"It is good to praise Yahweh, to sing praise to Your name, Most High..." (Psalm 92:1)
In our church life group/Bible study this afternoon, we had a really great discussion about justice. The passage that we were talking about was Genesis 18:16-33, where Abraham pleads for God to spare the city of Sodom.
We discussed definitions of justice and mercy, and what those things look like. I shared the struggle among my family right now as we pursue earthly justice for Linda's murder. I shared about my knowledge and belief in God's mercy vs. my human desire for punishment and "fairness".
In the course of our conversation, I came to some very life-altering understandings. Before I get to that, however, let me try to lay out some foundational truths (as simply as possible).
When talking about justice, it's good to start with a standard. What are we judging against when we look at a person's actions? Well, from a Christian perspective, the standard is Jesus. The standard is perfection.
The Bible says, "There is no one righteous, not even one." (Romans 3:10) That is to say, we all sin. Every person, every day. There is no person in the world who lives up to the standard of perfection. The only perfect person who has ever existed is Jesus.
It also says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) God is perfect. Jesus is perfect. All the rest of us are sinners and sin earns death. For everyone.
There are three words I want to define:
Justice - Getting what we deserve.
Mercy - Being spared from what we deserve.
Grace - Receiving gifts that we do not deserve.
If the standard for justice is perfection, then we all fall short. No one is perfect.
If the wages of sin is death, then justice would be for all of us to die.
God loves us and He knows that we cannot achieve perfection on our own.
He sent Jesus to earth, to be the only perfect person, and then He laid our punishment - the punishment for all mankind - on Jesus.
Jesus took the punishment that we deserve. (Justice)
God offers us the gift of life, if we will accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. (Grace)
If we accept that sacrifice, then we put our old life to death with Jesus and are raised again with him. We are spared from the punishment we deserve. (Mercy)
And now we come back to my struggle with the idea of justice for Josh Thurber, the man who killed my Aunt Linda. I have believed all along that this man deserves punishment (both earthly and eternal). I have also believed that the gift of God's grace is available to him, just as much as it is to me.
I know and believe these things, but the question I struggle with is this:
If justice is receiving the punishment you deserve, and Josh were to receive God's mercy... does that mean that eternal justice was not served?
I knew that can't be the case because God does not contradict his own Character. God is just. God is merciful. These things have to be true at the same time.
Honestly, I haven't spent a great deal of time thinking about it. I trust God and I know that I don't have to understand how He works. He is good, even when I don't understand it.
But this evening, all the pieces came together for me. I haven't got the remotest idea whether or not Josh is going to give his life to God at some point, but here's what I realized.
If Josh does accept Jesus' death on his behalf, then eternal justice will be served because Jesus died for Josh's sin. Jesus took what Josh deserved. There's no "getting away with it". The sin was life-shattering for many people and it will be avenged, either through Josh's spiritual death... or through Jesus' death.
If Josh does accept that gift of grace, then he is putting his old life to death with Jesus and he is accepting the new life that Jesus offers. In the same way, when I came to a realization of my own sin, I allowed my old life to die with Christ, and then I was raised again with Him, a new person, holy because He is holy.
If I see Josh in Heaven one day, it will not be the man who murdered my aunt. It will be the new man, born through Jesus, for the glory of God.
And how mind-blowing is that? The only perfect person to ever walk the earth... died to pay the price for a murderer's sins.
And He died to pay the price for my sins.
And He died to pay the price for your sins.
Praise God, who is just and merciful and graceful and LOVING!