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The Demands of Justice

Here in Ontario there is a criminal trial taking place of the kind that is so disturbing that I cannot bear to read any details. It involves the taking, raping and killing of a young girl. The very few details I’ve seen in headlines and bylines have been more than enough to convince me that I cannot read any more. It’s just too much, too weighty, too awful.

A trial like this one is always accompanied by cries for justice. There are cries in the media and cries in casual conversation. There are cries in my own heart. When I think of a couple who brutally murder a young girl, my heart cries out for justice. This is a natural cry, I think, and a good one.

Yet so often it seems that the people who do such horrifying things get away with it, or at the very least, do not receive anything even approaching justice. Hitler, the man who sparked the Second World War, a war that took tens of millions of lives, died in 1945, but did so at his own hand. A self-inflicted bullet to the head hardly seems to satisfy the demands of justice based on the lives of millions of Jews and countless millions of other lives destroyed in the war he began. It almost seems that he got away with it. The couple that took the life of that little girl may spend the rest of their lives behind bars but this, too, hardly seems like true justice. I want justice!

When we read in the Bible that the law of God is written on our hearts, this must be some of what we mean—that we have a sense of justice and that we want this sense of justice to be served, to be satisfied. We also know from Scripture that justice will be served. Indeed, it must be served. And we want it to be served. 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 and when we put our faith in him, we are shocked at the reality that he willingly paid the penalty for the sins of all who would believe in him, even those who have committed unimaginable sins. When I believed in him I saw that he suffered for me. I deserve to be punished for all those evil, sinful things I’ve done. But Jesus, through his great mercy, accepted this punishment on my behalf. Justice has been served.

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 a man as blatantly evil as one who takes and kills a little girl 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 God has seen fit to extend grace to restrain me from doing all of the evil I might 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. Death is no escape.