Everyone wants justice. The call for justice is widespread, but what is meant by the word is not clear. Most governments claim that there policies will advance justice, but they do not say what this means. For most people and politicians, justice seems to be an ideal state, in which everyone is happy and nothing should be changed, so everyone should be striving for justice.

The common view of justice as an ideal state seems to be drawn from Greek philosophy and Roman law. The Bible has a great deal of teaching about justice, but it describes something very different. In this article, I will examine the biblical concept of justice and describe how it applies in the modern world.

Definition of Justice

The concept of justice or being just is used in three different ways in the scriptures. The Hebrew word "tsedeq" and the Greek work dikaiosyne are often translated as justice, but there primary meaning is righteousness.

  1. Being just means doing what is right according to God's word. In the Old Testament the righteous/just man is the one who lives according to the standard of God's law. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in the eyes of God, because they observed the Lord's commandments blamelessly (Luke 1:6). Jesus raised the bar a little, and said that a higher standard of righteousness is required for those who follow him. His death fulfilled the requirements of justice and caused all who trust in him to be justified before God. (This sense of justice is a big topic that is well covered elsewhere).

  2. Justice is an attribute of God.

    Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne (Ps 97:2).

    Righteousness (tsedeq) and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    love and faithfulness go before you (Ps 89:14).

    God is just in the way that he rules over the universe. His governance will lead to perfect justice.

    For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging (mishpat) righteously (tsedeq) (Ps 9:4).

    The justice of God culminates in the final judgement. True and final justice will be administered to everyone.

    Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Tim 4:8).

  3. Justice is achieved through a process in which judges administer justice and correct injustice. The Hebrew word tsedeq (justice) is frequently used together with the word "mishpat" which means judgement, verdict or legal decision. For example God is frequently described as the one who judges justly. His judgements are always just. Mishpat (judgment) refers to a judicial process. It sometimes means a verdict or legal decision.

  4. Moses gave the following charge to the judges of Israel.

    Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge (mishpat) justly (tsedeq), whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien (Deut 1:16).
    Justice is administration of justice by the correct application of judicial process to the resolution of disputes. This aspect of justice will be the focus of this study.

Injustice

Judging justly means identifying injustices and correcting them. If no injustice has occurred, then there is no justice to be done. Therefore to understand justice, we must have a sound understanding of the nature of injustice. Injustice has the following characteristics:

  1. An event has occurred that creates the injustice. Justice deals with something that has happened in the past. The event that produced the injustice can be identified (justice is backward looking).

  2. A person or group of people have taken an action that harmed someone. Injustice is a characteristic of human actions. An animal cannot commit an injustice. For example a wandering bull may harm someone, but it has not committed and unjust action (the person who let it wander may have done something unjust). A natural event cannot be an injustice. An exploding volcano may cause terrible harm, but it is not an unjust event.

  3. The unjust action will have harmed a victim or group of victims. In the case of theft, they will have lost something that belonged to them. In the case of an assault, the victim may have injuries and lost some property. With murder, the victim is dead.

  4. An injustice has two parties. One that did the action that caused the harm and the other that was harmed by the action. The injustice is essentially a dispute between these two parties. If the person harmed is dead, the dispute may be with their family.

  5. The action that caused the harm must be contrary to the law. For Christians, the standard is God's law. An unjust act is one that is forbidden by the law. God's law forbids theft, so stealing is an unjust action. An innocent action that does harm is not unjust. If the wheel flies off my car and hurts someone that is not an unjust action, unless I have been careless about my maintenance. Justice does not attempt to remedy accidents (although compassion might).

  6. Injustice is different from sin. All injustices are sinful, but not all sins are unjust or unlawful. Stealing is a sin that results in an unjust situation, because someone ends up with less than they should have. The thief gets more things than they should. Coveting is a sin, but it is not an unjust act. Pride is a sin, but being proud is not an injustice. Covetousness and pride cannot be dealt with by justice. However, pride and coveting can lead to actions that harm other people. Their consequences can be dealt with by justice, if they are contrary to the law.

  7. Injustice often involves a dispute about the facts of what happened. The person accused of unjust behaviour may deny that they were involved in the incident. They may deny that their action was unjust. The victim may have a different view of what happened.

Judges and Law

Justice deals with injustice. Law and judges are essential for the functioning of justice.

