Lately, I have been reading through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a tremendous book full of God’s righteous wrath against sin, and His remarkable covenant mercy. If you’ve never read through this work before you are missing out on a classic. Jeremiah’s discusses many subjects, but especially addresses why Jerusalem was destroyed. We are told that it came due to their idolatry and indifference towards God and their fellow man.
People often find it difficult to consider God’s righteous wrath against sin. But that may reveal a failure on our part, not God’s. Our world is not indifferent about evil. We live in a society that is perpetually concerned with justice and rooting out sins. Don’t believe me? Our world identifies for us very clearly who are the good guys and the bad guys. Victors and villains are regularly paraded before us as a warning. Should we question the goodness or badness of any character, we then are also painted with the brush of good or bad. Our duty is to be informed. We are not to question. You are to be seen, not heard.
However, I cannot help but ask the obvious question: what standard is being used to determine the goodness and badness of society? How do we come to identify what is good and bad? How do we know justice from injustice? How would we identify is someone was wrong in their conclusions? Though this question is addressing our contemporary moment there is a sense where there is nothing new about it.
Returning to Jeremiah, God commanded the prophet to see if Jerusalem was just or unjust. God commanded him saying, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.” (Jer. 5:1 ESV) More than a command to seek out a virtuous individual, our text here is an echo to Abraham’s pursuit of a righteous man through the streets of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-32). This is also a literary cue meant to lead the reader to realize how vile that city had become.
Jeremiah’s initial assessment was rather grim, “they do not know the way of the LORD, the justice of their God.” (Jeremiah 5:4 ESV) Note that Jeremiah treats “the way of the LORD” as the functional equivalent of God’s justice. The people could not claim ignorance, for God had hand-delivered to them His commandments. Even more, His Temple stood in their midst. Jeremiah eventually moved on to the leaders presuming them to be more virtuous than the common folk, but that too was a failed attempt. From top to the bottom no one sought out justice.
The sort of justice God was seeking was not to be defined by the people themselves. Popular opinion had no place in establishing the foundations of justice, only God’s character was allowed that privileged position. As this passage makes clear justice is described as living in accordance with “the way of the LORD.” True Justice is a reflection of the character of God. Consequently, there can be no justice apart from the triune God of the Bible.
Truly, we need to camp out on that idea. Justice can only be established under the words and commandments of God because they are reflections of His character. If not, justice becomes a wax nose, ever waning and adjusting with the tides of the historical moment we find ourselves in. Which becomes ironic as one moment of history seeks to judge another moment. But the sort of justice God demands from all of humanity is not the sort which exists as a servant to the ever-changing whims of men and women. The justice of God is in fact a standard by which we are to be judged in this life, and shall be judged when we all stand before His throne on that last Day.
With eternity in mind, how are you defining justice today? Is it by common consent? Is it by presently established, yet ever shifting norms? Is it doomed to shift from its every shifting foundation? We need something more than that. We need the very one who is Justice Himself.
Moses sang of God in this way, “For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 ESV) We must come to His words, that He might guide us and not the other way around. May God grant us the privilege to see in our times a great revival of souls longing for God’s Word. May it begin in our hearts, and in our families, and in our churches, and in our communities.