from the Oxford Dictionary is “the quality of being fair and reasonable,” and another is “a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people.” [1]The Oxford Dictionary online. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/justice So ultimately, justice is a desire to see all people treated well, and in a manner that is fair to all. Now this is where it becomes tricky, because we need to determine what fairness is, and what it would look like. Who decides what is fair? Who decides what justice is?

Every country on earth has a system of government and legislation which is put in place to maintain order in society. We may not agree with, nor like all the laws, but as citizens we are to obey them. Obedience can be coerced, and we see this as punishments like fines and gaol sentences. Some laws seem ridiculous and antiquated, but overall, when it comes to crimes like rape, child sexual abuse or murder, we all agree that punishment is a must. When we are wronged, or when we witness what we see as a wrong, we call for justice. We long to see the perpetrator punished for breaking the law, inflicting pain on others, and we need to set an example.

The Australian Criminal Justice system is defined as “a system of laws and rulings which protect community members and their property. It determines which events causing injury or offence to community members, are criminal. Criminal offenders may be punished through the law by fines, imprisonment and/or community service.”[2]Crime and Justice: The Criminal Justice System, 1997. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/A4D719473BE50FDFCA2570EC001B2C95?opendocument

All of this is in place to deliver justice, or as just as worldly justice can be, but even after all of this, people still cry for more— it seems that the justice we seek is rarely, if ever delivered. I regularly see people on the news being interviewed after a court hearing and they claim that justice wasn’t done, or the penalty wasn’t harsh enough. Even Christians claim they want to see justice served, and cry out to God for intervention. But this notion of justice, and crying out to God so that we will receive the justice we deserve, is a frightful and fearful thing. R.C. Sproul, in his lecture series Holiness of God, speaks of justice in the most sobering manner. He reminds us that God’s justice would mean that every one of us would be in hell. It’s because of God’s mercy that any of us are given life, breath, and eternity. We say we want justice, but as Sproul corrects, it is God’s mercy we crave, not His justice. The fact that we are not all cast in to hell, which is what we deserve as we all sin continually, is non-justice. It is God’s non-justice that spares any of us and gives us the promise of an eternity with Him. As Sproul defines:

“God does not always act with justice. Sometimes He acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but neither is it injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see non-justice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.” – [3]R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, p. 145

Sproul warns “Don’t ever ask God for justice-you might get it.[4]Sproul, R.C. Ligonier. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/holiness_of_god/holiness-and-justice-3257/

We want to see other people punished for their wrongdoing, and we call this justice, but when we are the ones who have wronged others, we cry out for mercy. Sproul argues that the big difference between mercy and justice is that mercy is never, ever obligatory. One day, those who have not believed upon the Lord for their salvation will receive the justice they deserve, in the fiery pit. And those of us who have received God’s mercy will spend an eternity with Him in heaven. Because it is mercy, and not justice, His elect face a magnificent eternity in heaven, and that is entirely undeserved.

The gospel is the beautiful story of God’s non-justice— the Son of God bearing the full consequences of our sin. Sproul says, “The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross. If ever a person had room to complain for injustice, it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross. Here is where our astonishment should be focused.” Jesus willingly went to the cross to take up the punishment for our sin, and He did it without complaint. Not once did He cry out at the unfairness or injustice of the situation.

The fact is, we won’t see true justice on this side of eternity. We may see glimpses of it, but more often than not we will be dismayed at the unfairness of what takes place is in this world. As Christians, we should try not to get bogged down by fairness and injustice, and instead, be thankful for God’s mercy, and non-justice— and let’s try to extend that same mercy to others.

References   [ + ]

1.The Oxford Dictionary online. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/justice
2.Crime and Justice: The Criminal Justice System, 1997. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/A4D719473BE50FDFCA2570EC001B2C95?opendocument
3.R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, p. 145
4.Sproul, R.C. Ligonier. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/holiness_of_god/holiness-and-justice-3257/
  • Jason

    “The gospel is the beautiful story of God’s non-justice” There is nothing beautiful about non-justice. Non-justice is injustice. And injustice is unrighteous. An unjust God is an unrighteous God.

    The missing theological element here, I think, is imputation. Imputations makes the cross both just and unfair.

    The danger of this mistake is immediately obvious in the conclusion you’ve drawn: “we should try not to get bogged down by fairness and injustice.” That’s exactly what we should get bogged down in. That is what it looks like to live out the gospel in an unjust world; to grow in sanctification.

    • http://thinkingofgod.org/pearlofgreatprice/ Brett Lee-Price

      Hi Jason,

      Just some quick thoughts, I think the issue is that you’ve drawn the line that non-justice MUST be injustice. Yet, that is the thing. R.C. Sproul is attempting to carefully delineate that God’s actions do not cause injustice.

      After all, that God decided to show mercy to His people and sent the Son (in the pactum salutis sense) to reconcile them to Himself, effectively meant that justice neither was nor will be meted out to God’s elect, as they are not receiving the rightful punishment that they ought. Instead, it was enacted onto another. Indeed, as we know even with the premise of double imputation, the Triune God had to decree prior to the transfer, that salvation would be made through the purchase of Christ’s blood and would be deemed acceptable by the Father.

