Can We Really Believe that God Is Just in an Evil World?

Contributing Writer
Can We Really Believe that God Is Just in an Evil World?

It is not a secret we live in a fallen world—a world that is unfair, unjust, and unrighteous to its core. From the man falsely accused and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit to the woman who watches her attacker go free, we encounter injustice all around us. These are just some examples. Few things will ignite our anger like denied or perverted justice. Injustice has led many to question God’s very existence. How could a good, loving, and just God allow such evil and injustice to go unchecked and unpunished?

Historically, Christians are no strangers to persecution and injustice. Many may feel like the prophet Isaiah, who cried, “all of us growl like bears, and moan sadly like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none, for salvation, but it is far from us” (Isaiah 59:11).

And yet, in a world that openly rebels against God and disregards His righteousness, those who trust in the Lord can have hope in knowing that the God of the Bible, their God, is truly just, even when the world is not.

But what does it mean that God is just? For that matter, what does biblical justice look like? Why should Christians remember this key attribute of God’s character?

How Do We Know that God Is Just?

As mentioned, most people quickly recognize when something is unjust or unfair. This is especially true when we are on the wrong side of those terms. Even those who do not believe in God and have not submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ may still cry foul when they or someone they know has been wronged. They may cling to their sin, but their conscience bears testimony to the law of God, which the apostle Paul says is written on people’s hearts (Romans 2:12-16).

Therefore, to truly know ourselves and why we cry for justice, we must know something of the character of God, who created us in His image (Genesis 1:27).

But can God truly be known?

The Bible teaches us that, yes, God can be known to the extent that He has revealed Himself through His Word. God wants to be known on a personal level. However, the true depths of God’s character are known only to God (1 Corinthians 2:11). Such knowledge is, as David writes, “far too wonderful for me” (Psalms 139:6). “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!” the psalmist sings. “How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand” (Psalms 139:17-18).

Of God, some things will always be indescribable, a wonder, and a mystery to us. Throughout Scripture, we encounter mere glimpses of the majesty of God, who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16; see also Exodus 33:20; Psalms 147:5; Psalms 145:3; Isaiah 40:28; Job 26:14; Job 27:5; John 1:18). Nevertheless, though our knowledge of God and His divine character are not exhaustive, what God has revealed of Himself in Scripture is sufficient (Deuteronomy 29:29). We must start there.

Does the Bible Say that God Is Just?

One of the things we learn about God from the Bible is that He is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18).

  • “He loves righteousness and justice,” the psalmist writes, “the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord” (Psalms 33:5, emphasis added).
  • “The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure.” (Psalms 111:7)
  • “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You.” (Psalms 89:14, emphasis added; see also Psalms 97:2)

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet reports God saying, “I, the Lord, love justice” (Isaiah 61:8, emphasis added).

Sin and injustice are only real because God is holy and just. In contrast to our sins, the righteousness of God shines all the brighter. Of course, the words justice and righteousness are often used together in the Bible. In many translations, they are indistinguishable.

The Bible makes clear that God is both righteous and just. These attributes flow from His character and are not inseparable. They are one, as God is one, and the character of God does not change (James 1:17).

What Does It Mean that God Is Just?

Unfortunately, the world’s understanding and application of justice frequently fails to align with biblical justice. If history has revealed anything, it’s humanity has developed a talent for perverting justice to appease its own sinful desires. The dictionary may define what is just as that which is “based on or behaving according to what is morally right or fair,” however if we do not have the same standard to determine what is moral, right, or fair, we are ultimately using the same words with different meanings.

God alone must be regarded as the absolute, objective standard for what is right and just. He alone is the sovereign Judge over His creation (Romans 9:20-21; Psalms 24:1-2; Psalms 115:3; Psalms 103:19; 1 Samuel 2:2; John 1:1-2).