  1. Judges are essential to justice. Their role is to decide whether an injustice has occurred and what the remedy should be. Justice requires judging.

  2. Justice needs law. Judges decide whether an action was unjust by assessing it against the law. The people also need clear laws. The want to know before they act, whether the action they are intending to take is unjust or not. Laws provide a way for them to know in advance what actions are unjust, so they can be avoided.

Judicial Process

The judicial process has two phases:

  1. Declaration of Truth;
  2. Remedial Action.

Both are essential for the administration of justice.

1. Declaration of the Truth

The first step is for the judge to discover the truth about the incident that occurred. This may require a process of investigation and include the hearing of witnesses. This process concludes with a declaration. The judge declares the truth about what happened.

Declarations of truth reflect the judgment of the judge about what happen. Human judges are not perfect, so their judgements will not always be correct. Only God has perfect knowledge, so only his judgments are always true.

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments (Rev 19:1-2).

God's justice always gets to the truth. Human judges aim for the truth, but they will sometimes fall short. The best protection against judges missing the truth is to have a good process of appeal.

The ruling of the judge includes a judgement about the truth of the claims of the victim. If the victim's case is proved to be true, they are vindicated. One meaning of the Hebrew word "tsedeq" is vindication. When justice is done, the victim of the injustice is vindicated. Their claim about the situation they found themselves in upheld.

The other side of the judgement is a declaration about the actions of the person accused. On the other hand, if the claims of the accuser are upheld, the guilty party is convicted of committing and injustice. If they are declared to be innocent, they are vindicated.

The role of the judge is to assess and event and make a judgement about what happened. Therefore, judges must pursue the truth without fear or favour to anyone.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly (Lev 19:15).

A judge who refuses to accept the truth, because he favours one of the parties to the case is dangerous.

2. Remedial Action

The second part of the judicial process is action to remedy the injustice. The action should restore, as far as is possible, the situation of the victim to what it would have been if the injustice had not occurred. The judge will decide how the injustice can be "put right".

In the case of stealing, the thief will be required to make restitution to the person they have stolen from.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep..A thief must certainly make restitution (Ex 20:1,3).

Financial restitution allows the victim to replace the things that were stolen. It will also compensate them for other losses while they were without their goods. Expenses incurred in bringing the person before the court will also be covered by the restitution. On the other hand, the action of the court will make the person who committed the crime worse off.

Where the injustice resulted in physical injury, it may not be possible to fully restore the victim to the situation they were in before the incident. The injury may result in permanent scarring or disability. In this case, restitution will cover the cost of their healthcare and compensate them for their loss. If the disability affects the victim's ability to earn, the restitution should compensate them for their loss of future income. If the victim is dead, the restitution should go towards supporting their family.

Solomon's Wisdom

When King Solomon's settled the dispute over a live baby between two prostitutes, he provides a good example of this judicial process (1 Kings 3:16-28). The king first identified the mother of the baby. He used real wisdom to get to the truth. His declaration of the truth vindicated the mother and condemned the other woman. His second action was to restore the baby to its mother. This remedial action corrected the injustice that had been done.

When all Israel heard the verdict (mishpat) the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice (mishpat) (1 Kings 3:28).

Saul and the Gibeonites

Justice looks backwards to assess actions and remedy injustices that occurred in the past. Sometimes they will need to look a long way back. An example is Saul's treatment of the Gibeonites. When Joshua was leading the people of Israel into the promised land, the Gibeonites tricked the elders of Israel into making a peace treaty by pretending to have come from a distant land (Jos 9).

Two hundred years later, when David was king, there were three years of severe drought. The Lord told David that this happened, because his predecessor Saul had violated the treaty of Joshua by trying to annihilate the Gibeonites (2 Sam 21). David followed the correct judicial process. He met with the Gibeonites and established the truth of what happened. David made restitution by allowing seven of Saul's descendants to be put to death. God then heard David's prayers and the drought came to an end.

David's decision indicates that the size of the restitution will vary according to the time that has elapsed since the injustice occurred. This is especially important, if several generations have passed. It is not possible to exactly restore a situation, several hundred years after an injustice has occurred. The reason is that the effects of injustice dissipate over time. The situation of those who suffered will have changed depending on other events that have occurred.

On the other side, by the time four or five generations have passed, the person who did an injustice will have dozens of descendants. The benefits will have been diluted, as they are spread among many people. Many of those who benefited from the injustice will have already suffered through other circumstances. It is not possible to turn back the clock and make things exactly as they were at the time. Restitution several generations after the event will often be more symbolic than total.