      Thus, while the punishment intended for the elect was enacted onto Christ, and the righteousness of Christ was granted to the elect. This was itself is a display of non-justice, as the elect avoided ‘justice’ through such an exchange, but such an exchange which evidenced God’s grace to us did not mean an ‘injustice’ took place, but rather a non-justice. Indeed, we cannot call God’s mercy or grace in redeeming His chosen people injustice, rather it is non-justice, in that justice is not carried out, but God decides that it is sufficient and, thus, not unjust. After all, God has all right to deem what is just and on whom he will show mercy.

      I don’t disagree with your sentiments in the last line, we ought to, in some sense, desire justice — particularly if it infringes on the character of God. Likewise, we should want justice served in this world, but we should also acknowledge that the justice we crave may not ever be delivered in this world — but ultimately by God who is just. However, likewise, we need to realise that there are somethings in which we ought not to seek justice over such as small slights, but remember that we are to be forgiving to those who have slighted us, because God has ultimately forgiven a much greater slight (Matt 18:21-35). With the latter, well that certainly does require us to grow in sanctification!

      • Jason

        Hmm… I haven’t listened to Sproul’s lectures so I can only speak to what is here. I struggle to see how we can draw a distinction between non-justice and injustice. To withhold justice is in itself an injustice. It seems to me that the only time non-justice is not injustice is in the case of a reasonable and necessary delay to justice.

        That our penalty falls on Jesus Christ is not non-justice. It is quite scrupulously just. Imputation is necessary because justice is necessary. And if imputation truly occurred, than the wrath of God on Jesus at the cross was truly justice, not non-justice. It is even justice for us because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. If non-justice were an option, God could have merely shown mercy and foregone the justice part and the cross is not necessary…

        Is this non-justice concept something Sproul himself uses?

      • Jason

        I haven’t listened to Sproul’s lectures so I can only speak to what is here. I struggle to see how we can draw a distinction between non-justice and injustice. To withhold justice is in itself an injustice. It seems to me that the only time non-justice is not injustice is in the case of a reasonable and necessary delay to justice.

        That our penalty falls on Jesus Christ is not non-justice. It is quite scrupulously just. Imputation is necessary because justice is necessary. And if imputation truly occurred, than the wrath of God on Jesus at the cross was truly justice, not non-justice. It is even justice for us because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. If non-justice were an
        option, God could have merely shown mercy and foregone the justice part and the cross is not necessary…

        Is this non-justice concept something Sproul himself uses?

        • http://thinkingofgod.org/pearlofgreatprice/ Brett Lee-Price

          Hi Jason,

          Yep. It’s a concept worked by Sproul to which I am sympathetic. After all, if God causes injustice then ultimately, he cannot be a ‘just’ God. Sproul is attempting to say that God’s showing mercy to some and not others, is not a neglect of justice, nor is it injustice, but God’s showing mercy to His elect prior to the act of imputation (again, we need to think further back to the beginning — which is what I was referring to with the Pactum Salutis), is, in a way, a non-justice. It’s not unjust that God chooses some over others.

          I think you’ve overcome the idea with using the language of “scrupulously just” in that you are redefining ‘just’ by anything God does. So He, being a just God, becomes the standard of what is considered ‘just’. Of course, people would argue that you are redefining the term (not that I’d disagree with your conclusion here if I have understood what you are saying, correctly), and they’d argue whether the fact that God calls some and not others, just, or whether the fact that Christ bore the sin whereas the elect did not, is just.

          Non-Justice by Sproul’s definition, I believe, is the idea that God still requires justice (thus the necessary outcome of double imputation), but that the fact that God decides to secure His elect and not all humanity is, fundamentally, a non-justice but not an injustice.

          • Jason

            Interesting. It seems odd to me to address something in terms of it’s absence (non-justice). If justice is called for, then whatever happens is either justice or injustice. If justice is not called for, then speaking of it at all seems odd.

            Since election is not based on merit, justice doesn’t seem to be relevant. Perhaps fairness is more the issue…?

            That last paragraph makes sense though. Brought into the context of defending the righteousness of election, I can see what he’s trying to do.

      • Jason

        As far as the injustice of imputation itself, that’s one I’d have to think about… surely it cannot be accounted to God as non-justice… hmm…

    • Annelise Stephenson

      Thanks for your thoughts Jason. Firstly, you are making the assumption that non-justice is the same as injustice, which it is not. Sproul teaches remarkably well on the subject on non-justice, which is a real eye-opener. I think that this quote by him explains it really well, “God does not always act with justice. Sometimes He acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but neither is it injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see non-justice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.” The Holiness of God, p. 145.

      Regarding the final line “As Christians, we should try not to get bogged down by fairness and injustice, and instead, be thankful for God’s mercy, and non-justice— and let’s try to extend that same mercy to others.” We as Christians do get caught up in the notion of justice and fairness, but because we are sinful we often don’t get it right. God’s justice is different from how we view it. We want everything to be fair and right for us, even when what we are really asking for is mercy. There is nothing just about the perfect, precious Son of God paying the penalty for our sin. There is nothing just about us, the sinful creature, being made right with God through none of our own merit. But because of this act of non-justice on God’s behalf (because God is never unjust), we are brought into a right relationship with God, and will spend eternity with Him, unpunished! That should always be our focus, not our rights and desire for equality and fairness. I hope this helps you understand the point I was making.