I’ve been involved in a conversation lately that I think is rather important. It has to do with the relationship of justice and love. If God is love (as I believe) can God also be a just God (which I also believe)? It’s my view that there is a tendency to set love and justice at opposite poles, and we’re left to choose between the two. That is, God is either just or God is compassionate, but surely God cannot be both. I’ve been pondering this question, and reflecting on the totality of the biblical witness, which speaks of both love and justice in relation to the character/nature of God. I think too often our disagreements are semantic. We may find ourselves in disagreement because we’re using the terms differently. Thus, there is a need to define terms. I hope to do some of that defining in subsequent posts, but I want to start with a conversation about how love and justice might be related to each other.
Therefore, in regard to this question – does God care about justice? -- I decided to see what a leading Disciples of Christ theologian had to say on the subject. I’m not ready to call myself a process theologian, but I do like the ways in which Clark Williamson, who under Paul Tillich and takes a Process oriented view of theology, has to say on theological issues. I believe it is safe to say that Clark is on the left side of the theological middle.
In his book, Way of Blessing, Way of Life, Clark suggests that to be faithful to the biblical witness we must keep God’s love, power, and justice together. Thus, “God’s power and justice are the kind of power and justice appropriate to God’s love; God’s love, the kind of love appropriate to God’s just purposes and power” (p. 128). I can’t go into the full conversation that Clark offers concerning this issue, but what I think is important to grapple with is the concept that love and justice belong together. We must also understand these terms in biblical ways. That is, if we’re to understand what the scriptures mean by love and justice, we must hear how scripture defines these terms. In this regard, I want to provide some extended quotations to get the conversation going. Thus, Clark writes:
God is a God of love, justice (including judgment, wrath, and power. That God is depicted as profoundly disturbed by human sin shows how vulnerable God is to it, and how profoundly related to us. The oneness of God . . . requires that God’s love, power, and justice be understood so that God is not at odds with oneself. Unless our understanding of each of these terms is biblically informed, and unless each term is related to the others, our talk about God will be a muddle. (p. 129)
I realize it’s difficult to keep love and justice together, but they are related biblically.
So here is the key:
God’s love is against what is against love (Tillich); it is in radical opposition to evil and radically for reconciliation. God’s wrath is the “strange work” (opus alienum) of God, whereas God’s love is God’s “proper work” (opus proprium). . . . God’s wrath or anger is not aimed at the destruction of sinners but their transformation and redemption. . . . Justice as the will of God (not vengeance that seeks to destroy and is part of the way of death) is the form of God’s love; justice is the social form of love (Tillich, Niebuhr). Love without justice is empty; justice without love can become injustice (e.g., vengeance). (p. 129).
I bolded the final sentence, because I think it captures the essence of the discussion. So, does God care about justice? Yes, I do believe that the God who is love does care about justice! If God did not care about justice, then God would be willing to let evil and injustice have the final word. That does not appear to be the biblical message. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that God is in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self. That is, God is actively at work changing the realities of our lives that the alienation that separates us from God and from each other might be transformed.