Lack of Justice

The prophets of the Old Testament were often concerned about the lack of justice in Israel. They were not complaining about inequality of incomes, but were upset about the break down of correct judicial processes. Many victims of injustice were unable to obtain justice.

Understanding the nature of the judicial process helps us to understand the reasons for lack of justice. There can be four reasons why people might be unable to obtain justice:

  1. Inadequate judges
  2. Bad Law
  3. Judgments not Enforced
  4. Criminal Kings and Rulers

1. Bad Judges

Inadequate judges are a common cause of lack of justice. The example of Solomon shows that judges need wisdom. If judges lack wisdom, they will often make bad judges. The situation becomes worse, if judges are dishonest or corrupt. The poor and the weak will be unable to obtain justice, because the judges will frequently ignore the facts and decide in favour of those with money and power.

Jeremiah laments a situation where the judges just look after their own interests.

Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
look around and consider,

search through her squares.
If you can find but one person
who deals honestly and seeks the truth.
Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful
and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it,
they do not defend the rights of the poor (Jer 51:27,28).

Zephaniah describes a situation where judges are like wolves.

Her princes in her midst are roaring lions;
Her judges are evening wolves
That leave not a bone till morning (Zeph 3:3).

This is still the situations in many parts of the world. Judges look after their mates among the rich and powerful. The poor and weak do not have a chance. God hates this failure of justice.

These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this," declares the LORD (Zech 8:16).

2. Bad Laws

Justice can only be as good as the laws that judgements are made against. Bad laws will usually be stacked in favour of the rich and powerful. These laws will work against the poor and the weak.

God's law is best. It is holy, just and good (Rom 7:12). The best justice will be in accordance with God's law. The prophets railed against those who ignore God's law and applied bad laws.

But my people do not know
the requirements of the LORD.
How can you say, "We are wise,
for we have the law of the LORD,"
when actually the lying pen of the scribes
has handled it falsely? (Jer 8:7,8).
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter (Is 5:20).

Many modern Christians have a serious problem. They believe in justice, but they have no standard of justice, because they hate God's law. This leaves them in a situation where they have no choice but to push for humanistic standards of justice.

3. Judgment not Enforced

The two previous reasons result in truth not being declared. This reason prevents remedial action. If judges are unable to enforce their judgements, justice has failed. Declaring a righteous judgement is only half justice. If remedial action does not take place, the victim has not received justice.

Justice must be supported by the entire community. If the people do not support them, judges will lack authority and their decisions will not be implemented. Justice must be seen to be done, and justice must be done.

4. Kings and Governments

When kings and government behave in unjust ways, justice is very difficult to obtain, even if judges are honest. The main reason why justice is inadequate in many parts of the world is that rulers and government are unjust. Unjust rulers will not allow true justice to function, because their own behaviour would be exposed.

Justice can be Impossible

In many situations, achieving justice will be impossible. If judges are unjust and or the government is not interested in providing justice, it may be possible to obtain justice. This was probably the case on the Jericho road. For the ordinary people in Jesus time, justice was a rare commodity. The Jewish leaders were to busy protecting their privileges and positions to be interested in justice.

The Romans did not care. For them, a band of thieves was just a normal part of life. As long as they did not attack the Roman authority, they could be ignored. The Romans had no interest in providing justice for the injured man. Although the injured man was entitled to justice, he would be unlikely to ever get it.

In many countries, poor people simply do not have access to justice. Judges always decide in favour of the rich and powerful. Christian should attempt to help these victims of injustice to receive justice by providing legal support or publicising their cause. Sometimes this will succeed, but often it will fail. Wherever justice fails, mercy should be waiting at the door. Evil governments often resist justice, but mercy is harder to defeat than justice.

Persistence can sometime persuade and unjust judge to do the right thing (Luke 18:1-5). In an evil world, even persistence will fail to achieve justice. That does not mean that we will never get justice. God has promised that we will all get justice when we stand before him. That is our hope.

God has also promised that he will bring down unjust rulers.
The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.
The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright
But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken (Psalm 37:12-15)

This is a common theme in the book of Psalms. The unjust rulers and judges will eventually be swept away. That is also our hope. Vindication may not happen immediately, but God has promised that Justice will eventually triumph.

