Justice Starts with God

During the panel discussion on Justice,[1] Don Carson asks

“What are the biblical texts and theological themes that should most control our thinking about justice and righteousness issues in our lives, in the church, in the time and place in the world where God has placed us?”[2]

Tim Keller, Voddie Baucham and Thabite Anyabwile all start with The imago Dei, that is, the Bible’s teaching that we are made in God’s image. Keller notes that this means that God holds us responsible for taking life, that we “should not speak abusively” of others and that “God even holds animals responsible for killing a human being.”[3]

Then Anyabwile and John Piper take it up a level and say something absolutely vital to our understanding of justice. Anyabwile says

“In the beginning and just prior to the imago Dei creation, we’re told that God wants to fill the earth, to multiply; and in part that’s to bring forth his glory. Malachi 2:15 tells us why he established marriage – that he might have offspring that would bring hm glory So questions of justice are connected with questions of worship too.”[4]

Piper says

“I would go up a level….The person in the universe who has rights is God. He has rights. Justice is acting in a way so that God gets his rights. That is the most fundamental meaning of justice. God acts according to his rights. And if you say ‘What are God’s rights?’ any behaviour that accords with the infinite value of god is a right behaviour. So ultimate rightness is behaviours, thoughts, feelings that are conformed to the infinite value of God.”[5]

This means that

“the Gospel deals with making sure God gets his rights in punishing those who’ve offended him on the cross, so there can be mercy. The gospel will make no sense eventually if we haven’t started with the righteousness of God, which includes God’s right to punish those who don’t act in accord with his infinite value.”[6]

This means that the Gospel itself is primarily about God’s glory. God is the one who is worthy of all worship and honour because he is the one alone who is good, is love, is sovereign, is just.  The other Sunday, we were looking at the event in Matthew 20 where on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus passes through Jerusalem and there he is greeted by two blind men. They cry out for mercy and he stops to heal them. Then they follow him.

Now, we can skip over that point and miss something vital. We will pick up on Christ’s great compassion for them and even on his power but we will miss the goal of his work.  Those blind men will have been sitting begging on the pilgrim route. Every year, pilgrims would go up to Jerusalem to the temple to offer sacrifices and to worship God in the Temple.  These men were excluded from that. In Leviticus 18:21, those with any physical defect are prevented from serving as priests but in 2 Samuel 5:5-8 we discover that there was a general prohibition on the blind and the lame entering the temple.

So, what was left for these blind men? Simply it was to wait on the route hoping to get the scarps, the handouts, the odd coin from those passing by the worship. So, when they receive mercy from Jesus, immediately they get up and follow. In other words, the join the pilgrim procession going up to the festival. Now they can join in. They can go to worship. More than that, they follow in behind The Lord himself, they are going with him towards his crucifixion. They take up their crosses and follow him.

The result of their healing is worship.  The result of the Gospel is not just for us that our sins are forgiven but also that rebels against the one true God are reconciled to him. We become true worshippers again. We are able to draw near to honour and glorify him.  The Gospel magnifies his glory.

This also helps us to think about how we engage with issues about justice. It is right to step in to show compassion to those who are the victims of injustice. However, if all we do is help them with their specific need, then we are really offer them no more than the pilgrim throwing a few coins the beggars’ way as they passed by. Our desire is not just that they get temporary help but that they are able to hear and respond to the Gospel. That way leads to full restoration and reconciliation with God for them and so they become true worshippers meaning that God is glorified and he receives the justice he deserves.

 

[1] Available as an appendix in Coming Home: Essays on the New Heaven and the New Earth (eds DA Carson and Jeff Robinson Sr, Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2017), 139-159.

[2] Coming home, 140-141.

[3] Coming home, 141.

[4] Coming home, 142.

[5] Coming home, 142.

[6] Coming home, 142-143.

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