With Justice For All
Justice is something we all greatly desire. But have we thought also of how we might measure up against God's standard?
On Saturday, the United States Senate voted on the single impeachment article presented by the House of Representatives against former President Donald J. Trump. It resulted in acquittal.
Many Democrats accused those who voted to acquit of “checking their conscience at the door” and “focusing on reelection over truth and justice.” Many Republicans, conversely, called the entire proceeding “political theater” and “an attempt to further divide America for political gain.”
On Sunday, talk shows and newspaper editorials echoed similar talking points, presenting the second impeachment trial in similar terms as every previous impeachment trial. Panelists described the trial as “a miscarriage of justice, justice thwarted, justice denied,” or indicated that “justice is better pursued elsewhere.”
It reminds me of the frequent rallying cry of protests following perceived verdicts of injustice: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
As humans, including those serving in government, our desire and ability to pursue justice, much less offer justice is subjective. We allow personal feelings, ideologies, the desire for approval among our peers, and the cultural moment to affect our judgment. Those in elected office have the added pressure of polling data and party politics weighing upon their decision. It seems that while objective justice is imperative, it is also impossible.
As Christians, justice is at the center of our faith. In the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, Moses speaks to the people just rescued out of slavery in Egypt, a place where their opportunity to access justice was non-existent,
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:1-2,15)
Also included in this wonderful chapter is an applied recitation of the Ten Commandments and additional laws regarding the marketplace, foreign affairs, community life, family relationships, and piety. The Law of God, given to the people through Moses, was designed to set them apart as a people where true justice was on display before the nations.
Peter picks up this same language in writing to the Christians of Asia Minor, who also lacked political agency and were increasingly treated unjustly by those around them,
“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:16–19)
Two things stand out in this passage.
First, God “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.” While subjectivity plagues our ability to pursue and offer justice, objectivity is an unwavering character trait of God. Our Father offers us true justice unmoved by all that clouds our judgment. This is cause for rejoicing. It is also a cause for great concern.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
In the quest for justice, we must realize that true justice convicts us all. Before a holy God, we have all failed his command: “Be holy as I am holy.” True justice demands our death.
This brings us to the second part of Peter’s encouragement to the exiles,
“[Y]ou were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
The very justice that we deserve was inflicted upon Christ, the Son of God, the one by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created. The justice that we deserve because of our sins was placed upon “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
And so, as we continue to struggle for justice, grow frustrated at the inability to achieve justice, and long for justice, we must remember that true justice is at the heart of the gospel and offered to us in Jesus.
Rev. Michael Langer is the Associate Director for D.C. Ministry and the host of the Faithful Presence podcast.