Justice and Mercy

Christians have two different motivations for action. Some situations require justice, whereas other situations require mercy. We must be able to distinguish between justice and mercy, as calling for justice when mercy is required creates confusion.

Mercy is motivated by love or compassion. It responds to the perceived need without worrying about the cause. Mercy does not wait for the declaration of truth about the cause, but goes strait to remedial action (Luke 10:37).

Mercy gives without asking too many questions and imposing to many requirements. It is happy for the recipients to give account to God for how they use the gifts they have received.

Mercy will sometimes be ripped off, but that does not matter because our blessing comes from giving, not from the righteousness of those who receive. Jesus was ripped off many times, so we should not be surprised that we experience the same.

Mercy helps people who have been messed up their own lives by poor economic stewardship. Mercy must triumph over judgement, so being merciful is more important than identifying bludgers.

Justice has a judicial context. It corrects injustice. An injustice occurs when a person or group of people are harmed as consequence of someone breaking one of God's laws. For example, if someone steals my car an injustice has be done. The biblical solution to that injustice is for the thief to make restitution to their victim. Justice requires that restitution takes place.

In the same way, if multinational company takes native lands without payment or permission, a theft has occurred. This crime breaks God's law, so this is an injustice. Justice can only be achieved by the restitution of the land or equivalent financial compensation. Christians should be calling for justice in every situation where an injustice has occurred.

There are many other situations where a person or group of people is in dire straits, but the problem is not caused by injustice. Sometimes people end up in bad circumstances through the struggles of life. They may have made some mistakes or experienced an accident, but no injustice has occurred. These situations require compassion and mercy, not justice. There is no injustice to put right, because none of God's laws has been broken. However, there is plenty of room for mercy, because suffering is everywhere.

If I have plenty of income and my neighbour down the road lives in poverty, an observer can say that they do not like that situation, but they cannot assume that I am unjust. My neighbour's poverty is unlikely to be the result of my injustice. They cannot say that the situation is unjust, because only human actions can be unjust. What the observer can say is that I am lacking in compassion, and that is a sin. Christians should always be full of mercy.

Dealing with Poverty

When we see people in a bad situation, the first step to resolving the problem is to decide whether justice or mercy is required. We should examine the situation to find out if an injustice has occurred. Injustice is always accompanied by two things. Firstly, one of God's laws will have been broken. Usually something will have been stolen from the person who is in trouble. Secondly, a person or group of people will have the committed and unjust action. We must be able to identify the action that caused the injustice.

Sometimes the injustice will have occurred in the past. A person might be poor, because their grandparent had their land stolen. If an injustice has occurred, justice requires that the situation be rectified.

If no law has been broken and no unjust action can be identified, then no injustice has occurred. If there is no injustice, then justice is not the solution. However, the fact that a problem was not the result of an injustice does not mean that a Christian can turn and walk by on the other side. Christians are required to show mercy and compassion to those in need.

Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1John 3:16,17).

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy (Matt 5:7).

People sometimes get into trouble through bad choices. Sometimes people make good choices, but things still go wrong. In these situations, justice does not provide a solution. Mercy provides assistance wherever there is need.

Justice is important, but mercy is even more important. There are many serious injustices, but most of the problems in the world are not the result of injustice, so they cannot be remedied by justice. They will only be remedied by mercy. Justice will improve the world, but only mercy can make it a better place. This world needs more mercy, but we will not encourage mercy by calling it justice.

Confusing Justice and Mercy

Some Christians try to categorise all poverty as injustice, but this does not really help if injustice was not the cause. If the poverty was not the result of injustice, describing it as injustice is the same as calling good evil.

This distorted view of reality results in the poor being patronised as victims, who need a rich clever person to sort them out. This distorted justice is about making the rich feel better, so it decides what the poor need. Mercy empathises with the person who is poor. It does not tell them what they need or what to do, but finds out what they need. Mercy finds real and relevant solutions to their problems.

The reason why people want to make poverty an issue of justice is that they want to use force to eliminate poverty. The problem is that you cannot force people to have mercy or to show compassion. However, force can be used to remedy injustice. Therefore, turning poverty into injustice or social justice provides a justification for forcing the rich to assist the poor. The problem is that this approach usually produces more injustice in the name of relieving poverty.

