If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby— if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt.
“Justice”, like all abstract concepts, means different things to different people. Some people say that justice is “leveling the playing field” and others say that it’s making criminals feel the same pain as their victims. However, for those who have sworn allegiance to the God of Abraham, true justice can only be defined by the character and will of God as revealed through the Bible.
A thorough study of the Scriptures will reveal some defining characteristics of justice:
- Its main purpose is the restoration and maintenance of relationships.
- It does not favor one person over another based on wealth, sex, or social connections.
- It is structured and orderly. No person can be convicted of a crime without a public trial including witnesses, testimony, and impartial judges.
- To whom God has given much, much will be expected.
- It values forgiveness and mercy over strict prosecution. Sometimes the goals of justice can be advanced more by forgiveness than by conviction.
God’s justice is essentially synonymous with obedience to God’s Law. If we guard and follow his instructions, then our relationships with him and each other will be strengthened. Justice doesn’t equate to what we think of as law and order, although, properly carried out, it ought to result in a well ordered society. It’s more about keeping things in balance and setting it right when it gets out of kilter.
Ideally, our civil laws would be in perfect alignment with God’s Law, but there has never been a government of men to achieve that level of perfection. From the President to the local constable, every position of authority is occupied by seriously flawed people. Until Yeshua is enthroned in Jerusalem, the best we can hope for from government is an approximation of justice.
We will never catch and convict every criminal, restore every broken home, or even know the truth of every matter. We will never even agree on how to apply God’s instructions in many (most?) cases. So rather than trying to perfect a world that can’t be perfected by human power, we have to find compromises that discourage and correct obvious crimes while allowing people to carry on their lives according to their own consciences. Some injustices must be tolerated by the law in order to ensure that liberty and some injustices are beyond the jurisdiction of men.
When we replace God’s standards of justice with our own or we try to right every wrong and force everyone to behave, the end result is the multiplication of that which we sought to oppose: injustice. Oppressive regulations that go far beyond anything God authorized, absurd and useless restrictions, and the criminalization of normal human behavior that doesn’t directly harm anyone.
Prison is a perfect example of man second-guessing God.
If one person steals from another, we lock him as punishment. So that we feel better about kenneling a fellow human being, we often refer to prisons as “correctional facilities.” We’re not putting people in cages; we’re fixing them, helping them to be more productive, happy citizens.
We’re morons. Prison does no such thing. Prison is a short-sighted, feebleminded idea. Debtor’s prison is worse. We’re treating people like irresponsible animals and then expecting them to behave like humans when we let them go again. We’re morons, because we seem to be continually surprised that this doesn’t work. It’s almost as if locking all the offenders up together doesn’t teach them how to live in normal, peaceful society. Who could have predicted that? (Sarcasm!)
God’s Law never prescribes prison for anyone. True justice requires thieves, embezzlers, con-men and the like to restore what they stole plus damages. If they are unable to pay, then they are to work off their debt, in slavery if necessary. According to God’s instructions on justice, murderers and adulterers (true adulterers according to God’s definitions, not man’s) are to be executed, not housed and fed for life. In God’s justice, families and friends, not judges and federal agents, deal with addictions. Addicts are their own punishment and God doesn’t authorize any interference by government until they commit an actual crime against another person.
God’s justice–the only true justice–is more concerned with protection of the innocent, restitution for harm, and rehabilitation of the penitent than with punishment or vengeance. We can’t expect perfection from civil governments, but the closer our laws align with God’s, the closer to perfection they will be.