What is justice? At some level we understand justice has something to do with what is fair. We think of Lady Justice holding her scales to weigh the evidence for or against the accused. We think of the concept that “the punishment should fit the crime.” There’s even the Old Testament teaching of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We think of the blindness of justice – each person is equal under the law and no one should be given privileges on account of who they are.
There is a lot of Biblical support for this understanding of justice. There’s the Biblical teaching quoted above, and there are a host of Old Testament passages in which the Lord condemns the judge who takes a bribe. The Bible, at root, is for fairness under the law, and as Christians we rightly expect this fairness to translate into our politics and law.
Something revolutionary is happening with justice. “Social Justice Warriors” will claim there’s a fundamental unfairness going on in that certain privileged people do in fact get more breaks in life – both economically and legally – not because of who they are as individuals, but who they are as members of a group.
How is that group defined? Usually by sex or race or religion or what you’re attracted to. So, your friend Joe who got accused of a crime is not an individual who stands before the law on his merits or demerits. Rather, he’s abstracted according to his identities and interpreted accordingly. He’s “white heterosexual man with a history of privilege behind him” who will, on account of his privilege, get different justice than Jenny, who also is not seen as an individual but as “black female lesbian.”
Accordingly, justice must mean equalizing not individuals before the law, but equalizing entire systems. Justice requires sapping entire groups of their supposed privilege. It’s about “leveling” the field by taking from one and giving to another. If Asian-Americans are over-represented at Harvard at the expense of “people of color” – then standards need to be adjusted so that fewer Asian-Americans are admitted and more “people of color” are. The same could be said of men vs. women in engineering.
This revolutionary understanding of justice is at root Marxist, of course, which has always been a soul-crushing ideology which ends up leveling the field down to the lowest level.
But then there’s God’s justice as revealed in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. It’s like the opposite of leveling everything downward. It levels everything upward. It’s not “fair” at all, but the fairness runs in the direction of… grace for everyone!
The landowner in the parable promised to pay the first workers a denarius, but those afterward he promised to pay, “whatever is right.” The word for “right” here is the same word for “just,” thus the meditation on the word “justice.” What is God’s justice? What is God’s righteousness?
“Whatever is right” ends up being a denarius, a full days wage, given even to those who worked only an hour. Lots of gift there! Lots of grace! But toward the end of the parable we learn that “whatever is just” is what the landowner “wishes to give,” and is defined as being “good.”
That’s God’s justice! He wishes to give, and this is good. Is it fair? Not at all. But the fairness doesn’t fall on the side of tearing down those “with privilege” – as is the case with the modern Social Justice Warriors – but rather building up those whom God wishes to bless with His gifts.