Justice is important, but there real are limits to what justice can achieve for the poor. Justice only works where an injustice is the cause of poverty. Where unjust rulers and judges prevail, even justice cannot overcome injustice. Mercy will often be a better tool than justice. When justice is impossible, mercy can still triumph.

Shalom might be a better motivation and objective for those who are concerned about the poor. The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. It has a broad meaning that includes completeness, wholeness, health, peace, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony. We cannot have shalom while some people are extremely rich and others are extremely poor. On the other hand, we cannot use coercion to create Shalom.

Justice Takes Time

Justice is usually slow. Investigating the issues to determine if one of God's laws has been broken must be done carefully. Even if the victim knows who has perpetrated the injustice, they may not be easy to find. Bringing the unjust person to justice takes time, whereas the needs of the victim are immediate. The Christian approach is to show mercy immediately, and sort out the justice afterwards.

A good example is found in the story of the Good Samaritan. The injured man was a victim of evil actions. The thieves had stolen everything he had in his possession. They had assaulted him and possible had attempted to murder him. Justice would require the thieves to pay back what was stolen and compensate him for his injuries.

The Good Samaritan did not attempt to get justice by going to the nearest Roman military post and persuading them to catch the thieves and return the stolen money. Even if this were successful, the injured man would most likely be dead, before justice was done. Justice always takes time, and real needs usually cannot wait for justice.

Mercy takes immediate action. The Good Samaritan bound up the injured mans wounds and took him to an Inn and paid for his care. Justice takes time, but mercy does not wait.

Justice and Land

A major cause of poverty is the loss of land through injustice. In many parts of the third world, indigenous people have lost control of their land. When the colonial nations took control, much of the land was confiscated. This confiscated land then passed into the hands of new immigrants. In some cases, much of this land is now held by large foreign-owned corporations. For people living in a subsistence economy, loss of land is a serious loss, because if they cannot grow food, they often cannot survive. Often their land was their only asset, so without land their future is grim.

Confiscating land is an injustice.

Do not move your neighbor's boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess (Deut 19:14).

The situation is even worse when this practice is supported by the government of the nation.

Judah's leaders are like those
who move boundary stones.
I will pour out my wrath on them
like a flood of water (Hos 5:10).

Most land confiscation in the colonial area was conducted or encouraged by the colonising governments. The fact that these injustices occurred several generations back does not change the situation. An injustice occurred, so it must be put right. This is an issue that Christians where Christians should give a lead.

In dealing with these issues, we must also take account of the fact that the current owners of the land may have acted in good faith. They may have paid the full market price for their land. They are not necessarily the ones who committed the injustice, so the problem should not be resolved confiscating their land. The challenge is to remedy the injustices that were done during various colonial land grabs, without creating further injustices. If the injustice was condoned by the rulers, they should fund most of the restitution. Resolving land issues will require judges with the wisdom of Solomon.

Justice and Equity

The Hebrew word "tsedeq" is sometimes translated as equity. This is a little misleading as it can be taken to mean that justice produces a state of equity, in which everyone is equal. That is not correct. Biblical references to equity refer to the judicial process. Equity means that legal system gives all people equal access to justice. The law should treat all people the same, regardless of race, income or relationship with the judges. The following verses describe what it means to judge with equity.

Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Deut 16:19-20).

Bribes tend to pervert justice and undermine equity. The decisions of judges must be governed by the standard of God's justice.

Popular opinion can undermine justice.

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd (Ex 23:2).

Judges and witnesses must be careful to ignore public opinion. Good judges will ignore what the people think or want and decide what is right. Pilate failed to provide equity to Jesus, because he was swayed by public opinion.

Aliens and minority races should receive the same justice as everyone else.

You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God (Lev 24:22).

The Hebrew word "meshar" is sometimes translated as "equity". Its basic meaning is evenness. When referring to human behaviour, it means uprightness. "Meshar" is not used in conjunction with human judging, but is mostly used in the Psalms to describe the way that God administers justice.

He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity (Ps 98:9)

That does not mean that we all receive the same outcome, but that all people receive the same access to his justice (Ps 17:8; 99:4).

Great and Poor

The following is an interesting command.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly (Lev 19:15).

Everyone agrees that rich and powerful people should not be allowed to pervert justice. The worst injustices occur when wicked rulers use their power to ride roughshod over the innocent. However, the commandment also says that justice should not favour the poor. The fact that a person is poor does not mean that they are innocent. Both rich and poor have the potential to do evil. True justice seeks the truth regardless of whether the person accused is rich or poor.

