Is God’s justice best understood to punish or restore? The question is significant. How we view justice has a direct impact on how we do justice. Which is it? Is a Biblical view of justice best described as retributive or restorative?
God’s justice recognizes God is judge
Those who believe the Bible is about punishment lean heavily on God as judge. He is. Without question there is a judgment. We will all “give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” 1 Pet. 4:5. God’s holiness demands an account. He will set all things right. Failing to recognize this undermines justice. God is justice. Justice is tied to his character and God cannot abide sin. There must be a reckoning or the very notion of justice is a farce.
Vengeance is mine; I will repay…The Lord will judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Heb. 10:30-31
We start with a recognition that God is the perfect Judge. He will repay and set all things right. We should have a healthy fear of his holiness. But God is God and we are not. Judgment is His. We must remember how Jesus judges. He tells us in Matthew 25: 31-46 where all the nations are gathered before him and separated as sheep from goats.
Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
God’s Justice Restores
The overwhelming picture of justice in the Bible is restorative. More than 900 direct uses of the words for justice are used. The two most common Hebrew words are Mishpat and Tzedek. Mishpat conjures up the idea of a courtroom and balanced scales. The word means fairness and right judgment. The concept is always tied to making things fair for the widow, the fatherless, the alien and the poor. Tzedek means to right what is wrong and restore what is broken. The word can be translated as righteous because it is about rightness with God and rightness with neighbor. Loving God and loving neighbor.
From Genesis to Revelation God is seen as a restorative God. He rescues Israel from bondage and restores them in the land of promise. God rescues them from Babylon and restores them to their homeland. He rescues his people from sin by sending Jesus to die for us that we might be restored in relationship with him. “For God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” Jn. 3:17. That is God’s heart. He will judge, but he desires restoration. He wants the same from us.
How to do restorative justice
Last Saturday I was at City Light Church in Chicago leading training on how to have life-changing impact through legal ministry. This was a partnership with our friends at Together Chicago. We talked about the restorative work of justice which brings the hope of the gospel and the help of a lawyer to neighbors in need. Those present contrasted normal legal justice work which is transactional with gospel justice work which is transformational. They described restorative justice as a deeper concern for healing and shalom. They are correct.
Legal ministry uniquely allows us to enter into the lives of hurting neighbors to see them restored to healing and shalom. This takes a team. No one does justice alone. We role play characters, review a real case, and discuss the impact this no-cost, turn key, sustainable until the Lord returns, ministry can have.
Here’s how that works. A donor provides $5,000 to launch a new gospel justice center legal ministry. We manage the funds to pay for insurance, database, web site, banner, supplies, training, ongoing mentoring, and attendance at our annual Restore conference. Once open a site is sustained through small $30 client administrative fees. This one-time charge provides dignity for the client and allows us to continue to cover major operational cost – insurance, database, web site, and financial and program oversight. Ongoing support, national network and high impact for little time (4 hours once a month) and effort. Everyone should be involved in legal ministry – especially lawyers.
Learn more about God’s justice at Restore
Learn more from Restorative Justice experts and practitioners at Judson University on June 7-8. Inspirational speakers and informative workshops – including the opportunity to earn 3 CLE hours including an hour of ethics. Most of all meet pastors, church leaders, lawyers, and justice advocates who care about the gospel and justice.
Catch the early bird discount before April 15. Bring a group for further discount. If you are a volunteer in legal ministry we have a special rate for you. Visit our site to register and learn more.
How should we understand God’s justice? God is judge. He will punish. But his plan is to restore everything broken by sin. He desires relationship – not punishment. God is a God of grace. He invites us to join him in his great restorative work through justice. Legal ministry is one powerful vehicle for rescuing and restoring neighbors in need. Learn more and come to Restore.