The Gospel Coalition released a one minute video of John Piper speaking on justice and grace at a recent conference.
The enthusiasm about God’s grace is infectious, and I appreciate his encouragement to embrace that grace. His take on justice, on the other hand, is puzzling. I’m not sure what led him to say what he did but justice is a gospel-filled word and his use of it in that video is too narrow.*
God told his people Israel that in their courts, the basic rule was this:
Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20, emphasis added.)
God didn’t tell his people that everyone deserves God’s wrath so treat them accordingly. He said that everyone is to be treated fairly in court. This principle applies outside of court as well.
Justice Daily and Everywhere
The Bible does not define justice as meting out retribution according to a person’s faults. Rather, justice is found when God’s people do the right thing for those who are lost, orphaned, widowed, or poor.
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.
“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.” (Exodus 22:21-22, 25.)
God tells us to care for the sick and imprisoned as well.
I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:36, 40.)
After all, justice and mercy go together.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8.)
You can’t have justice without mercy, and achieving both requires humility as well. Justice is the pursuit of what is right. It is helping those who are weak, fighting for those who have been wronged, speaking against those who oppress their fellow women and men.
To be a follower of Jesus means to stand against injustice.
This is the justice Jesus said he fulfills.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
… Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke4:18-19, 21.)
Let’s not denigrate justice. Let’s celebrate this work as a sign of God’s mercy and grace that we can join with our Savior in helping those who are poor, blind, imprisoned and oppressed.
This is God’s justice.
*For those thinking Mr. Piper’s comments might be taken out of context, I’ve wondered the same. The Gospel Coalition (with which Mr. Piper is closely aligned) is the group that chose to publish that video excerpt to stand on its own, and that choice denigrates the pursuit of justice that many of God’s people are involved in.