The implication of this verse is that we should be careful about using justice as an instrument to eliminate poverty. Justice can only benefit the poor, if an injustice has been done, and the perpetrator of the injustice can be identified. Otherwise one injustice is replaced with another. Using the process of injustice as a tool against poverty becomes an instrument of injustice, if it goes beyond remedying injustice.

Justice and Equality

The modern practice is to equate justice with equality. Modern people just assume that justice will result in equal outcomes for everyone. This is not true. True justice results in different outcomes. The unrighteous person is exposed and forced to make restitution. The person suffering the injustice is vindicated and their situation is restored. Thus, true justice improves the situation of the righteous person and harms the situation of the person who committed the unjust act.

God is the perfect judge, but his the final judgment will not produce equality. The parables of talents and minas suggest that people will receive different rewards (Matt 25:14-30: Luke 19:11-26). The parable of the rich man and Lazarus show that true justice results in different outcomes (Luke 16:19-31).

Even those with faith in Jesus will receive different rewards.

But each one should be careful how he builds... If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor 3:10-15).

True justice produces just outcomes for all, not equal outcomes.

Equality and Mercy

The only place where equality of income is explicitly mentioned in New Testament is in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.

The context is not justice, but giving. God does care about inequality of incomes. He hates seeing some people living in plenty and others starving. His solution is not government backed redistribution programmes, but generous giving.

Inequality has a variety of causes. Injustice can cause of inequality of incomes. Where injustice is the problem, Christians should be passionate about restoring justice. However, perfect justice will not produce equality of income. Most inequality has other causes. It is not the result on injustice.

The normal workings of life result in equality. Some people choose to work harder than others. They gather far more than they need. Others are more talented. Some people have extremely innovative ideas that earn them large incomes. Other people prosper because they inherited wealth from thrifty parents. Sometimes good people make bad economic decisions that lead to poverty. Some do not gather enough. This is life. No injustice is involved.

Life produces inequality, but it does not have to stay that way. As the kingdom of God advances, poverty should disappear. God expects those who have plenty to be generous towards those who have less. While life pushes in the direction inequality, love and generosity should be pushing society Back towards equality.

Mercy is Free

No coercion is involved in generosity. Coercion cannot be used to reverse the effects of injustice, but it should not be used to reverse the consequences of life. Love and generosity must always be free. Paul constantly reminded the Corinthians about the need to be generous, but no once was forced to give.

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (2 Cor 9:6-8).

There should be no "compulsion", because God wants cheerful giving. His promise is that he will give us "all that we need", plus more. The more that abounds can be used to assist those in need.

Love and Justice

A modern tendency is to equate love and justice. This is not correct. Love fulfils the requirement of justice, but it is not the same as justice. Paul said,

The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:9-10).

Paul is saying that if we love one another, we will not covet or steal or murder. We cannot break the law if we are living in love. If we love one anther, we will fulfil all the requirements of the law. Love fulfils justice, it does not replace it.

Love does not eliminate the need for justice. In a sinful world, people will often choose not to love, so injustices will still occur. Love cannot undo injustice. Justice will always be needed to deal with injustice.

Justice will Triumph

God is a just. As his Kingdom grows, justice will increase.

The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed (Ps 103:6)

He will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope (Isaiah 42:4).

When his kingdom fills the earth, injustice will disappear. Evil governments and judges will be swept away. Godly judges will be raised up and God's justice will prevail.

Perfect Justice

Human justice is always limited. We will only receive perfect justice at the last judgment.

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).

At this court only reliable witnesses will get a chance to speak.

God will give to each person according to what he has done (Rom 2:6).

All the evidence will be brought forward.

Men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt 12:36).

Perfect process will be followed.

The Judge will have endless wisdom and perfect knowledge of law. He will have lived through all the trials of life on earth, so he will understand the temptations that we have faced. He will also be amazingly merciful.

The Father judges no one, but has trusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father (John 5:22,23).

Jesus will be the judge and he will provide perfect justice for every person. All the injustices that have been done on earth will be put right.

The outcome of this court's decisions will not be equality.

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).

The same is true of Christians.

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor 3:12-15).

Some Christians will receive a great reward, but others will be saved by the skin of their teeth. No one will complain, because they will have received perfect justice.