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Escaping Justice

The longer I live and the longer I walk through this Christian life, the more I come to understand what a gift it is to see the world through a Christian lens—through a Christian worldview. A worldview is simply the way we look at the world and the way we understand how life works. The predominant worldview in our day and our society is foundationally Darwinian. Built around an evolutionary framework, it teaches that we are all the result of an evolutionary process that allowed us, through chance and mutation, to evolve above the slime. We’ve come from nothing and have no idea where we’re going. We are in process—not the deliberate creation of a loving craftsman, but merely one result of chance mutations. This is, at heart, a hopeless worldview. It’s an awful worldview, really. I am thankful that, in granting me new life, God saved me from it.

For Christmas my wife gave me Ken Burns’ excellent documentary The War (a great series if you’re at all a World War II enthusiast) and, obviously, the series deals in part with the Holocaust. No matter how many times a person sees images of Jewish people being herded into train cars and sees German soldiers standing guard over emaciated, dying children, he cannot help but be affected. I have read about the war countless times and spent much of my time in college studying it. But those pictures still hit hard; they still hurt. A though that always occurs to me is this: those soldiers and I are not so different. I somehow like to think that, as part of a rational, ordered society like this one, we have developed far beyond such barbarity. Yet it was only sixty years ago and in a society not a lot unlike this one that men, who at any other time could have been authors and web designers, were happily shooting Jewish men, women and children and shamelessly plundering their homes. What happened? How did men sink so low?

As I watch this documentary and as I see Adolph Hitler, who for so many represents pure evil incarnate, I thank God that there is such a thing as justice. It would be easy to think that Hitler largely escaped justice. A person who utterly dominated and destroyed a nation while setting the world on fire, Hitler lived a life that was difficult in some ways, I suppose. But for many years he led Germany and was able to do nearly whatever he wanted. He was the cause of untold death and suffering. Not only did he orchestrate the systematic deaths of millions of Jews, but his actions also led to the deaths of millions (and probably tens of millions) of people from around the world as nations rallied to the cause of freedom and fought to curtail his power. Eventually, when his kingdom crumbled, he took his own life, suffering nothing as ended his life on his own terms. Justice was not served. It hardly seems that the self-inflicted death of an increasingly crazed and decrepit old man can serve as justice for so much death, destruction and suffering.

Without a Christian worldview, we would have no hope that justice would or could be served. If we deny that existence of God, or at least deny the existence of an active, present God, we deny that justice will ever be served to this man or to any other. What a distressing, depressing thought it would be that a man could live a life in which he caused so much death and then escape any meaningful consequences.

But when we look at the world through a biblical worldview, we see that justice will be served. Indeed, it must be served. And we want it to be served. Somehow God has built into us the desire to see justice served. This may be a natural desire some men suppress, but always it is there. We know that evil must be punished. We know that those who commit evil must be punished. Justice is “the quality of being just or fair;” it is “judgment involved in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards and punishments.” But it is more. A Christian definition of justice goes further. Justice is the due reward or punishment for an act. God must punish evil. We know this. We tremble at this thought. Or we ought to.

God must punish evil. When we come to know Jesus Christ, we are shocked at the reality that He willingly paid the penalty for the sins of all who would believe in Him. When I believed in Him I saw that He suffered for me. I deserve to be punished for all those things I’ve done to forsake Him. But Jesus, through His great mercy, accepted this punishment on my behalf.

But those who do not turn to Him must be punished for their own sin. And it is here that we see how justice will be served. The sin of even a man as blatantly evil as Adolph Hitler differs from mine only in degree. He and I are both sinners through and through. We are both sinners in thought, word and deed. But, praise be to God, He has extended grace to restrain me from doing all of the evil I’d otherwise so love to do. And He has accepted Jesus’ work on the cross on my behalf. Justice has already been served on my behalf. But for those who do not turn to Christ, justice is still in the future. Justice hovers just over the horizon.

We do not look forward to the punishment of another person with a sick glee. We do not rejoice in what they must suffer. But we do look forward to the fact that justice will finally be served. God will not and cannot allow sin to be unpunished. And while we are humbled by the grace that is ours through Christ, we still thank God that there will be justice. We do not have unlimited license to sin knowing that death allows us to escape just punishment. Instead we see that death is just the beginning, just the entrance, to the courtroom where justice will be served.