Liberty and Justice For All, part 2

A man was arrested for murder. He didn’t set out to kill anyone, just to get some extra cash to pay the rent. But, the convenience store clerk went for a weapon under the counter, and the thief fired the handgun he brought for the robbery before he could suppress his defensive instincts.

He dropped the finger-print covered gun and ran. Several witnesses saw him fleeing the scene. There was a security camera pointed at the register. His lawyer advised him to stay away from a trial and just plead guilty.

And, on the day he appeared before the judge to hear what his fate would be, his estranged elder brother showed up in the courtroom.

So he did. Then he faced sentencing. And, on the day he appeared before the judge to hear what his fate would be, his estranged elder brother showed up in the courtroom. They had not spoken to one another in ages. His brother had tried to keep in touch, but the younger brother was carrying too much guilt and embarrassment. The man in the defendant’s chair was a common criminal, an alcoholic in perpetual recovery, and, now, a murderer. His brother was a family man with a wife and three kids, a successful businessman with a fine education, and deeply religious man who had never been in trouble with the law. But, there was no place to hide in the stark, confining courtroom.

The court session began and progressed as expected–until the judge prepared to declare the sentence for this thief and murderer. Just as the judge was about to begin, the older brother stood up and asked to address the court. The judge hesitated, but gave him permission.

Just as the judge was about to begin, the older brother stood up and asked to address the court. The judge hesitated, but gave him permission.

So, the brother spoke. He began talking about their strained family relationships, about his own guilt and sorrow over their differences and his younger brother’s choices. He expressed regret over the crime that had been committed and condolences to the family of the victim, but also love for his troubled brother. Then he said this: “I love my brother too much to see his life ruined like this. And, if you would allow me, your honor, I would go to prison in his place.”

The older brother finished speaking, but remained standing. The judge had heard parents, grandparents, and siblings express similar thoughts before, but this brother seemed to mean it, seemed to expect an answer. As the people in the courtroom observed the sincere request, the brother standing in expectation, and the judge sitting quietly in what appeared to be genuine thought and consideration, they became silent and still in disbelieving anticipation.

The silence was broken by the loud stutter of wooden legs on the hard floor as the prosecutor, taking in the scene, rose to object to what had now become a serious suggestion. Anger crept onto his face, he raised his hand and took a deep breath as he mentally prepared his objection, but before he could utter a sound the judge raised his own hand to silence him. Then quietly, but firmly, the judge said, “So be it,” and he brought down his gavel.

The question that ran the headlines the next day: “Justice Served?” And, it is the same question we have to consider, as Christians, since this obviously fictional story is very close to the picture we get from scripture about the nature of Jesus Christ’s journey to the cross. He is the older brother who goes to prison (or, rather, to a lethal injection) for our crimes. Was justice served by Jesus taking our punishment? Can He really do that?

Was justice served by Jesus taking our punishment? Can He really do that?

Not with our narrow, limited understanding of justice. Imagine the cries for “justice” that would come from the media, the legal community, and the victim’s family if such a scene as described above actually took place. But, fortunately, God’s idea of justice is much bigger than ours. Paul wrote in Romans 3:25-26 (NIV; emphasis mine):

God presented [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

What an incredibly unjust view of justice! To think that the guilty can just get off and go “unpunished” because someone completely innocent takes their place! But, that just goes to show us that we have a lot to learn about God and about true justice.

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7 thoughts on “Liberty and Justice For All, part 2

  1. Exodus 33:19/Romans 9:15-23–“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
    2 Samuel 24:14/1 Chronicals 21:13–Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.”
    Proverbs 28:13–“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
    Hosea 6:6/Matt 9:13/Matt 12:7–“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
    Amos 5:15–“Hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.”
    Micah 7:18–“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”
    James 2:13–“..judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been mericfu. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

    I DON’T WANT JUSTICE FROM GOD! I WANT MERCY!

    LM

    • Larry, that’s exactly the definition of justice I am arguing against: that justice=punishment and mercy=no punishment …..justice and mercy are not opposed to one another, or even different concepts……to God, justice includes mercy…they go hand in hand. It is just for God to give us mercy. I’ll get into it in later posts, but the definition of justice is not punishing wrong-doing. God’s idea of justice (righteousness) is setting things right, which may or may not involve punishment. But it is always just. Otherwise God is unjust in showing us mercy….or another way to say that: God is unrighteous to show us mercy.

      So, given the option of justice or mercy……..I’ll take both because that’s what God is offering.

      Deuteronomy 32:4 (ESV)
      “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
      Ezra 9:15a (ESV)
      “O LORD the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today.” (compare to the remnant passages you quoted above)
      Psalms 9:7-8 (ESV)
      “But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.” (whether showing mercy or wrath, God is always practicing justice)
      Psalms 82:3 (ESV)
      “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” (showing mercy is justice)
      Proverbs 29:26 (ESV)
      “Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.”
      Isaiah 30:18 (ESV)
      “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Because the Lord is a God of justice, he exalts himself to show mercy)
      Hosea 2:19 (ESV)
      “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.”

      and of course, mercy and justice in the cross…
      Romans 3:25-26 (NIV)
      “God presented [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

  2. Interesting post and answer. I think 1 Cor. 5:21 works here: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.” God doesn’t suspend justice when he aquits us; he has already taken out his wrath on Jesus. Justice has been served by punishing sin. Fortunately, we are not the ones who bore (or have to bear) the stripes, Jesus already has. Good post.

    Linked here from The Grain Bin.

    • Hey Warren,

      Thanks for reading, and for the comment.

      I would agree somewhat with the idea of Jesus taking our punishment, but, as I pointed out in the post, that whole concept is inconsistent with our understanding of justice. It is not just for an innocent man to be punished for our sins.

      But, it is just according to God’s definition of justice: making things right….I haven’t offered support for that definition yet in this series, but I’ll get there. And whatever the true definition of justice, I’m glad God shows mercy.

  3. It is always sobering to remember that God’s ways and thoughts are “higher than ours;” something that helps whenever I find myself in sharp disagreement with him.

    • Hey Randy, I don’t blog anymore…at least not right now. I have been too busy to keep it up at the level I would like, so I have been putting it off for now. Someday I hope to start up again. Things are going well. We have a new baby girl (2 months old now) along with our almost-4-year-old. How have you been?

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