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Divine Justice

“[L]et justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24 NIV)

This week I served jury duty in Superior Court for the first time. Here, cases range from civil suits asking for monetary damages to criminal trials accusing of rape or murder. In our orientation video, the judicial process was described as having “slow, deliberate movement,” and I couldn’t come up with a better description myself. The court staff and lawyers I saw were all honestly trying to make life easier for the jurors, but it was still a long, dull two days. (Naturally, had I been selected for a trial, I might have found the following days less boring…but no less deliberate.)

While I’m glad that I’m not regularly subjected to that system, I’m also glad that it exists. For all its flaws – and there is plenty of room for improvement – the system does its best to remove human error and emotion from its judgments. As I was thinking about the process, I started to realize why. Careful selection of jurors, protocols in court scrupulously observed, careful deliberation of the jury once evidence is presented, are all to make up for the one simple thing that people just can’t know: what’s really going on in someone else’s head.

“For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11a ESV) Who indeed? No one but God.

I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve. (Jeremiah 17:10 NIV)

For people, there are at least two sides to every story, and the courts try their best to land on the truth. But God doesn’t need any of our cautious movement; he could mete it all out now. Yet he does not, even though it means that evil might appear to be unchecked in the world. Human slowness is meant to ensure justice, but God’s unhurriedness is out of love. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [the day of judgment], as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

Over and over again, God declares that he is just. He is too holy not to punish sin – it literally cannot exist in his presence – but he knows who the real Enemy is, and it isn’t his children. Some of his judgment – depending on your theology, perhaps all of the judgment meant for all people, but certainly the punishment that was meant for the people who did or would believe in him – fell upon Jesus on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24). God bore his own punishment, in the person of Jesus, so that justice could be served and yet his children might live. I am thankful that he knows our hearts and minds and can issue perfect judgments, yet I am far more thankful that he much prefers to woo us toward accepting his unthinkable forgiveness.

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