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. 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.

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.

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.
2. Crime and Justice: The Criminal Justice System, 1997.
3. R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, p. 145
4. Sproul, R.C. Ligonier.