If you've read any newspaper this week you will have seen a great cry of anguish, shouts of injustice; England failed in their bid to host the 2018 world cup. It's a stitch up apparently and we're all very, very angry. The reason being that we feel it was unfair, there is the feeling not just that we lost but that the playing field was not level. A perceived injustice ignites a powerful emotional response and not just from the tabloid press. You only need to look at a child whose toy has been snatched from her to see that the desire for justice is strong, there is something human about it. We are desperate for justice to be done, what then does the Bible have to say about justice being practised?
I want to say two things about justice this morning; Justice shows our humanity Justice shows others; God Before that it's worth saying that before we all clamour for justice, we need to remember that justice can be a fearful thing. In fact if justice were applied straightforwardly in the Bible it would be a much shorter book, a book that you and I would never have read because humanity would have ended at Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned – destruction, judgement would've been just. However; biblically, justice and mercy are inseparably linked together most beautifully at the cross when Christ in mercy took on himself the just reward for all our sin. Justice is coupled with mercy in fact this is the very thing that God demands of us who know him that we act justly and love mercy (Micah 6.8). Let's move to our first point.
1.Justice shows our humanity
'Practising justice is part of what it means to be truly human.'
Job presents a universally powerful argument for practising justice here in v13-15;
13"If I have denied justice to any of my servants,whether male or female,when they had a grievance against me,14what will I do when God confronts me?What will I answer when called to account?15Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
Job says that he is required to provide justice even to his servants because they too were formed by God in their mothers womb. Simply Job is saying; they are like me, we are human. But there's a profundity here too Job must give justice to his servants because their lives have inherent dignity, meaning and worth. Why? Because each human is a creative act of God – we believe this about everyone. This is the baseline for Christians that we each have been wilfully created. Therefore we fight against racism,
xenophobia, class-ism and slavery. We treat people equitably because whatever class or caste they are, whether they are successful or cast out, each is the work of God's hands. We protect the vulnerable because they have equal worth and as this verse makes clear that does not stop at the womb.
Justice is demanded of us when we accept that other humans have equal and real worth. Job understands this despite not having access to much of the Old Testament law. There is something intuitive about justice especially when we recognise that we are all equal in the sight of God having all been created in our mothers womb by him.
The second thing to notice from these verses is that Job expects justice to be done. Look again at v14;
14what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account?
Job knows that God will one day call him to account, his actions here and now are not without consequence he will have to answer for them. How will he be able to face God and ask him for justice if he himself has denied it to others? A burglar does not rob your home with the police waiting outside – he knows he will then be called to account, that he will be judged for his actions. No, the burglar imagines that he will not have to face the consequences of his actions and so he acts unjustly. Job however must act justly because he knows his actions do not take place in a vacuum but in relationship to the just and living God.
There is a second result from knowing that God will call everyone to account and that is hope. The hope that one day justice will be done. This gives us reason, inspiration to not merely avoid leading unjust lives but to practise justice – it's worth it. It's worth it because we know justice will be done. If the burglar can break into my home with impunity, knowing that nothing will happen there is very little reason for me to build a nice home, or to keep any possessions – they could be taken from me at any point. But if I am confident that justice will be done then it's reasonable for me to invest. The same is true for us we practice justice because we know eventually justice will be done.
Two powerful foundations for practicing justice then;
Firstly that all humans are God's creation and are therefore fundamentally equal. Each person has inherent dignity and worth because of this and should be treated justly.
Secondly, we expect justice to be done. God will call all to account so; We avoid living an unjust life. We hopefully pursue justice knowing that one day justice will be completed.
2. Justice shows others God
'A life of justice and mercy reveals who we really worship'
This section of Job is forms part of his defence against accusations of hypocrisy. Job is suffering and wrongly his friends are suggesting that this is because he has been unfaithful to God. Job says look at my life, I'm not a hypocrite my life reveals what I really believe. Verses 16 through 22 in particular paint a picture of life lived in worship of God. Job is a man who values justice, he understands that God has shown grace and mercy to him and so grace and mercy characterises the way he lives. Job's faith is authenticated by his lifestyle, his faith and his actions are coherent, they match up.
