How do you reconcile love with the need for justice?
Darrow, the main character in “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown, once executed justice in an unconventional manner.
He ruled a set of students, and his friend Tactus defied Darrow’s clear instructions.
The punishment was 20 lashes.
Darrow didn’t want to hurt his friend.
Yet, he knew that excusing the felony was unacceptable.
After flogging Tactus, Darrow removed his shirt.
Then he inflicted a harsher punishment on himself and had a friend whip him 25 times.
Darrow explained that when his people wounded others, it hurt him as their leader.
He stunned the students.
They had not considered how their actions impacted anyone other than themselves.
Likewise, our actions have broad consequences.
God the Father grieves when we resist His righteous laws.
We hurt ourselves and God when we turn from His ways.
We often demand justice when someone has wronged us but desire God’s love when we misstep.
We can’t have it both ways.
The Bible clarifies that we need both love and justice.God the Father grieves when we resist His righteous laws; the Bible teaches that we need both love and justice.
Defining Love and Justice
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4 NIV
The Hebrew word “hesed” is often translated as “faithful love” or “mercy” or “lovingkindness.”
All three concepts are combined in this word used to describe God’s care for His people (Hos 2:19, Ps 85:10).
Mercy flows from the heart of the Father.
In the New Testament, 1 John 4:8 declares that God is love. The Greek word used for love is “agape,” an unconditional love.
Can someone show love or mercy without being just?
Society focuses on the love of God while wanting to discard His justice as inconvenient.
They want to do whatever they want without any consequences.
Yes, God is love; but, God is also just (Dt 32:4).
The Hebrew word “sadiq” means just, lawful, and righteous.
Love without justice destroys the object it desires to adore.
Or perhaps there is no love without justice. When you love someone, you don’t ignore justice.Love without justice destroys the object it desires to adore.
What is Substitutionary Justice?
“Do not kill the innocent and the just, because I will not justify the guilty.” – Exodus 23:7 NASB
God’s justice demands that our sins not go unpunished.
We need discipline.
Fortunately, because we stand on this side of the cross, Christ absorbed all of God’s wrath on that fateful day.
When we confess our sins, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).
Even amid our determination to stray, God’s kindness pulls us back into His orbit and draws us to repentance.
Such love is inescapable.
How does God’s justice work through Christ?
Romans 5:15b NASB says, “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.”
Though everyone is dead in their sins because of Adam, God also provided a way for humankind to be reconciled to Himself through Christ.
God had to punish someone for the transgressions of the world.
Jesus took on those sins. All of them. Past, present, and future.
He took those sins to satisfy God’s justice and slake God’s wrath.
Now His love and mercy can abound in ways impossible during the Old Testament times.
Acts 13:39 KJV says, “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
The law only shows us how wretched we are, hopeless to break free from the chains of our sins.
Through Jesus, we become just as if we had never sinned, unfettered in our pursuit of an abundant life in Christ.
As we grow in Christ, we learn that while chastening is not pleasant, but painful, it yields a fruit of righteousness to those willing to be molded by correction (Heb 13:11).Even amid our determination to stray, God’s kindness pulls us back into His orbit and draws us to repentance.
Discipline is Loving
“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” – Hebrews 12:7, 9-10 NASB
Why can’t God forget our trespasses and let us do what we want?
Wouldn’t that be loving?
Actually, overlooking sin is the least loving thing that God could do.
Imagine parents whose child loves to run around outside.
They might set up a jungle gym in the backyard for the rambunctious tot to exert energy and enjoy the outdoors.
That’s a sign of a loving parent.
What is not loving is if those parents let that child play in the front yard and dart into traffic without looking for oncoming cars.
That defines negligent parents who do not protect their children.
God loves us more than our earthly parents ever could. Even the parents of the year cannot love their children more than God does.
If God lets our sins go unchecked, we could wind up in a world of hurt.
His laws shield us from pain He doesn’t want us to experience.Overlooking sin is the least loving thing that God could do. His laws shield us from pain He doesn’t want us to experience.
The Benefits of God’s Discipline
“Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments.” – Nehemiah 9:13 NASB
When God says no, it is for our good, not our demise. Every single one of God’s commands is virtuous.
Maybe you have a wandering eye.
When God says, don’t commit adultery, it is not to restrain your passion.
He wants your marriage to flourish as you enjoy each other, so you don’t heap fire into your lap and burn yourself (Pr 6:27-29).
Perhaps you exaggerate.
Even if you think that cheating on your taxes will help your finances this year, the IRS will find you someday.
God’s command not to lie can keep you out of high-interest fees and the risk of jail.
Not only do we avoid destruction through discipline, but our hearts also become inclined to obedience as we learn the goodness of God’s plans.
We share in holiness with the righteous Lord as correction refines our motives.
May we run to the God of justice as fast as we run to the God of love.
Instead of narrowing in on God’s love, let’s love all of His character.
May we walk in freedom because we serve a just God whose Son paid the fine for us, and delight in His love and justice.
Joanna Eccles founded Words from the Honeycomb to share sweet words to encourage people in Christ. She has led Bible studies for over a decade and desires to shape culture through her writing by addressing truths in relatable ways. Joanna can’t wake up without a cup of coffee, loves reading, and lives in Virginia. Read more of Johanna’s writing on her blog or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.