Are Love and Justice Two Different Things?
By: Robert D Brinsmead
Re Funk’s comment: With Jesus, it was his message that was important, not his person. I remember a line from EGW who begins the description of Lucifer’s fall, “He introduced his subject, which was himself.” (Borrowed from Milton). Yet this is what Christian tradition does with Jesus – for example, Jesus’ long monologues in “John” are about himself. Paul Sheehan (The First Coming) has amazing reflection of Jesus going off to die, telling his group to forget about him as they got on with the mission of the kingdom teaching. So the message of Jesus was not about Jesus.
Western theological tradition puts justice in tension with love and mercy. In this theology, justice is so in opposition to love, because of human sin, that the only way they could be reconciled (“kiss each other” as it says in one Psalm) was through the cross. This was supposed to be the heart of the divine mystery of redemption – justice is upheld by the sentence not remitted but executed, but love upheld also by providing a divine-human Substitute to bear the full penalty of the law
My first breakthrough from this way of thinking – a breakthrough that led me to reject atonement theology – was my study of the OT word sadak. I can’t remember the name of the author just now, but it was a book called ‘The Meaning of Righteousness in Hebrew Scripture’ (or something like that). The author demonstrated quite clearly that the basic meaning of righteousness and justice was not what I had thought. I thought like Leon Morris, who in his theology of the Cross, related justice to Law. If you take a look at Strong’s Systematic Theology you will see that he too reflects the same thinking when he made the Justice of God, based on Law, as the starting point of his theological system. The main theologians of Western theology were lawyers – from Tertullian to Calvin – so Christian theology was a vast legally construed system of thinking, and I would add, not without some meritorious features. However, the book I referred to demonstrated that the OT sadak has the primary meaning of being true to a relationship. The righteous shows fidelity to the obligations of his relationships. This is true in the story of Judah and Tamar when Judah was forced to confess, “She is more righteous than I am.” It is true in the account of Job defending his justice not so much in legal terms of fidelity to Law as fidelity to all the obligations of his human relationships. There is no tension with mercy in this kind of justice, as can be demonstrated by numerous passages that link justice and mercy. These do not need to be reconciled, they did not stand in opposition to each other as Western theology says they did.
This was the kind of justice that Jesus was on about – it did not demand a sacrifice, but it required mercy. This was the justice exhibited in the Father’s embrace of the wastrel son. It was not conventional justice to be sure. It was God’s kind of justice. The justice of Jesus was a scandalous kind of justice. It’s a bit like it is said of quantum physics. If it does not offend your common sense, then you have not understood it.
Justice is not in tension with love. Love needs not to be balanced by justice. Love is justice and justice is love. This is why the person who loves his neighbour as himself is declared to have done the entire law. Another definition of righteousness/justice is “doing the right thing.” A man goes down to his house justified when it can be said that he has done the right thing. The one who has fulfilled his obligation to love his neighbour has done the right thing – he is just in every sense of the word. Love is like a rainbow of colours – in there is compassion, mercy, courage, fidelity, justice, freedom and everything else that comes under the umbrella of righteousness.