The Justice of God
The book of Romans is about the justice of God. Paul’s concern from the beginning is how God can be just and still reject Israel. Isn’t God being unjust or unrighteous in cutting Israel off and grafting the Gentiles in? Paul’s answer is no, of course. God is just because his faithfulness and promises are still in effect to those with faith. Abraham was not yet circumcised when God vindicated him. What did God vindicate him from? God vindicated him from the taunts of his neighbors and family in Ur, who may have believed he was crazy to take up the nomadic habit. God viewed him and showed him to be in the right when he had interaction with pagan kings and other inhabitants of the land of promise. Why did God say that Abraham was right? Why did God deliver him from his enemies? Because Abraham believed God and obeyed him.
One of Abraham’s great vindications was when God gave him a son from the barren womb of Sarah. Isaac was a flesh and blood declaration from God saying, ‘Abraham is right for doing what he does. He’s with me.’ Circumcision was a seal, a physical mark that said God had made a covenant with Abraham, but it was Abraham’s faith that proved he was right. Abraham believed God, and therefore Abraham was right. And if Abraham was right then all that befell him necessarily required God’s justice. Abraham was in the right. Therefore God the judge, in order to judge justly, bound himself to rule in Abraham’s favor. But how can this be when all that Abraham ever did was not just or right. Abraham sometimes was unjust and not right. How can God rule in his favor every time, when sometimes Abraham was bound to be wrong? God basically said to Abraham, ‘I will take care of this later. For now, you’re right, even when your wrong. Trust me.’
But what about God’s promises? God’s promises remained unfulfilled to Abraham. The story that God had told Abraham was not at an end when Abraham died. Abraham’s death before seeing the rest of the story cries out for justice. Abraham’s sojourning, his altar building, his household building is worthless to Abraham if he does not see God’s promises fulfilled. But Abraham dies believing God, believing that God will vindicate him. That even from death, God is able to vindicate. For death is necessarily wrong. It is wicked, it is backward, and it is opposed to the very nature of God. God’s justice requires that Abraham’s wrongs be acquitted and his death be revearsed.
But this is of course the rest of Paul’s point. When Adam and Eve sinned, they died, and sin came into the world. But this same sin and death was placed upon Jesus Christ on the cross. This would have made the cross no different than any other cross in Palestine at this time, except for the fact that Jesus was innocent. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, having God for his Father, and therefore He was not under the reign of sin and death. But he submitted to death, humbling himself, taking upon himself the sin and death of the world. Christ’s death was the answer to Abraham’s (and our) wrongs. Christ’s blood was the just due of all our injustice, every time we were, are, or will be wrong. But that was not the end. Christ was right and yet he died as though he was wrong. He was accused by the Jewish and Roman officials. They condemned him as a blasphemer. He was convicted of their charges, and he died before the multitude a guilty man, when he was in fact not guilty. This is the great injustice of history. This is the greatest injustice of history. Murder, rape, abuse, torture, famine, and calamity all pale in comparison. The problem of evil is here if nowhere else. How could a good and just God allow that?
And had the story ended there, God would be unjust. But it did not. The way that God has made the world is such that death cannot stick to the innocent. We often speak of life as being hard to preserve, death being difficult to beat. But for those who are right it is quite the opposite, death is hard to preserve, and life cannot be beat. Christ was right and the scribes and pharisees were wrong. Jesus was right, Pilot and the masses were wrong. How do we know this? Because Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection proves Jesus right. It is his vindication for the world to see. Jesus paid the penalty for our wrongs, so that God might justly say that we are right, even when we have been wrong, that we are just, even when we have been unjust. And He rose from the dead both so that the world would know that Jesus was right, but so that we might know what happens to people who die being right: They rise from the dead. In this sense, the death of every believer is unjust and cries out to God for vindication. The graves of the just are memorials before God demanding his justice.
But with Abraham, we are sure that we have been and will be vindicated because we believe God. We believe God, obey Him, and He says we’re right and all of our enemies are wrong. He judges on our behalf because we believe Him. Faith is what makes us right. Unbelief makes others wrong. And whatever our accusers may say, whatever accusations they may bring, whatever they may convict us of, we may live confidently knowing that the Judge of the whole earth will do right. Every wrong against us will be declared wrong, and those who plot against us will be destroyed. Justice will be served, and though we may die, life will win out over death, and we will wake up like Jesus in indestructable bodies. And we will smile at our enemies, because we knew we were right all along.