There is an oft-spoken saying amongst conservative Christian circles: “God is love, but God is also just.” The point of this statement is to say God shows compassion, but His compassion does not negate the reality of consequences for actions and the need for Him to pass judgment in due time. While the point of the matter is true, the saying is very misleading and implies something altogether different due to only one word.
Which leads us to another word. Contrary: opposite in nature or character; diametrically or mutually opposed.
If we look at the statement using these definitions, we realize what it’s actually saying. “God is love, but He is also the opposite of love, which is just.”
What does “just” mean?
Can God ever be the opposite of love? God doesn’t only have the characteristic of loving, He is love. The very nature of love is God. It is an identity. Can He ever act in a way opposite of who He is?
Many times Christians will use this phrase as a way of explaining God’s acts of judgment while also including His nature of love. There is a problem though, because that little guy in the middle — but — seems to say love and justice are opposite.
A more accurate statement would be this: “God is love, and God is also just.” Now we have a begging question: Can love and justice hold hands in harmony?
Zooming out, take a look at Christianity in the big picture. What do we believe? God made man. Man sinned. Sin disturbed connection between God and man. God became a Man and took man’s sin upon Himself in order to restore relationship with man.
“The cross was true justice!” we say. It was Jesus paying for our sin. We couldn’t afford the payment, so Jesus paid it for us. Justice must be served. Right? The cross was the single greatest act of justice ever performed.
Or was it? What does justice mean?
Wait. “Deserved punishment.” Jesus deserved punishment? “No!” all would say.
No, of course not. Of course He didn’t deserve punishment. Of course we deserved that punishment. So, by very definition, the cross was the single most unjust act in all of humanity.
God died. Not only did He die, He died with sin on His soul. He died as sin and became it.
The most perfect being in all existence became the most vile sinner. He became every murderer, every rapist, every abuser, every act of pride, every act of greed, every act of selfishness, every act of disobedience. Jesus became it all in totality.
And we call that justice?
In 21st century American Christianity, we like our form of justice. The kind of justice that emphasizes wrongs being punished and screams out, “You will pay!!” This is not true justice according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, though.
True justice does not condemn, true justice becomes condemned.
True justice does not demand payment, true justice pays.
True justice does not require blood, true justice bleeds.
The truly just love mercy and are compassionate. They take the sins of the world around them, heap them onto their own head, and wail out to God, “Father! Forgive them! They do not know what they are doing!”
True justice understands it holds the power to bring forgiveness to the earth. To minister reconciliation among its inhabitants, and to break down the dividing wall of hostility.
The truly just one has no pride, no self-gain, no desire to see others enter the gates of hell. But instead, it takes the consequences of the prideful, it reaps the agony of empty self-ambition, and it storms the gates of hell fearlessly to set the captives free. True justice is true love. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
What does this mean for us?
The problem with our form of justice today is it wasn’t Jesus’. In order to walk in the way of the cross, we must stop shaking the finger and be okay with unfairness. Be okay with not having what we deserve.
Jesus got the opposite of what He deserved. And you think you shouldn’t? The cross was the single-most unjust act of all-time in order to bring forth true justice for all mankind.
Injustice brought justice. Dying birthed life. Deep darkness broke through to bursting light.
What, then, does this mean for us? It means the way to everything is the opposite of what the natural world tells us.
Therefore, we must lay down our picket signs and take up our crosses. We must stop denouncing the sinners we know, and instead enter into their presence and be light and love. Yes, even if it means we are misunderstood and thought to be cohorts with their sin. It’s okay. Jesus knows what it feels like.
We should get used to being misunderstood. And we should get used to being seen as a traitor, as unrighteous, as an all-inclusive, anything-goes Christian. This is Jesus.
“This is what the Lord Almighty said, ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’” (Zechariah 7:9, NIV)
With every cynical, exasperated Facebook post by a Christ-follower, another brick is laid upon the dividing wall of hostility. Until we as Christians begin to administer true justice with mercy and compassion, this wall between the church and the world will grow taller, thicker and more fortified.
Jesus didn’t wait for us to get our act together. He came and took care of the separation. Will you do the same?
Let’s Talk About It: How do you live justly in the midst of a world bent on hate?