What is justice? How do we know if a thought, opinion or action is just? We hear calls for justice every day, but what is it? We hear people cry out against injustice, but what is that?
The issue of justice and injustice is being heard loud and often around the world, but do people really know what they want? Do people know what true justice would look like if they received it? Would people like what they received if they received true justice?
I think we might be surprised by the reality and identity of true justice, which is why we decided to present this new series. If you haven’t read the introduction, please read it here. I think it will help you understand why we’re looking into the subject of justice. Also, this series about God’s Justice is a companion to our series on God’s Judgment. If you haven ‘t yet read that series, you can start here. As of the publication of this study, we have 12 parts in the series on God’s Judgment. We also have eBooks from that series you can read here and here.
The Beginning of Justice
I find it helpful when trying to understand something to begin at the beginning. What is the beginning of justice? It’s obviously of great importance to people, so where did it begin?
Justice begins with God. Here’s how Moses explained it to the children of Israel:
For I proclaim the name of the Lord: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.Deuteronomy 32:3-4
What God thinks about justice and injustice is established in His eternal character. Moses wrote that God is great, perfect and all His ways are justice. He is a God of truth and without injustice. God is righteous and upright. All of these character qualities of God are eternal and will be forever true. There is not now nor ever will be a moment when God is not just in all His ways. We can depend on that to be true and everlasting.
That means God was just and true and without injustice when He created the world. God was perfect, righteous and upright when He created the first humans. Justice existed on earth from the beginning.
How did God reveal justice to our first parents? When He told them what He wanted them to do.
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.Genesis 1:28-29
Justice begins when the Just God commands. To disobey the command of the Just God is injustice. We see that clearly in God’s special command to Adam:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.Genesis 2:16-17
Was God just and right in commanding Adam not to eat fruit from a particular tree? Of course He was just and right. God is the Creator and has the right to command the humans He created. Whatever God commands is just and right because He is perfect and all His ways are justice. He is a God of truth and without injustice.
What we find in Genesis 1 and 2 is the beginning of justice and it is based on God’s command, His Word. Justice is not based in the opinions of human beings, no matter how good they may sound. All justice comes from the Just God in whom there is no injustice.
The Outcome of Justice
People often speak about the outcomes of justice as if true justice can be judged on the results that come from the opinions and actions of created beings. The original outcome of true justice was death — “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God told Adam that the outcome (result) of disobeying His command would be Adam’s death.
Death is more than separation from physical life. It is also separation from spiritual life and the God of life. Was God just and right in telling Adam that disobeying Him would lead to his physical and spiritual separation (death)? Of course He was. God is perfect and all His ways are just. He is a God of truth and without injustice.
I mentioned in the Introduction to this series that the human race has a fatal flaw. We see that flaw in Genesis 3 ..
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.Genesis 3:6-7
Our first parents committed an unrighteous act — they disobeyed God’s command. God is just and true and to disobey His command is injustice and wrong. We should get some clue to that from the name of the tree — the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What is good according to the context? Obeying God. What is evil according to the context? Disobeying God. Sounds simple enough, but the outcome of disobedience is complicated.
Our first parents knew they had messed up as soon as they both ate fruit from the forbidden tree. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” They quickly grabbed some fig leaves that were nearby and “made themselves coverings.” How Adam and Eve reacted to eating the forbidden fruit tells us something about the nature of justice and injustice. Whatever they did up until that moment was part of just living. They lived justly and rightly before God. They weren’t ashamed of being naked (Genesis 2:25) because they hadn’t done anything wrong. They were living in obedience to His command. All was right in their world. However, as soon as they both ate of the forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened they covered their nakedness. Why? “… they knew that they were naked.” Remember the name of the tree? It wasn’t just the tree of good and evil .. it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge of good and evil is a key to understanding justice and injustice.
Adam and Eve immediately came face to face with the outcome of knowing good and evil. They knew that God was good and what they had done was evil. They knew He was right and they were wrong and looked for a way to cover up what they had done.
So, how does a righteous, just God respond? This is important to understand because it goes to the heart of God’s justice and how it works. Three of God’s creatures discovered how God deals with injustice and what they learned passes through all of human history directly to us today.
We first have the serpent (Satan).
So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.’Genesis 3:14-15
Notice that in cursing the serpent we learn about something God already had planned. “I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” God was explaining a permanent and eternal correction to the problem Satan had caused. The correction would come through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.1 John 3:8
We’ll get into that in more depth as our series develops, but just know that God’s Son plays a significant role in God’s justice and how it works.
God then spoke to the woman.
To the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.’Genesis 3:16
God finished by talking directly to Adam, the first human God had commanded not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: ‘Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.Genesis 3:17-19
And there you have it: “Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” God told Adam he would “surely die” if he ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and returning to ground and turning back into dust is how He described the consequence of death. Why dust?
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.Genesis 2:7
Adam started as dust and would turn to dust. Why? Because the God who breathed the breath of life into Adam would take that breath away and the outcome of God’s justice would be Adam returning to the ground and turning back into dust.
Punishment and Promise
However, and this is an important however, even as God delivered judicial punishment to our first parents for disobeying His command, He also gave them a gracious promise. I say gracious because they didn’t deserve what He promised them.
God promised that the Seed of the woman would bruise (destroy) the head of the seed of the serpent, and the seed of the serpent would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman. We know that to be the first prophecy about the atoning death of God’s Son on the Cross.
God also did something else that was both just and loving, but before I tell you what that was let’s look at what I just said.
God did something that was both just and loving.
That’s another important aspect of God’s justice and how it works. Many people think it’s either/or .. justice or love. The fact is that God can be just and loving at the same time. That’s a tough one for many people to grasp about God because of how they view His justice and judgment. Here’s an example of how it works.
- God commanded Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on the penalty of death.
- Adam ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
- Adam’s eye were open and he and his wife grabbed some fig leaves to cover their nakedness.
- God’s justice demanded He punish our first parents and that they die.
- God’s justice made a way for our first parents and their descendants to live with God after they died.
- God demonstrated His justice and the promise of life by clothing Adam and Eve with tunics of animal skins.
- God demonstrated His justice and protection by removing Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden so they would not eat from the tree of life and be separated from God forever.
What we see in Genesis 3 is quite remarkable when we view the events through the lens of God’s justice. Remember what Moses wrote about God’s justice?
“A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”
That means everything God did in response to Adam and Eve’s disobedience was righteous and just. God’s justice includes other attributes of His character including love, mercy and grace. We’ll see all of those unfold as our study continues.
Even though God’s justice demanded Adam’s death, God wasn’t finished with him or his wife or the children who would come from their relationship as husband and wife. We’ll see how justice and injustice collide right out of the starting gate in the next part of our special study, God’s Justice: How It Works.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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