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I grew up afraid of God’s justice.
Though my parents were well-balanced in meting out mercy and discipline (very well-balanced considering we went to a Gothardite church), I always imagined God coming down from heaven with a sword of justice in hand, ready to punish all of us for our sins. He had just enough mercy and love to spare us from His wrath.
IBLP, ATI, and Children’s Institute only strengthened my fear of making a mistake and incurring God’s punishment. At every turn, they warned me about the consequences of justice, and taught me to avoid anyone who might tell me differently. Within the absurdly sheltered, insular IBLP community, punishment came down for even the smallest infraction.
I still knew that God loved me. But I believed He was saving me from Himself.
Once at my Christian college, however, I was slowly exposed to a different belief system. God was good to give me parents who trained me to entertain new ideas, to consider without automatically believing or discarding. For that I am very grateful. In a political science class called “Faith and Politics,” we read about how Christians use their faith in making political decisions. While not the main point of the class, I learned a great deal about God’s justice.
All I had previously read about God’s justice (particularly involving the government) was Romans 12:4— “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
But in my “Faith and Politics” course, I learned a lot more about God’s justice. There is punitive justice, which is exactly like it sounds like–punishment for wrongdoing. But that’s not the only aspect of God’s judgement. His justice also includes what Christian political scientists sometimes call “primary justice,” and it’s referenced much more often in the Bible than punitive justice.
Beautiful passages in the Psalms and prophets told of God’s call to let “justice roll down like a river,” and His heart to restore the broken, the downtrodden, the oppressed. I saw that God wanted to bring them back into community with one another and with Him. These new ideas broke through the lies I had believed. I admired God for something I had once feared.
Isaiah 1:17 exhorts repentant sinners to “Seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” This is the opposite of what IBLP taught us, under the guise of not taking up one another’s offenses. But it’s exactly what God does for us and what He wants us to do for one another.
The children, the weak, the poor, the stranger are all vulnerable and easily oppressed. When their God-given power of self-defense is taken away, they are at the mercy of power-hungry and self-centered people. This is not just some sad thing that happens sometimes. This is the system of a broken world by evil people. And God abhors it. Vast portions of the Old Testament are dedicated to showing the Israelites how to live in harmony, in justice, and in community with one another. The Psalms and Isaiah are full of cries for deliverance.
In fact, Amos 5 is God’s warning to corrupt and oppressive leaders who “turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground,” who weigh down the poor with unnecessary taxes to build their mansions and vineyards, who take bribes and deprive the innocent of justice in court, who pretend righteousness while blocking the vulnerable from religious festivals.
In His name all oppression shall cease, goes the Christmas carol. I found myself at my church’s Christmas Eve service moved to tears by the prayer for Emanuel to come, to save us from the paths of misery and the depths of Hell. Deliverance from oppression is written through the whole Bible, portraying God as the mighty defender of the weak.
We, who were caught up in our own sin and all death and the broken world have been delivered. We have seen the great light and our Emmanuel has come.
We, who were trapped in the oppression of a religious system that glorified a man and his so-called “principles,” are now delivered. God has heard our pleas and brought us to healing in Him.
In the end, what I most feared about God was what rescued me from the legalism of IBLP: His justice.