Any understanding of true justice must come from a proper understanding of the sovereignty of God. God is who He says He is, not who we want or imagine Him to be. All things began with Him; all things are sustained in Him.

If God is just, it follows that His actions are just, His plans are just, and His commandments and proclamations are also righteous and just. He alone is the standard.

How Does God’s Justice See Humanity?

To argue that God must abide by our standards or definitions of justice is backward thinking and an attempt to remake God in our image rather than acting according to His will and character.

Furthermore, even individuals in society who faithfully administer justice in defending the rights of their citizens can still be unrighteous and in wrong standing with God. That is because God’s demand for justice, born of His righteous and holy nature, cannot tolerate sin. God, in His holiness, hates evil. In the world’s eyes, justice does not always imply moral perfection. To a righteous and sovereign God, however, justice calls us to holiness and perfection, as God our heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Unfortunately, apart from His Son, Jesus Christ, the sinless Lamb of God, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, emphasis added).

Isaiah explains how pervasive our sin is:

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6).

The Bible also tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “the Son of Man will then repay every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:27). That is bad news for humanity—because “there is none righteous, not even one” among us (Romans 3:10).

What Has God’s Justice Done about Humanity’s Evil?

Despite what many think, God does not ignore evil. As the righteous Judge of creation, His demands for justice will be satisfied one day. For sinful humanity, the verdict has been rendered. We are all guilty, and true justice demands that the guilty pay for their sin. For the sinner, that involves death and eternal separation from God. It is a fate we justly deserve compared to the righteousness of God. Yet the Bible teaches us that God is just and merciful.

But how can the two coexist in the same character?

How can God’s demand for justice be satisfied by extending undeserved mercy to those who have clearly violated His commands and acted unrighteously? What could we possibly do to become righteous before God?

The answer is nothing.

Nothing we can do will ever be enough to pay the debt we owe or make us righteous before God. Fortunately, God provided someone who can.

How Is Jesus the Answer to God’s Justice?

The prophet Isaiah describes that happened to the Messiah, who solved the problem of sin for the world:

“The Lord was pleased to crush Him (Jesus), putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:10-11, emphasis added)

On the cross, Jesus Christ took the sin of the world upon His shoulders. He became the propitiation for our unrighteousness (Romans 3:23-25). The wrath of God, reserved for sinners, was poured out without mercy on His beloved Son, who paid the price we could not pay. In doing so, God’s demand for justice was satisfied “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26, emphasis added). We have been justified by His blood (Romans 5:9).

As a result, those in Christ have faith that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, emphasis added). Furthermore, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The God of justice justifies His creation through His Son’s saving work and redemption. That is very good news!

If God Is Just, Do We Get Justice Now?

Those who have been justified by Christ and made right with the Father have reason to rejoice. His mercy is extended to all and available to all now.

Furthermore, remember that the Bible says God loves justice (Isaiah 61:8). It also specifies that we, His followers, are to pursue justice and righteousness in our lives and the world (Deuteronomy 16:20; Proverbs 21:23; Jeremiah 22:3; Leviticus 19:15).

Does that mean all wrongs will made right in this lifetime? Does that mean we will never experience injustice? Regrettably, no, it does not.

The wise king Solomon wrote that “evil men do not understand justice” (Proverbs 28:5). The prophet Habakkuk lamented that “the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4).

Christians must remember that Jesus Christ, the sinless Lamb of God, was hated by men, slandered, and ultimately killed in an unfair, unjust, and cruel manner. Christ would warn His followers that “if the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you… if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20).

However, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus promised that “blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:10-11).

This world may have no interest in the justness of God. We may not see all wrongs righted in this lifetime, but for those saved and justified by Christ, their inheritance is eternal, and their citizenship in the kingdom of God is unshakeable. Of this kingdom, “there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. the zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:7, emphasis added).

We wait for that day, and in Christ’s righteousness and justice, we place our hope in him who has saved us (2 Timothy 4:8).

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/seb_ra

Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.

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