No one will be surprised to know that I have some thoughts on justice, having spent 19 years working in prison.
But before I go any further, let me divide the subject up into two simple groups. There are I am sure many more ways of dividing this subject but this provides a starting place.
Justice as it applies to criminal/anti-social behaviour
Justice as it applies to issues in society and the way in which people groups are treated and the deficits of their circumstances ministered to.
THE APOSTOLIC CONTEXT
The apostolic changes the dynamic of the church. No longer is it a sanctuary where people experiencing injustice can run to, but it becomes the place from which reformers and revivalists are commissioned and sent. The christians who make up the apostolic church are sent ones, charged with the assignment to make earth like heaven and therefore people should be treated according to the culture & principles of heaven rather than earth.
Let us first put a definition on what I call Kingdom Justice. I developed this because of reading in Jeremiah that God delights in justice. It was a verse that had this ex-prison governor puzzled. How can God delight in justice? Clearly it cannot be based on the earth based model and experience I have had. It must be something more than that.
I concluded that heavens justice is based on God being for us, rather than against us. In fact judgment day in the bible will be the day that God judges for those whose name is in the book of life and yet at times we have presented it as the very opposite. In fact if your bible is like mine, it does not mention judgement day in Revelation, other than in between the verses as a subtitle.
My resulting definition of heaven’s or kingdom justice is that its purpose is the restoration of relationships. He will judge for us as those who have chosen relationship with Him.This points to and comes from the greatest act of justice and yet the greatest act of injustice that this world has ever witnessed. Namely the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The outcome of that event was that we are all able as we believe in him to be justified, to be made in right standing with God.
Kingdom justice heals relationships, mends a broken world and desires that widows are not lonely, the fatherless find fathers, and the lonely find families, all glorious examples of restored relationships.
Kingdom justice treats all mankind as made in the image of God and therefore worthy of life, freedom, equality of value, and relationships with each other and heavens Royal Family.
THE PRINCIPLE OF PROTECTION
As we read the bible we see that a principle was established in the garden of Eden which sets us on course if we allow it. Namely Adam & Eve were removed from the garden, not for punishment but for protection. In other words so that they could not return and eat the fruit of the other tree and be eternally unredeemable and therefore outside of the purpose of the cross. The effect of their sin was therefore not eternal for all of mankind but that it could be pardoned by the power of the blood of Jesus Christ. In other words that one day we could all be invited in to the restoration of relationship with God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, whoever we are, whatever we have done or not done.
Lets move on to justice as it applies to criminal behaviour. Perhaps surprisingly the ‘punishment’ of an offender must not be the starting place. Rather it is a question of creating a safe society in which the majority can live in peace and safety. Therefore removing offenders and protecting freedom and safety for the whole of society must be the primary driving force behind the criminal justice system. Decisions of the courts of law should be viewed as more of a consequence than a punishment, the punishment being withdrawal from freedom into a place where they can have the best opportunity of being restored. Prison should not be for punishment but rather as a consequence of behaviour and a step towards possible restoration and rehabilitation.
Of course not everyone can be or wants to be rehabilitated into the freedom of society, but that is their responsibility not ours. Apostolic principles applied to the treatment of offenders must have at its core the hope and belief that redemption is for all mankind, that there is no sin so far removed that the person cannot receive forgiveness and begin a journey of redemption, even if they must remain in prison for the rest of their lives. This means that even in the execution of ‘the laws of the land’ and imprisonment everyone deserves access to a journey of redemption, even if they cannot be trusted with external freedom and relationships they are worthy of finding internal freedom and relational connection.
Secondly is the subject of what many would call social justice. An interesting term which not so long ago was not used by christians and perhaps some might argue can easily be misunderstood. I would suggest that when used by apostolic believers that it is referring to the righting of wrongs done in society and stopping the treatment of people as less than being made in the image of God. Once again we can apply the principle of restoration of relationship. The wrongs of our society can all be seen through the lens of being robbed of relationship and or the identity of being created in the image of God and worthy of honour.
There is a great need for justice as it applies to providing that all mankind are treated and given honour and respect as befits those made in the image of God.
Into this category falls stopping racism, poverty, ill-treatment of women, sex trafficking, lack of access to health care, education, and many more examples.
JESUS: PERFECT JUSTICE
Jesus on the cross, in the tomb, his descent into hell and resurrection did everything required for all of us to receive justice in this life and the next. Our apostolic assignment is to live out and represent the intention of our saviour. In so doing we provide everyone the opportunity to be redeemed, learn how to create safe societies and communities, believing that the treatment of offenders must always carry the heart of redemption, even if that person is never able to be restored to society.
Jesus death was for all of mankind, male & female & every tribe and tongue. Stopping the treatment of any group in our world as less than being made in the image of God must be included in our apostolic mandate.
And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world. John 3:19.
Justice must shine the light. It is the light of Jesus. Restorer, redeemer, saviour, the elder brother of all mankind.