Tag Archives: Justice

Let’s Get it Straight

The Burning Man festival prides itself on escaping the constrictions of rules and laws.  And yet, when they construct the enormous, fanciful structures, they pay strict attention to the laws of physics and safe engineering.  They have a committee to inspect all the vehicles of odd design to be certain they are safe.  Go out into the wilderness and indulge in all kinds of wild and crazy excess, but even out there, there are some laws you ignore to your own peril.

One of the metaphors in the Bible for those kinds of laws is a plumb line.  Builders know that if you don’t build walls perfectly plumb (straight up and down), eventually they will topple; your whole building will lie in ruins. Almost plumb doesn’t work.  Plumb means perfectly plumb.  Consider these verses from Isaiah:

  So this is what the Sovereign LORD says:  “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.
  I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line…  –  (Isaiah 28:16-17a)

If a nation or people wants their “house” to stand, they must build it plumb with justice and righteousness.  History has proved this repeatedly.  Therefore, what does the future hold for a country who complacently chooses leaders who are known for dishonesty and greed? 

It would be good for the people of that country to realign themselves with the “foundation stone” laid by God, Jesus Christ.  He is tested and true.  “The one who trusts (in Him) will never be dismayed (by the collapse of his or her “house.”).”


Someone asked me, “Do you have any hope for us?”  She knew I was blogging about the Bible and we had been talking about the recent spate of terrorist attacks.  World attention has been focused on the tragedy in France, but Boko Haram has slaughtered more than 10 times as many in Nigeria.  And, from all reports, there is more to come.  Does the Bible have any hope for us?

3000 years ago, King David poured out his heart in a Psalm:

“O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” (Psalm 7:1-2)

David’s prayer was not merely for his own situation:

“Arise, O Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high;” (Psalm 7:6-7)

The problem with all of human attempts to put down wickedness thus far, both diplomatic and military, is that we humans are imperfect.  Justice is relative for us.  We make decisions based on expediency. We play favorites.  Those imperfect decisions each breed more discontent and violence.  There will be no solution for terrorism without perfect justice.  But God has promised to establish His justice and rule the whole world “from on high.”

The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the One Who would bring this about:

” A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:1-4)

This prophecy about the coming Messiah, Jesus, is but one small sparkling drop of the hope the Bible has for us.  It would be mere wishful thinking if it were not for the fact that Jesus did come and fulfill the prophecies regarding His initial coming.  Even the one about His crucifixion and resurrection (see Isaiah 53).  Think about how unlikely it would be for any itinerant peasant in a tiny, conquered country, to be known and revered around the world, 2000 years later.  This, too, was foretold by the prophets.  And they also foretold His return to reign in justice.

When human strategies against wickedness fail, you need a Ruler from on high, Who plays no favorites, Who is not limited by mere appearances, but Who reigns with absolute, perfect justice.  Jesus is coming again.

So, like David, we pray, calling out to God for hope in a world filled with wickedness.  We say,

“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Pulling Weeds

Why would God allow evil to exist in His world?  Why wouldn’t He simply wipe out everyone who was evil?  Here’s a couple of questions to think about:

  1. In any war to eradicate evil, is it only the guilty who are injured or killed?
  2. If God were to wipe out everyone who had any evil impulses, would you survive?

” Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”” (Matthew 13:24-30)

God has created a unique environment called earth, a place where life is possible – even conscious life that thinks and chooses.  In His wisdom He allows that life to grow for now, even the “weeds,” the ones who choose evil. It is important to consider your own life and how you grow.  Are you wheat or weeds?  Most of us, if we are honest, will acknowledge some dandelions in among the daisies of our life.

That is why Jesus came.  He can fix that.  There is a time coming when that fix will make all the difference for you…

” Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43,)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Which God is the Real One?

Is God bipolar?   Can the same God be gracious and angry, forgiving and strict?  A comedian said, “My wife likes to play a game with me every morning: Guess what mood I’m in today?”  He said, “I always lose that game…”  Is God like that?  Does He flip back and forth between warmth and wrath?  Or, is the Old and New Testament written about two different Gods?

