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Justice that restores

In Christ, God modeled the kind of justice that heals

Justice that restores

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On a recent Saturday, I didn’t speak to my husband for a whole day. Something had happened that triggered memories from our first year of dating, fanning a dusty cloud of hurts and wounds that I had assumed were long ago swept away. But no, there they were, settled in the dark corners of my heart, and all it took was one forceful blow to blast them out into the open. 

My husband, David, and I had a very rocky start to our relationship. We said things, hurt each other, shed barrels of tears. But we pushed through together, and three years later, we got married. Everything seemed fine, except I had unconsciously carried into our marriage a secret sack full of dust from the past—not just from our dating relationship, but from all the way into my childhood and teenage years—shovelfuls and shovelfuls of trauma, insecurities, and semi-healed wounds that leak easily when poked. We could be so full of laughter and love one day, and the next day, something happens that reopens 15-year-old and 3-year-old wounds that bleed into each other and become one big, messy, sticky gash.  

That’s what happened that Saturday when I woke up with a wounded heart and sought to draw blood from my own husband. I was cold and withdrawn, answered his efforts to make me laugh with curt responses, sat next to him but let my mind roam in the past and thought of all the times David had failed or wronged me. The person I love and committed to love became my adversary. Having no advocate except myself, I sought to enact my own form of justice on him. 

The justice of a hurt, unhealed person can be mean and reactionary. In my mind, I was righting a wrong—justice. But the problem was that it was a very retributive form of justice, one that sought to hurt the other to soothe my own hurt. By pushing David away, I ultimately hoped to punish him, even if that wasn’t a fully conscious intention. As much as I thought punishing the other would satisfy me, it only hurt me more to see him hurt. All my “justice” accomplished was more pain and turmoil for both sides. 

Like many others, I’ve been thinking a lot about justice—what it is, how it looks, where it comes from, and whose justice it is. I’ve been studying the Bible and praying for a godly understanding of justice, and I saw that word everywhere in the Scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament. I don’t recall learning much about Biblical justice from the church while growing up. Any mention of “oppression” was almost always over-spiritualized, having little or no relevance to societal or systemic oppression. So it was eye-opening to recognize how deeply God cares about justice, to see Him not just as a personal God who saves and loves and comforts me individually, but as a God of justice and righteousness who cares passionately for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society, who desires His people to do justice. Justice originates from God, and only God is inherently, perfectly just. 

One term I’ve heard secular groups use a lot is “restorative justice”—a theory primarily used in criminology that emphasizes a cooperative process between both victim and perpetrator to repair harm done. But that’s actually a Biblical idea: The Bible refers more to restorative justice—one that makes room for recognition of wrongdoing, repentance, material restitution, and reconciliation—than retributive or punitive justice (Numbers 5:6-7, Leviticus 6:1-7, Ezekiel 33:11, Isaiah 53:5, Micah 7:18, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 19:8, 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, 10-11, Galatians 6:1). 

These comprehensive, holistic, beautiful principles of restorative justice culminate on the cross, where the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ made the restoration of our broken relationship with God possible. We became right with God and were made righteous due to His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. But it still came with a price: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ who willingly died for our sins. This mystery and power of the cross must become our model and framework of how we view, comprehend, and do justice in all sectors of our lives, from self to family to community to the world, from criminal justice to racial justice. Biblical justice doesn’t put one down for the sake of the other—it makes everyone, both wrongdoers and the wronged, whole. 

This is where we cross-bearing Christ-followers can lead the way to a fuller, richer, more satisfying model of Biblical justice. The entire narrative of the Bible points to God’s restorative justice at work in the world—restoring our relationship with Him and one another, directing us to see each other as image-bearers of God and to treat everyone with equality, fairness, and justice. We are tasked to create, restore, and sustain dignity in relationships with the same grace and love that God gave us.

But we don’t always do a good job at that. Today, we are seeing intense divisions and chaos in the United States not just because Marxism or critical race theory have indoctrinated minds, or simply because white supremacy has soaked into our institutions, but because we human beings—and I mean all human beings—have not followed the life-giving, wrong-fixing, reconciling justice that God displayed through Christ. Throughout history, we humans have taken advantage of people more vulnerable than us, or remained apathetic or oblivious to the injustice around us. Yet nobody is immune to committing injustice: We all share that sinful desire to be greater and better than others. One day the oppressed will cry out and in comes retributive justice: “You hurt me. I’ll make you hurt so you feel my hurt. I’ll make you pay.” 

That Saturday, as I performed my own twisted form of justice on my husband, I was miserable, and so was he. I was playing both victim and judge. The result was two victims standing before one mean and angry judge when what we both longed for was a perfect, loving, righteous judge. If we had been two strangers, our relationship would have been severed long before a relationship even existed (and that’s what’s happening in society right now). But as man and wife, bonded into a lifelong covenant under God, love and trust won. 

By that night, we were talking and listening to each other. In the midst of that conversation, my self-centered sense of justice shifted to a more cross-centered one: I was honest about what I felt, but my aim was to restore—not punish. It started from a place of love, then recognition of past wounds that weren’t adequately addressed, then transitioned into David asking, “What can I do to make things right?” and me acknowledging my own failures. And then we ended the night by saying, “I love you.” 

That’s just a small example of restorative justice practiced in real life, but what a reminder that what happened on the cross is not just something that happened more than 2,000 years ago. It was a world-shaking event that should continue to shake every person, every marriage, every church, every community to the ends of the earth.