I can’t believe it’s almost the weekend! Today’s devotional is all about justice: what it means, how it’s different from fairness, and why it’s so hard to truly understand. The definition of justice has become pretty twisted over the years. Let’s dive into 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 to find its real meaning!
I just finished my third (yearly!) reading of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I try to read it every year because it is one of those rare books that touches me in a special way. To Kill A Mockingbird has almost everything a reader could want: deep themes, relevant issues, and a touching writing style that will elicit both tears and laughter. (But, a quick warning for those of you who haven’t read it: it contains much more bad language than I would want – for me, however, the good far outweighs the bad).
However, what struck me this time around was its central theme of justice. We see a very plain struggle between true justice and twisted prejudices. As Atticus says, the court should be the great leveler – but it’s not. After an unjust court ruling, the town is hardly surprised. Blinded by their own prejudices, they think justice has been established. But the town’s children – Jem, Scout, and Dill – are shaken to the core. How could a court be so unjust? How could it be so blind to what was obvious?
Justice as told in 1 Corinthians
The answer to their innocent questions is the theme of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. In this part of his letter, Paul writes to the Corinthians that they should judge their own disputes instead of bringing them before a pagan court.
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?
He goes on to tell them that even men of “little account” in the church are capable of overseeing arguments!
I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this in front of unbelievers!
What is TRUE justice?
Paul obviously does NOT want believers to bring their problems to a secular court. Why? Well, it all comes back to the concept of justice. Justice is a term that many people use, but few people really stop to think about what it means. It is also used interchangeably with “equality” or “fairness” but is actually completely different from either of those terms.
Let’s start with defining equality or “fairness”. To be fair typically means to be equal. It is fair if you have the same wages as a coworker. Fairness does not include anything into the equation except what you see on the surface. That’s why little children will often cry “It’s not fair!!!”. In a sense, they are right. They see that on the surface things aren’t equal. What parents really mean when they say “it is fair!” is that it is just.
Justice takes into account everything – even things we can’t see. Justice judges the past and the present, the seen and the unseen, the inside and the outside, the prosecutor and the defendant. It may not seem fair to a child that he can’t buy a toy like his brother can, but in reality, it is very just because he is receiving a punishment for his unruly conduct earlier that day.
Why justice is a Christian concept
To sum up, “fair” is a term created by humans to describe their interpretation of justice – which is created by God only and is understood by God only. Here are a few verses to back this concept up:
Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.
Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.
Here are a few reasons why justice is something we can only understand if we seek God first.
1. God is the only one who can see the big picture
Remember the analogy about the child who wanted a toy? To him, it didn’t seem very just at all for him to be refused that toy. But to his parents, it was very just – for they remembered his conduct in the past and could review the whole picture. God is like that parent. There are many times when we act very much like that child – we try to look at our situation and think our lives aren’t “fair” or just. But can we really see what God sees? Ultimately, His view is so much bigger than ours. Life might not always be “fair”, but no matter what God will always be just.
2. God is the only one who can see inside men’s hearts
Not only can God see the past, present, and future, He also has a view into one of the most puzzling mysteries of nature: our hearts and souls. Human courts can not even learn what a convict is thinking, let alone his motive. We try to compensate by using lie detectors and the like – but we will never be able to see what God sees. If true justice takes in the whole picture, surely the heart is one of the most important parts of this picture. This reminds me of another novel centered around justice – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
In it, the convict Jean Valjean is hunted his entire life by a member of the french police, Javert. In a worldly sense, Javert is fulfilling justice. But, the reader surely wonders, is it really just? Jean had confessed his crime to God and was spending the rest of his life living for others – yet according to the law, he was guilty. This is a wonderful example of the shortcomings of our human efforts at justice. God alone can see inside hearts, and make a just decision.
3. God is the only one who can reconcile mercy and justice
This is one of the most confusing aspects of justice. Everything about God’s character is just, even His mercy and grace. How is that? Think about it like this: if God IS love, then it would follow that everything He does is loving, wouldn’t it? Likewise, if God IS justice, than everything He does is just. This important piece of the puzzle of justice – mercy – is a piece we might never understand. Yet, it is such a crucial part of God’s definition of justice. As Paul writes to the Corinthians,
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? … And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
-1 Corinthians 6: 9 & 11
Justice is a completely Christian concept because it is created only by God and understood only by God. Components such as an eternal perspective, a view inside men’s souls, and an understanding of mercy make justice nearly impossible to understand without a Christian perspective.
You might be wondering: so, how is there hope for US to understand it?
The first step is exactly what you are doing now: understanding that justice comes solely from its Creator. Our secular society may promise “social justice”, but it is obviously limited by their mortal perspective. Understanding that God is the beginning of true justice is one of the most important steps.
The second step is to ask God for justice. Throughout the Bible, Christ promises that if we ask in faith, we will receive. That is why Paul can confidently say this:
Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church.
-1 Corinthians 6:4
As Christians, we have the confidence to know that God will give us the just perspective to make wise decisions. Don’t be deceived by the world in thinking that only secular, well educated judges can provide justice. You have the mind of Christ! Only the Spirit of God – who is in you – can ultimately understand the full implications of justice. Don’t forget that God is the author of true justice!
What is your definition of justice? How do you see “fairness” vs. justice played out in society?