Mr. Bigelow taught math at my high school.  Best teacher I ever had.  He could draw a perfect isosceles triangle or circle behind his back without looking while keeping his attentive and steely gaze fixed on the whole classroom.  If you wanted to learn how math worked, there was very little that Old Man Bigelow would not do for you; he’d spend hours with you, making sure you saw how interesting and elegant the complexities of math could be.  But if you were in his class to disrupt it in any way…   watch out!  Same guy – two very different responses.  He was not bipolar; he was passionate to teach.

After God rescued the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, He gave them a choice:

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

Much of how God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament is due to those people repeatedly making the wrong choice.  The Old Testament is a record of how hopelessly rebellious we humans tend to be.  If you feel angry to read that, ready to argue and say that we are not rebellious and that God should not act like that, your attitude proves the point.  We are hopelessly rebellious; we tend to want to decide for ourselves what is right to do.  Inevitably, we make the wrong choices.

But God still reaches out for us, ready to forgive us and fix us.  But even the way in which He reaches out to us through Jesus may seem a bit bipolar.  That is because God’s character is a perfect mixture of love and justice.  In justice, He requires full punishment for our rebellion.  In love, He pays the penalty for our rebellion Himself!  He accepts the curse, to give us the blessing.   (For a fuller explanation, see: What’s Love (and Justice) Got to Do With It?)

If we refuse His offer to pay for our sin, we experience God’s wrath and justice.  But if we accept His gift and receive His forgiveness, the same God pours out His love and grace upon us.

What’s Love (and Justice) Got to do with It?

Why did you get so mad? The judge said the kid was a victim of “affluenza” – too much money and not enough parental discipline.  Sure, he killed four people and injured two others.  Sure, he was driving drunk. Sure it wasn’t his first offence.   But, hey, it’s not his fault because he was too wealthy to know better, right?  No jail time; just a residential treatment facility for the very privileged few…

What makes this outrageous is that justice was not served.  We are wired to seek justice.  Justice is good; injustice makes us deeply cranky.  Animals don’t seem to care about justice.  But humans have been designed by God to reflect His being.  You already know God is love.  But God is also Just.   Consider what He told Moses:

And he [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.   Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;…”  (Exodus 34:6-7a)

How can God be loving and forgiving, if He also must not leave the guilty unpunished?  Like a good parent, that’s how.   But these statements about God’s character become more puzzling when we consider that His justice is perfect.  Perfect  justice must equate punishment with the impact and consequence of the offence.  Pure justice demands a death penalty for causing  death.  Since sin causes spiritual death (God told Adam that on the day he disobeyed he would die), the just penalty for sin must be death.  Here’s the riddle:  How can God forgive us and love us, if first He has to kill us, to fulfill justice?

The solution to this riddle remained a mystery until 700 B.C., when Isaiah revealed how God would accomplish it.  He would send His “Son” to undergo the penalty required by perfect justice on our behalf.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus gave His life to pay our penalty.  He became the Solution to the riddle of God’s love and justice.  He went “all the way” to rescue us.  John explained that Jesus “came by water” (He identified with us in baptism) and “by blood” (He paid in death so that we could be reconciled with God).

I realize that this explanation may not fully satisfy.  We understand it somewhat, but wrestle with the idea of someone dying in our place.  If that describes how you feel, look back at “All the Way – Part 2” for more on that…

Christmas Promise

Here’s a word association test:  If I say “government,” what’s the first word you think of?  Ooooh, nasty…   but, truth be told, I feel the same way.  Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather live with our government in the USA, than, say under the rule of that psychopath in North Korea.  And let’s take Putin…   actually, let’s not.  But, even though our government is so much better, it still is broken.  We humans need governing, but we don’t do a very good job of it.