I think we all know the power of this. Bobby Robson the ex England and Newcastle manager is highly regarded not just for his professional achievements but for they way he treated normal people behind the scenes. He had a certain authority because his life of the pitch matched his persona on it. Job's life practised what he preached as it were but what made him like this? In verse 23 Job concludes his defence against acting hypocritically saying;
23For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendour I could not do such things.
Job feared that God would bring justice to bear on him if he was unjust as we've already siad but read the second half of that verse again; and for the fear of his splendour I could not do such things. Job worships the splendour of God, he is enraptured by the goodness, the holiness, the praise-worthiness of God he has seen it and his heart has responded. This is what guards Job against hypocrisy – his worship of God. His realisation that everything else pales into insignificance once placed alongside the splendour of God. The following verses 24-28 draw this out;
24"If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, 'You are my security,' 25if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained,
Job is not a materialist.
26if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendour, 27so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage; 28then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.
Job is not an idolater, nothing has grabbed his heart more than God. He does not worship created things rather than the creator and so he is free, free from loving other things so much that he cannot use them to practise justice and mercy. This has had a profound impact on his life as evidenced in v16-22. Take a look for example at v16-20. Job does not worship his money, his possessions and so he is free to use them to help
those at the edges of society; the poor, the widow, the fatherless. Or look at v21 and 22 Job says that his arm should be broken off rather than him use his position in society to influence the court and so allow him to get away with assault. Job can claim justice because he is not more in love with his status than with God.
The way Job lives his life reveals where his heart really lies. His lack of corruption and his generosity point beyond him to the one whose splendour he rejoices in. Is not the same true of us? Didn't those first believers live lives of such genuine generosity, integrity and love that those around them could not help but wonder? Are we not commanded to live such good lives among the pagans that they too would glorify God?
Job shows us how to live a consistent life of justice and mercy; be dazzled by God's splendour more than anything else. Present everything else you might worship before him and say I want to follow you more – then these things are transformed from useless idols to tools for living justly. Money is not a God but a tool for generosity, power redeemed from pride as an instrument to serve others with.
Job has shown us that justice is a truly human virtue. He has reminded us that ultimate justice will be done which should both sober us and give us hopeful motivation to practise justice. Job also models an hypocritical lifestyle, one marked by worship of God and subsequently free from idolatry to practise justice and mercy. How can we apply this to ourselves?
First - Check our idols – are we motivated to the pursuit of justice by the fear of God's splendour?
Second - Job lives a life of justice and mercy that give us a couple of pointers as to where we can concentrate our efforts;
a) Job looks to the interests of the vulnerable. Verses 16-20 show him being merciful to the poor, the widow, the fatherless i.e. the most vulnerable in society. This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible's storyline – caring for those at the edges of society, those least able to defend themselves. Who are they for us? There are direct equivalents, the homeless, those in the care system what tools, what resources are you free to use for them? Outside of economic poverty there are many who are lonely and marginalised whether that be the elderly or those in the most dangerous place in Britain – the womb.
b)Job also uses his influence for good in the public sphere. Job promotes justice in the courts rather than using his influence for his own means, he upholds the complaints of his employees. The need for justice and mercy is great there are many areas where we could expend our energies. We should remember that we are not promised perfect justice until Jesus returns but that should not hold us back from examining the influence we each have to fight for and model justice and mercy.
So if your an employer, or have responsibility over others at work treat those beneath you equitably, don't deny their grievances. If you have influence in your community, profession, social network, community and all of have to some degree use it not for your own ends but to serve others.
Above all let us remember this morning as we celebrate communion together that we have been treated not with the justice we deserve but with mercy.