[What follows is a continuation of the previous post. If you missed the last post, please read it before continuing on, here.]
The Character of God
Jesus tells us that only God is good. Indeed, God defines goodness. If we want to really understand goodness we must look to God. And because Jesus is God come in the flesh. We must look to Jesus if we want to see God:
“’If you have known Me, you will also know My Father. And from now on you know Him and have seen Him…. Jesus said to him, ‘So long a time I am with you, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one who has seen Me, has seen the Father. How is it you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” [John 14:7, 9]
When Moses asked God to show Moses God’s glory, Moses was seeking to know God’s true Self. God answered,
"I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19) [NET]
"God’s true Self is His goodness. Some think by how God describes His nature that the corollary, “I will condemn whom I will condemn,” is also true. Not so. What God is saying is His goodness is not predicated on anything outside His Being. In the same way God earlier described the complete autonomy of his Being by saying His name is “I am, that I am. You must tell the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14), God now speaks of His nature the same way. God is also telling Moses by this definition of His nature that God is in the business to bring the opportunity of salvation to all humanity, not just a select few (i.e., Israel); God is seeking to restore His creation to its created purpose.
The Tension of Love and Holiness
If we are to answer the title question, we must come to better understand God's perspective of justice.
When we consider justice, we usually think about rules, the breaking of rules, and punishment. God did, indeed, give us a set of laws against killing, stealing, committing adultery, coveting our neighbor’s things, and so on. So when we speak of a just state, these laws constitute the foundation or minimum condition of order. But they are not sufficient to complete order; we must also love each other. It is this complete order of objective purity in love that is God's justice.
The love by which we must love each other for it to be a just state is the selfless love by which God has loved us. What we discover is when we love in this way there is no longer any need to articulate the rules. The reason is such love eliminates all the conditions that lead to breaking the rules. To love with God’s love fully satisfies the objectives of the stated rules. In other words, selfless love fulfills the law.
Outside of such love, which is where we all find ourselves because we told God we can be our own god, we live in fear: fear of want, fear of death, fear of rejection, fear of betrayal, fear of losing, fear of loneliness, and so on. Because of God’s goodness, when we love with His love, our fears vanish, and consequently the effects of those fears, which is the breaking of the laws, vanish from the community of humanity. Think about it: in God's love, everyone would meet the needs of others; everyone would be faithful to others; there would no longer be competition; everyone would be content and willing to share with others. But only when God’s love empowers and motivates all relationships; otherwise all those consequences switch to their negatives, with the result the rules are broken--people living in fear kill, steal, cheat, lie, grasp, and on and on; what was a just state, with its purity through selfless love, quickly devolves into an unjust state empowered by selfish-ambition.
Love is the key to justice, but can it be autonomous of the rules and still be love? No, because the rules—rather, the objectives of the rules-- are what shape the love into selfless love. I might see someone steal bread because they are hungry and tell them it is okay and believe I love them by this—that is, I believe love is defined by an unbridled permissiveness or tolerance. Not so. I really choose to take the stand I do to avoid the work to help the person out of his hunger so he no longer needs to steal; so my so-called love is really self-serving, and therefore not God’s love. The person who steals is not helped to see that he is attempting to meet a genuine need in a wrong way, so he very likely will meet other needs in similar fashions; as his own sense of self-interest escalates, so do his breaking of the rules. Furthermore, his real needs still are not met, so he becomes embittered and covetous, and lashes out with greater virulence. And his victims will respond in kind. The result is the once just state collapses; and the collapse is complete because both love and purity are lost.
What happens if we disconnect the rules from love? In our simple example of the bread thief, the thief is punished for breaking the law. The punisher believes he will prevent any future stealing by instilling fear into the thief. But the thief’s needs go unmet, so he will steal again—perhaps now from a sense of vengeance, so he breaks more laws in the process. The punisher sees himself more worthy than the thief because the punisher does not break the written call or letter of the rules; and this sense of superiority engenders a haughty contempt for the thief and anyone like the thief. In short, the legalism of the punisher creates destructive relationships and both the letter and the objectives of the laws are thwarted. As in the case when love is practiced outside the law, when the law is practiced without love the once just state becomes unjust, and both love and purity are destroyed.
Therefore, God’s justice is not a matter of unbridled tolerance, nor is it a police state. God’s justice is when love and holiness are kept in perfect tension. Saying it differently: God’s justice is the right order of things as defined by relationships, empowered and driven by God’s love, cradled within the objective state of purity that is holiness.