That’s what excites me about this Christmas prophecy from Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.   (Isaiah 9:6a)

Isn’t that just a figure of speech?  Nope.  Isaiah goes on to say,

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.  (Isaiah 9:7)

Obviously, this has not yet happened, so why should we believe it?  We can believe it because Isaiah accurately predicted the rise and fall of kingdoms in the Middle East – hundreds of years worth.  He nailed it.  Imagine accurately predicting what will happen in the Middle East next week!  It was because Isaiah and other prophets were so accurate that people were looking for the coming of Jesus when He was born and where He was born.  Nailed it again.  Not only that, Isaiah foretold Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  Obviously Isaiah had “inside information.”  He knew what he was talking about.

We can count on it when Isaiah says Jesus will return as “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  And that His government will be characterized by perfect righteousness and justice.  The world has never experienced a government like that.  But this Christmas promise says you can count on it.

My money is on Isaiah.  Which is  to say, I’ve bet my life on Jesus.  Merry Christmas!

No Pushover

Try to imagine what would happen if criminals were let off, in the hope that they would learn their lesson and straighten up.  How well do you suppose that would work?  “You better not steal, because if you do, we’ll haul you into court and pronounce you innocent!”  Dumb, right?   Dumb by human logic, but elegantly effective by God’s logic.

If you haven’t read it already, go back to the previous post (“Facing the Truth About Sin“).  John writes that when followers of Jesus sin and confess, God forgives them and purifies them.  But then he writes this:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. (1 John 2:1a)

God’s strategy to help you stop sinning is to reassure you that He will forgive you and fix you.  So you won’t miss the point, the rest of that verse says this:

But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1b)

How can that possibly work?  In human courts, leniency increases lawlessness.  But, there is a crucial difference:  In human leniency, nobody pays.  The underlying attitude is, “Oh, we’ll just pretend this didn’t happen.  You go home and try to behave…”   That’s not how it works in God’s court.   In God’s court, absolute justice is required, sin must be punished.  And Jesus pays.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 )

If you fully understand what verse 2 means, then you start to see why verse 1 would work.  When we understand how much it cost to forgive us with complete justice, we are less likely to do it again.

But there is another reason God’s system works.  Because Jesus has fully paid for our sin, when God purifies us (gives us a clean slate, so to speak) (1 John 1:9), He actually washes away the guilt.  Those who study addiction say that one of the most common triggers to compulsively repeating an addictive behavior is guilt.  For example, I’ve been told that people who are hopelessly in debt, wrestling with feeling guilty about it, commonly go out and buy a new car, hoping it will make them feel better.  The same pattern is observed in most addictions.  By paying for and taking on our guilt, Jesus breaks those chains.

The cross is the focal point of God’s Grace and His Truth.  In Truth you are guilty and justice demands a punishment; by Grace He forgives you and pays for you.

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

God truly forgives but He is no pushover.

Facing the Truth about Sin

There was no “Delete” key in the first century.  So, when John wrote: “and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 john 1:7b), he needed to clarify what he meant.  John knew people would read that and ask if he was claiming that followers of Jesus become sinless.  So he explained:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

There are people who claim to follow Christ and also claim to be sinless.  John says those folks are deceiving themselves.  More than that, he says  “the truth is not in [them].”  It’s important to understand that John is warning such people that they have not truly begun a relationship of faith with Jesus.  How can he be sure?  Jesus gives the Holy Spirit,  the “Spirit of Truth,” to everyone who truly believes and follows Him (John 14:17).  Jesus promised his followers, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  (John 16:13a).   Someone who is self-deceived about sin is almost certainly also self-deceived about his relationship with Jesus.

But those who have the Spirit of Truth, will experience His Truth as it pertains to their condition, whenever they sin.  They will be painfully aware that they have sinned again (and again)!

