What is Justice?

By:  Robert D Brinsmead

If you ask the OT  what is the central attribute of God and the height of moral excellence, the clear answer is justice. “The Lord is Sadak.”  Job is said to be SADAK.  Job 31 in my estimation is the most moving passage ever written to show what a just man is really like.  You would hardly be human if  reading this literary classic did not bring a tear to your eye. This very moving all-time classic in Job 31, this message of moral excellence , is right up there with the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians 13, and I find it the most poignant of all.

In my earlier years when I was heavily biased to think that righteousness or justice was defined in terms of conformity to law, a theology that was centred in a judicial payment/penalty for sin through the blood atonement of the cross made sense to me.  It certainly seemed to vindicate the rule of law, including the Reformation theology of the three uses of the law ( which I now regard as nonsense).  It was early in the 1980’s that I undertook a more careful study of the meaning of righteousness/justice in the OT. I found that rather than its primary meaning being conformity to the law, its primary meaning was loyalty/faithfulness to a relationship.  Life is about relationships – to children, parents, community, neighbours, husbands, wives, etc. Business and trade too is about relationships.  Each relationship comes with obligations, commitments, and responsibilities.  The just man is said to be a man that swears to his own hurt, yet changes not. Some relationships by their very nature are supposed to be unconditional – like a parent/child, husband/wife, and of course the fatherhood of God/brotherhood of man relationship.  God is said to be just because God remains loyal, true and faithful to God’s covenant with us. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful.” “Great is Thy faithfulness.” “Yea, they mothers may forget, but I will not forget you.”  The other word for remaining true to the obligations of a relationship is love.

We are not told to love our neighbour and hate ourselves.  Loving yourself is being human and that means seeking to be the best that you can possibly be, whether that is playing ball, singing to entertain, or wealth creation/making money.  What do think gave Steve Job the greatest satisfaction – making heaps of money or coming up with creative technologies that people could use?  Anyhow, being human does not exclude this, but enjoins that we love our neighbour as we love ourselves.  It is not either or, but both, and. If you neglect self-interest you ultimately neglect your neighbour; if you neglect your neighbour, you ultimately neglect yourself.

Don’t try to resolve the tension of the paradox, for as a great German thinker once said, “Extreme views have this advantage – they are remarkably consistent.”