God’s Justice

Here’s a common question I hear about Trinitarian Theology: If all of humanity is reconciled to the Father in Christ, what about God’s justice?

Consider two different administrations of justice: One would be a judge sentencing a criminal. The Judge is bound by the law because the rule of law is greater than him. He must sentence the convicted felon to a fine, prison, or even execution. Another administration of justice would be the way a Father treats his children. If one child is hurting the other the Father may choose any number of methods, including punishment, in order to discipline his children.

Here is the main difference between these two methods of justice: the Father who disciplines his children is doing so in order to restore relationship. The purpose of the Father’s justice in his family is to set right the relationships that had gone wrong and restore peace. The Judge sentencing the criminal is doing nothing more than trying to protect society and, in some philosophical sense, exact a measured retribution against the offender on society’s behalf. Sometimes the sentencing of criminals involves a plan for their rehabilitation but such mercy is not required for legal justice to be served.

So, which idea of justice is closer to who God is? Is God the divine Judge who is subject to the law and must administer that law according to the sentencing guidelines established within it? And here’s a bonus question: if God were subject to the law then wouldn’t that make the law really God? Or, is God a Father who loves his Son in the love of the Holy Spirit? Is the ultimate truth about God his judgeship or his identity as Father, Son and Spirit?

Perhaps we can now see why the doctrine of the Trinity is not just “a” doctrine, it is “the” doctrine of the Christian faith. In order to correctly define any aspect of human existence – including a concept such as “justice” – we must start with the Father’s love for the Son and with humanity’s inclusion in that love through the Son’s life as the man Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:18, Col. 1:19-20, Eph. 2:15, 1 Tim. 4:10.) If we don’t start there then we don’t have the right idea of justice.

God disciplines us for our good ~ Heb. 12:10

Is God just? Yes. He is just in the way that only a perfect, loving Father can be. Everything he does, from the forgiveness of sins to the disciplining of his children, is done with one goal in mind: to help humanity live out the reality of who we already are in Christ. We are his beloved children through his Son Jesus Christ, baptized in the Spirit (Acts 2:17; 2 Cor. 5:18-20.) The justice of God the Trinity is about bringing peace and right relationship into his family and therefore it is not about torture, eternal imprisonment, or legal games such as “you have until sundown to figure out who Jesus is and if you don’t then you’re screwed.”

Consider these two scenarios:

1. A teenage boy who lives next door to you (let’s call him Joey) comes over one day and tells you about what happened at his house the night before. He tells you that he drank several beers with his friends and then came in past curfew. His older brother Frank saw him sneaking in and said “you better look out, Dad is going to kill you!” Just then, Joey’s Dad walked in the room, smelled the beer on Joey’s breath and in a rage his Dad picked up a baseball bat and chased him around the house screaming “I’m going to kill you for breaking my rules!” Suddenly, Frank stepped between him and their Dad and said “don’t beat him, beat me instead!” And so the Dad beat Frank unconscious. And then Joey says his Dad turned to him and said “you see, Joey, how much I love you? I beat Frank up instead of you. Now, you better believe in Frank’s sacrifice for you or I’m still going to beat you with a bat, except then I won’t just beat you unconscious the way I beat Frank, I will beat you with this bat forever, no matter how sorry you may be someday for breaking my rules.”

2. Joey comes over and tells you how he came home last night past curfew after having several beers with his friends. His brother Frank caught him sneaking in the house and said, “Joey, this is dangerous! I love you and we’ve got to talk to Dad about this.” Joey admits that Frank made him so mad (and he was a little bit drunk) that he started punching Frank. But Frank didn’t hit him back, he just dragged him into the next room where their Dad was. Their Dad then had a long talk with Joey about why teenagers shouldn’t be drinking and why he has a curfew. Then Joey tells you that his Dad grounded him for 3 months and is going to make him paint their entire house.

Which version of the story displays the justice of a loving Father? And which version of the story would prompt you to call the police?

~ Jonathan Stepp

8 comments so far

  1. Len Joson on

    Thanks Jonathan for your explanation of God’s justice.

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks, Len, glad you liked it!

  3. Joel on

    I find it interesting that the Greek word for Justice and the Greek word for Righteousness are the same and up to the translator to determine which to use.

    So if we look at God’s justice as righteousness instead… In other words… To make right, sometimes there is an easier fit.

  4. Pastor Jonathan on

    I agree that the Greek is significant – could you be a little more specific about what you mean when you say “to make right, sometimes there is an easier fit”?

  5. Adonis Caguioa on

    An excellent illustration of God’s justice. Really our understanding of Divine Justice must be based in knowing who God is (the Father, Son , Holy Spirit) and who we are in Christ, as adopted and included in his relationship with his Father.

  6. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks, Adonis, glad to know we are on the same page!

    • Jeannine on

      I love this, Jonathan. Awesome!!!

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