Posted: 7/28/17 at 11:45am. Column by Ed Jordan.
Let’s think about two misunderstood twins that influence our lives and society. These twins are Justice and Righteousness, and they are often mistaken for one another. Looked at subjectively, these two concepts might be twisted and distorted to be perceived as identical twins. But objectively, they are more like fraternal twins; they are closely related, but not identical. They do not mean the same thing.
In Isaiah 28:17 (NASB) God says: “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level; Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters will overflow the secret place” (of refuge). This passage’s context reveals that rather than accepting what God declared to be the truth, the people had preferred their own subjective fabrications.
In Isaiah 28:14-18, the people were told that they were building their lives on lies, therefore, God would send Jesus as the cornerstone who would become the perfect standard by which each succeeding brick (life) should be measured to see if it is true and aligned with lasting truth. In the life of Jesus, we have the criteria by which to measure our values, our lives, and true justice and righteousness.
Justice and righteousness are two misunderstood twins in the world today. We have hijacked the word “justice” and given it a very narrow, distorted, subjective human interpretation. In our society, justice has become associated with man-formulated buzzwords which emphasize feelings, societal correctness, perceived slights, or what is deemed to be “fair.” For example, practicing racism is a manifestation of injustice, and unfortunately, it isn’t the only one. Justice involves more than any one particular social or legal issue.
Biblical justice really means a society being governed by what God says is just: following the justice God established, which is embodied in the person and life of Jesus and which is to be applied objectively to all parts of life. Continuing our example, we should treat all people with the same value and dignity because it is part of God’s justice to do so, since he created and loves us all.
Man is loaded with biases and subjectivity. But justice must be objective, not subjective. Justice is a measuring stick where an inch is always an inch, no matter who is doing the measuring or who is being measured. That is why justice must be based upon God’s truth, not upon man’s opinions or feelings. God is beyond bias. It is God’s objective standards, given to us in the Bible, that determine what is just. Since Jesus is the embodiment of justice, then Jesus’ life is the pragmatic measuring stick for doing justice. From Jesus’ example, we see that while he applied justice, he also factored in love and mercy, and he never minimized or excused wrongdoing.
Today most people substitute fairness as a synonym for justice. However, fairness is always determined subjectively, so fairness is always on a sliding scale, usually determined by personal feelings. However, what is just is what God says is just, and doesn’t change based upon fickle fairness.
The other misunderstood twin is righteousness. Righteousness is doing what is right, in a right way and with a right attitude. Righteousness is a relational word. It points to a right relationship with God and with other people.
Righteousness is treating people right, which is encapsulated in Jesus’ so-called “Golden Rule” of treating others the way you would want others to treat you. So when I arbitrarily determine how others should treat me, that is fairness; but if I decide to treat others the way God tells me to treat others, then that is righteousness.
Justice and righteousness are objective values, defined and commanded by God. Man-generated ideals and fairness are sliding-scaled subjective values, which are determined and implemented by every person differently. While governments are a delegated authority to make and enforce laws, even governments are not immune from the responsibility to do this justly.
In Isaiah 28:16-17, God said that self-formulated ethics are prone to deception. When we build our lives on deception we will live precarious lives that can come crashing down. In contrast, God has given us Jesus as the perfect example upon which to build our lives, using his truth as our measuring guide to keep our lives straight and level.
Now, more than ever, we need God’s objective truth to delineate what is justice and to reveal what is righteousness (living in right relationship with God and with people). Is Jesus your objective measurement for building your life?