There are those who have a hard time with the God of Justice, as if Justice and Mercy are incompatible things. The thought is justice leads to wrath and in contrast, mercy has no part of that. But I would contend that such confusion is the result of worldly thinking, not Godly thinking. Follow:
The way of thought called Modernism that grew out of the Enlightenment understood justice in a specific way. It was centered on the law and meted out often (though not always) as “punishment to fit the crime.” It played in the consciousness as “just desserts” and attempted to do in life “what was only fair.”
Honestly, this was not a bad way of looking at justice. It gave us the ideas of equal justice for all and the proscription against “cruel and unusual” punishment, for example. But however it played out in life, the idea of justice as giving people what they deserve is not God’s idea of justice.
In contrast, over the last hundred years or so and especially in our current generation, a new and competing idea of justice has surfaced in this world. It might best be described as giving people what they need and it often comes attached to the word “social.” Instead of looking strictly at the law, we are encouraged to look at the socio-economic conditions of the people and allow for those who live in “want.”
Social justice is more concerned with food, clothing, shelter, education (and healthcare) and the general well-being of people and less concerned with strict adherence to legal dictates. In other words, if giving people what they deserve observes the letter of the law, giving people what they need (presumably) observes the spirit of the law. At least that is the general idea.
To be clear, giving people what they want and need is not God’s idea of justice, either. If God looked at the letter of the law and gave us what we deserved, we would all be in a Hell of a fix! We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory, after all. But God is also not concerned with what we shall eat or what we shall wear of where we shall sleep. The son of man had nowhere to lay his head and suggested we consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
Yes, WE are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those who are sick or in prison, but we do this as a matter of charity (love of neighbor) NOT as a matter of justice, social or otherwise. Let me just say, society should coerce us (via taxes or whatever) to provide food, clothing, shelter, education (and healthcare) only in so far as God coerces us to do these things. And God does not coerce us at all.
But then, if justice is neither giving people what they deserve nor giving people what they need, how does God define justice? Justice, for God, is what was nailed to the cross and might best be described in this manner: God’s justice is what sets us free. Jesus died so that we might be free from sin, death and the devil as the old expression put it. You might say he set us free from the letter of the law and in a way where we can now follow the true spirit of the law which is the spirit of love, NOT the spirit of social justice. God set us free from the corruption that bound us to sin and death. Now we can do the good we could not do before. Now we can walk in his ways, work with our hands, enjoy the fruits of our labor, give freely, and not fear the condemnation we deserve.
You see, God’s justice sets us free on the inside (heals us on the inside) so we can bring the outside (food, clothing, shelter) into conformity with his will. Focusing on the outside (social justice) without fixing the inside is tyranny, plain and simple. And no, there is no other word for it.
The other side of the coin is to recognize as long as we remain in unrepentant sin, social conditions will never improve. Rather, they will grow worse. Those who remain in unrepentant sin need to get what they deserve. It is only fair. What goes around should come around. But for those who are set free…
Let me be clear: forcing the unrepentant to do social justice is patently unjust. And those who have repented and belong to God in Jesus Christ should not have to be forced. In either case, the idea of “social justice” is a fool’s idea.
Thank God that God does not give us the justice (wrath) we deserve. And thank God he cares about us more deeply than just to fill our bellies (our outward needs). Thank God that far from justice being contrary to mercy, God’s justice IS the mercy of the cross by which we are all set free.