The Justice of God

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith

The Justice of God
Justice is a word we hear every day. We use it in
personal relationships, in
social conventions, with respect to legislation, and to the verdicts rendered
in court. As commonplace as the word is, it has
perplexed philosophers who
seek an adequate definition of

Sometimes we link or equate justice with what is earned or deserved.
We speak
of people getting their just deserts in terms of rewards or
punishments. But
rewards are not always based upon merit. Suppose we hold a
beauty contest and
declare that a prize will be awarded to the person deemed
most beautiful. If
the “beauty” wins the prize, it is not because there is
something meritorious
in being beautiful. Rather, justice is served when the
most beautiful
contestant is rightfully awarded the prize. If the judges vote
for someone
they do not deem the most beautiful (for political reasons or because they are
bribed) then the outcome of the contest will be

For reasons such as the above, Aristotle defined justice as
“giving a person
what is his or her due.” What is “due” may be determined by
ethical obligation
or by some prior agreement. If a person is punished more
severely than his
crime deserves, the punishment is unjust. If a person
receives a lesser reward
than she has earned, then the reward is not

How then does mercy relate to justice? Mercy and justice are
different things, though they are sometimes confused. Mercy occurs
wrongdoers are given less punishment than deserved or greater rewards
they earned.

God tempers His justice with mercy. His grace is
essentially a kind of mercy.
God is gracious to us when He withholds the
punishment we deserve and when He
rewards our obedience despite the fact that
we owe obedience to Him, and so we
do not merit any reward. Mercy is always
voluntary with God. He is never
obligated to be merciful. He reserves the
right to exercise His grace
according to the good pleasure of His will. For
He says to Moses, “I will have
mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I
will have compassion on whomever I
will have compassion” (Romans

People often complain that because God does not distribute His
grace or mercy
equally on all people, He is therefore not fair. We complain
that if God
pardons one person He is therefore obligated to pardon

Yet, we see clearly in Scripture that God does not treat
everyone equally. He
revealed Himself to Abraham in a way He did not to other
pagans in the ancient
world. He graciously appeared to Paul in a way He did
not appear to Judas

Paul received grace from God; Judas
Iscariot received justice. Mercy and grace
are forms of nonjustice, but they
are not acts of injustice. If Judas’s
punishment was more severe than he
deserved, then he would have something
about which to complain. Paul received
grace, but this does not require that
Judas also receive grace. If grace is
required from God, if God is obligated
to be gracious, then we are no longer
speaking of grace, but of justice.

Biblically, justice is defined in
terms of righteousness. When God is just, He
is doing what is right. Abraham
asked God a rhetorical question that can only
have one obvious answer: “Shall
not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
(Genesis 18:25). Likewise, the
apostle Paul raised a similar rhetorical
question: “What shall we say then?
Is there unrighteousness with God?
Certainly not!” (Romans

Justice is giving what is due.

Biblical justice is linked
to righteousness, to doing what is right.

Injustice is outside the
category of justice and is a violation of justice.
Mercy is also outside the
category of justice but is not a violation of

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