Like most other people I took to social media to express my instantaneous reaction to the verdict of George Zimmerman last night. But my own opinions quickly faded as I scrolled and saw every imaginable emotion displayed. One thing that popped up over and over was the notion of God’s justice. “If they got the verdict wrong God will provide justice”, and “justice always prevails, just not always on this side” and “have faith that whatever the long term plan is, it will all be the way it was meant to be” were just a few of the comments I saw. Many Christians responded this way, with an overwhelming desire to believe in divine justice and it’s intervention in the situation, someday, in the hereafter. This idea that the Lord has a different justice system and doles out punishment led me down a rabbit hole: What is God’s plan for justice? Do Christians think there is some sort of system of punishment for sins in the afterlife? Beyond that of Heaven and hell? Do Christians understand what hell is and why someone might end up there? What does the Bible say about God’s justice? These questions kept me up all night. When I woke up from the little sleep I got these questions were my first thought. After hours of research and listening and reading and scriptures and commentaries and theology books big enough to be used as weights here are my thoughts on this concept of Hevenly justice.
Hell is a consequence of rejecting Christ’s offer of salvation. Hell is NOT a punishment for any individual sins or even sinfulness as a whole. No one goes to hell for murder or rape or stealing or gossip. And once a true and genuine decision of faith has been made no sin, past or future, no matter the gravity, negates salvation.*
I live in fear of Judgement Day. Not because I’m insecure in my salvation or because God doesn’t already know everything I’ve ever done, but because the Bible is pretty clear that I’m going to have to stand before the Lord and explain myself. Did you ever wrong someone, and they knew you did it, and you had to have a conversation with them about why, you had to confess? It’s one of the most excruciating feelings there is. To stand in front of someone you love and try to explain why you hurt them when there is no excuse. Imagine doing that in front of the Lord. In Matthew it says we’ll have to account for every idle word. I can hardly fathom having to explain to the Lord why I failed him when I called the driver who cut me off a douche bag or why I carelessly referred to someone derogatorily in company I knew had a similar opinion so wouldn’t judge me. I simply can’t wrap my mind around the difficulty of accounting for a murder or a rape or an action that left someone immeasurably changed for the worse, emotionally or physically. I’m not discounting what that will be like. But once that’s over, that’s it. You’re not ushered off to Heaven Jail or flogged. After that it comes down to a question of salvation as a do you stay or do you go moment. Once that meeting with the Lord is over, the earthly concept of justice we have fails to make an appearance. No one who leaves that moment and ends up in hell is there because of the sins they committed, rather a rejection of Christ they made.
God’s justice is different that what we know to be justice. In the bible (both in the Old and New Testament) justice and righteousness are the same word. In the New Testament that word is “dikaiosune” which defined literally means “the state of him who is as he ought to be” - i.e. perfect. This word and it’s use in the New Testament as both “justice” and “righteousness” confused even Martin Luther who said that he had difficulty understanding Paul at first because he didn’t understand what Paul meant in Romans 1:16 and 17, that the gospel (the story of Christ’s death and resurrection) revealed God’s justice. Dikaionsune was a word used in both Greek and Roman court systems that came to mean “adjustment to the standard of the law” - when someone was convicted of a crime they had to be adjusted to the standard imposed by law, they had to meet whatever requirement (punishment) the law demanded. When the convicted person met the penalty (a fine, imprisonment, death) justice was satisfied. So Martin Luther struggled to understand how justice could be revealed in Christ’s death. (Interesting side note, most Bible translations with Protestant roots translate dikaionsune as righteousness in this passage and most Catholic translations still use the word justice - dikaiosune translates to both words so neither is incorrect)
The wages of sin is death. This is inescapable. The requirement of the law for the offense of sin is death. That requirement has been paid, Christ died for our sins, for every sin. Justice, God’s justice, is satisfied. His righteousness, the state of being as it ought to be, perfect, even, balanced, is satisfied.
Where does this leave us? In grace. And if we accept the offering of that grace, in Heaven, with all the other people who accepted that gift of grace. And here is where my brain started to explode. The only condition of entrance into Heaven is the true and genuine acceptance of that gift. Grace wipes the slate clean. Which we really appreciate when it’s our own “moderate” sins (hey I tend to covet my neighbor's expensive car, but I’ve never killed anyone!). We sin but we don’t SIN. But grace is bigger than that, God’s justice is bigger than that, bigger than our meager understanding of it. Big enough to allow the worst of the worst into Heaven. Can you share your Heaven with murderers and rapists and pedophiles. Here and now and on this plane, how truly comfortable are you with grace? With God’s justice.
George Zimmerman, Casey Anothony, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or Joseph Kony or your neighbor who steals your paper every morning, if any of of them make a genuine statement of faith between today and the day they die, they are in. No Heaven Jail time, no scarlet A as they walk the streets of gold. We won’t even recognize them as anyone except another redeemed sinner who accepted the gift of justice satisfied. And not only do we need to be okay with that reality, we need to actively seek it, pray for it, intercess for it, with the same passion and desperation as we would for a beloved family member or friend.
I’m not as comfortable with grace as I thought I was. My human nature cries and begs for human justice if not carried out by man then carried out by God. I was heartbroken last night, for the lack of what I considered justice**, so much so that it was hard to sleep. But the Lord whispered to me “your ways are not my ways, my justice has been satisfied”.
Don’t misunderstand me, man’s law and our earthly justice system have authority and have a place. But when those systems fail God is not waiting in the wings with a Plan B to get the bad guy. His ways are not our ways, His justice is not our justice. And aren’t we just all so lucky for that. What sins have you never had to be held accountable to by man’s standards? Thankfully the penalty for those sins has already been met.
God’s justice is satisfied, even when our justice is not.
*There is an unpardonable sin, it is to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and is rooted in the pharisees attributing Jesus’ miracles to demonic forces. The heart of this unpardonable sin is the rejection of Christ, the rejection of the gift of grace.**Obviously this statement gives away my opinions on the George Zimmerman verdict, but please hear me when I say that is not what this post is about and it’s not something I’m interested in debating, especially not on the internet. If you’d like to have a calm rational conversation I’m into that, let’s do coffee.