God Is Just

“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak!
   Hear, O earth, the words that I say!
Let my teaching fall on you like rain;
   let my speech settle like dew.
Let my words fall like rain on tender grass,
   like gentle showers on young plants.
I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
   how glorious is our God!
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect.
   Everything he does is just and fair.
He is a faithful God who does no wrong;
   how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:1–4 NLT)

Within the last thirty years, a legal movement known as restorative justice has been gradually gaining traction. Restorative justice is designed to provide a chance for healing and transformation for all parties involved: the perpetrator of the crime, the victim, and the community in which they live. It recognizes that the crimes that have been committed have not only broken the law but have also brought harm to people, relationships, and the community as a whole.

A lot of the more publicized implementations of restorative justice have taken place in school settings, often times outright replacing the typical model that entails school suspension. Many of the details of how it is implemented vary from one place to another, but all restorative justice models have a few things in common: If everyone involved agrees to it – the victims, the perpetrators, and the adjudicators – they gather to discuss what happened, how it could have been prevented, and what should be done to correct the wrong, followed by a dialogue to address the wrong and craft a plan to make things right for everyone, including how to prevent the offender from repeating their mistake in the future. In contrast to a punitive justice system that is concerned with the laws or rules that were broken, by whom, and what the offender deserves, restorative justice seeks to “engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships,” writes Carolyn Boyes-Watson, the founding director of the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University.

A 2007 study shows that for victims, restorative justice can provide a bit more agency in a situation that had previously left them feeling vulnerable, and for the perpetrators, they are less likely to reoffend compared to more traditional punishments. While restorative justice is not perfect, and it’s not designed to be used in all situations, it can have a profound, positive effect on everyone involved and can be a potent tool to promote shalom in our world.

Ultimately, shalom is at the center of God’s justice. His justice is not about punishment, but restoration. It is not about restitution, but healing. God is not interested in correcting one wrong with another, because that is not true justice. God’s justice is about making right what was wrong – restoring the broken shalom of relationships and broken shalom of our world.

Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission, writes in Just Courage, “God desires to shine a light into the dark places of injustices, and he does that through us. For those who take the Bible seriously there can be no doubt that God has given to us the work of justice in the world. Justice is not optional for Christians. It is central to God’s heart and thus critical to our relationship with God.”

Is your understanding of justice shaped by God’s heart to correct the wrongs of this world, or is it shaped by something more punitive? Spend time with the Holy Spirit, asking him to remind you of the times you’ve been upset by an injustice in our world, paying particular attention to what corrective action you thought needed taken. Was it designed to restore and rebuild, or was it more punitive? Whichever it may be, invite God to bend your heart ever more closely toward his so that your sense of what is just echoes his own.