John reassures such people that, as we acknowledge our sin (confess, or agree with what the Spirit has shown us), God is faithful to forgive us.  “Faithful” means we can count on Him to do so.   God also is just.”  How can it be just for God to keep on forgiving us?  God forgives us with complete and perfect justice because “the blood of Jesus”  (v.7) has paid the full penalty for our sin.  Do you struggle to wrap your mind around that?  Me too.  But it is the truth.

And it gets better:  John says, God, Who faithfully forgives us with justice, then “purifies us from all unrighteousness.”   When you screw up and sin, don’t you feel dirty?  Don’t you feel as though you are smeared with a stain that you cannot wash away?  Despite how you feel, the truth is, God lovingly washes you clean.  He restores you and gives you a clean slate.  It is hard for us to feel clean, and yet, in truth, we are clean.  Amazing…

But, you may be wondering, how often can we expect God to keep doing that for us?  Look back to the quote above and see it for yourself:  He cleanses us from “all unrighteousness.”  The word, all, literally means “each and every one.”   More amazing…

The more the Spirit makes us aware of how often we sin, the more the message of God’s forgiveness, His justice and His washing seems.  Amazing and very, very humbling.  But true.

Will the Real Leader Please Stand Up?

Do you despair when you hear all The bickering that goes on in Washington? How do you suppose the upheaval in Egypt will turn out? Do you think the new leader in Iran will be better than Ahmedinijab (How do you spell his name? My spell checker converted it into something about getting a job at Denny’s)? When you consider all the unrest in the world are you ready for a perfect leader? Here’s a prediction about just that from Isaiah 11. He is prophesying about Jesus. When you read how Jesus’ leadership will be characterized one day, it sounds pretty good…

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
. (Isaiah 11:1-4)

Question is, with a leader like that, would you follow Him, would you cooperate?

The Gift

A friend told me of an elderly woman who spoke a brief but powerful message at his church.  She stood at the pulpit and said, “I would like to read a verse in the Bible you have probably never heard –  It’s John 3:16.”  Everyone laughed, since that verse is one of the most well known verses in Scripture.  Sunday school children can rattle it off by memory with lighting speed.   The people thought, “She’s joking; John 3:16 is the verse held up behind the goalposts, for heaven’s sake; of course we’ve heard it.”  Undeterred, the woman began to read: “For God so loved the world, that He gave…”  But at that point in her reading, her throat became constricted, there was a catch in her voice, and she had to stop to pull herself together.  She inhaled that jerky breath of intense sorrow.  Her eyes rimmed red.  She started again: “For God so loved the world that He….  (sob)…   that He gave…   (silent pause, clearing of throat)…  He gave His one and only Son…”   At that point she could not go on.  Her chest was heaving as she tried to take control of her emotions.  A tear snaked its way down her cheek.  She leaned over and fiercely glared at the text in the Bible, unsuccessfully willing herself to stop weeping.  And then, one by one, people in the congregation began to weep with her.  They began to “hear” this verse and to understand the profound generosity and the horrible cost represented by those simple words: “He gave His one and only Son.”  Soon the whole congregation was gripped by the shocking enormity  conveyed in that verse.  Tears flowed, noses were blown.   The old woman just waited.  And then, she closed her Bible and sat back down.  They had “heard” it.

How can God be loving and forgiving and at the same time be perfectly just?  How can He forgive our sins without also demanding the just punishment for them?  He gradually revealed to Isaiah what He would do to reconcile the apparent conflict between perfect love and perfect justice.  He told Isaiah:

“…For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6a)

The word, given, means given over.  Like a mother who stands by the bus and gives her son over to basic training.   In the marriage ceremony, the pastor asks, “Who gives this woman…”   The parents let go of their child and give her over.   Young women make the heroic choice to bear a child, and then, knowing their own inability to provide for that child, give him over for adoption.   Gifts, in the truest sense, have no strings.  They are given over, forever.  In giving His Son, God takes His hands off, removes His shield of protection.  He gives Jesus – to us.  

God gave Jesus over to whatever would happen to Him in this world.  You know what happened.  In that Gift, God accomplished love and justice.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)