On Justice and the Gospel
by Andrew Shi
This summer I have the privilege of interning at the Clerk’s Office of the Supreme Court of Virginia. While the bulk of my work consists in administrative tasks, I’ve had opportunities to meet justices, go on field trips, and sit in and observe the court in session. My short time here has given me a glimpse into the complexities of law and the role that it plays in our everyday lives.
Most people don’t think of law as a noble profession. Think of how lawyers are portrayed in movies and TV shows as professionals who are good at lying and twisting the law to their profit. Winston Churchill duly noted that history is written by the victors. What he neglected to mention is that even in a democracy, the legislating pen is in all too often in the hands of the rich and privileged.
We have reason to voice our mistrust and dissatisfaction in the legal system. Take criminal justice, for example. Study after study have shown that people of color experience more encounters with police, receive longer sentences in prison, and are frequently subjected to discriminatory hiring and firing practices. Further, the highly publicized deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray—three unarmed, black men killed at the hands of white officers—have demonstrated, among many other things, that many whose job is to protect their communities have been sowing discord and violence, often under the protection of the law and the timid glance of complicit bystanders. President Obama put it tersely: “We have some soul-searching to do. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades.” While he was referring specifically to race and policing, that statement can apply to every area of the legal system.
The pursuit for a perfect justice in our society’s legal standards is a natural reaction to our individual expectations for a justice that is first moral. We came into this world with a general sense of right and wrong even before we knew how to read, interpret, and adhere to the written law. Subjective experiences and intuitions certainly color our morals, but each of us possesses a shared moral compass on the most fundamental truths. It is thus widely accepted that the Ten Commandments offer a useful guideline to a moral life, or that Jesus’ teachings of loving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek and His ministry of feeding the hungry and healing the sick are admirable, to say the least.
I want to take this idea one step further. I believe that we are moral people who long for justice because we are made in the image of God, who is the ultimate Judge and whose very nature and holiness is the reason a distinction between what is just and unjust exists.
The Gospel is not the good news that God made all of our sins go away with the snap of His fingers. That God is all loving does not, as many of us are inclined to assume, somehow mean that His attributes of being a just God are erased or substituted. Make no mistake: The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament is one and the same God. The God who poured out His wrath on all the firstborn of Egypt during Passover is the same God who welcomed the thief next to Him on the cross to paradise. While we will certainly change and perceive God differently from age to age, culture to culture, He is immutable.
Having established that God is both just and loving, it would be foolish to live as if forgiveness did not come at a price. That price was the death of Jesus. The cross simultaneously displayed God’s love and justice; mercy was extended, wrath was inflicted. Pause and recognize the gravity of what this means: God, in an unfathomable display of love, played by the same rules He expected us to follow. That is, He sent His son Jesus—fully man and fully God—to pay the penalty for our sins. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” How often do we jump straight to receiving the free gift without considering who had to pay for it!
God’s demonstration of justice on the cross has two implications for our lives. First, it means that our eternity with God in heaven is guaranteed. God has placed his seal on us (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) and we can be assured that Jesus died on the cross so that the law is fulfilled and the legal paperwork has been satisfied. Our assurance is grounded in His Word, clearly embodied in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1).
Second, it means that God is present in the injustice we experience around us. Unlike a human judge, God does not experience fatigue or need to take breaks. He has time for every appeal. He does not lack factual or legal knowledge. He is not swayed by deceitful pleas and empty arguments. I acknowledge that it may not be satisfying to hear these truths when God seems so far away. We are eager to see justice served right now, and we want answers to the most troubling questions that ache our hearts.
But the cross has shown us that God is not far away at all, nor is he outwitted or desensitized by injustice. We must cling to the reality that God is always in control, not just of our future but also of the past wrongs we’ve endured. Christ died once so that we are made right with God. And Christ will come again to bring an end to all injustice and restore all of His creation. The Christian apologist and literary giant C. S. Lewis speaks of this restoration. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis echoes our longing for all things to be made right again:
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”