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Justice, Judgment, “Soul Sort Narratives,” and Love

In my post on Brian McLaren’s “Soul Sort Narrative,” we began to discuss the connection between justice, judgment and love.  As a lawyer and legal scholar, the themes of justice and judgment have always been interesting to me.  I’ve always felt a bit of awe when I receive an order from a Judge, even regarding something mundane like the exchange of documents in a civil case.  That piece of paper represents the power and authority of the United States government compelling some person or corporation to behave a certain way, on pain of sanctions for contempt of court.  When is the exercise of such authority legitimate and just?  This is perhaps the most important question any legal system must address.

One of the problems with the “Chick Tract soul sort” version of the “gospel” is that the narrative lacks any meaningful representation of how justice, judgment, and love relate to each other or to God’s character.  The problem with this narrative isn’t that God judges; it’s that the god who is depicted as judge seems to lack any sense of justice or any attribute of love.  Here is a god not unlike the gods of the pagans — arbitrary, distant, angry, petty, bent on destruction.

What do you think of when you consider God’s “justice?”  Can God’s judgments be arbitrary or must they be justifiable with reference to some notion of what “justice” means?


The Chick Tract god is not the Triune God revealed in Jesus
Christ.  As Scot McKnight notes in
his book A
Community Called Atonement
, “[j]ustice . . . cannot be reduced to
revenge or retribution.  Instead,
it is the redemptive grace of God at work in God’s community of faith that
preemptively strikes with grace, love, peace, and forgiveness to restore others
to selves, and to restore selves to others.”  God’s justice portrayed in scripture is a justice of restoration.  It is not arbitrary, but rather flows from the relational
character of the Triune God, which is a relationship of perfect fellowship and
love. 

A United States federal district court judge’s orders are
legitimate because and to the extent that they are constructed within the
communal framework of our constitutional social contract.  God’s judgments are legitimate because
they are the extension of the communal life of God into the world He created to
share in that life.  But if God is
love, why would his justice ever exclude anyone?  Can there be justice without any “sorting?”

I think Hans Boersma, in his rich book Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross, offers a helpful response: 

“Just as divine hospitality
requires at least some violence to make it flourish, so also God’s love
requires that he become angry when his love is violated. For God not to get
angry when he is rejected by people made in his image (and redeemed in Christ)
would demonstrate indifference, not love. 
.  .  . Love, it seems, requires passionate
anger toward anything that would endanger the relationship of love.”

Love requires
“sorting.”  If God is to
restore the community of peace, He must melt away that which opposes peace,
just as the refiner melts away that which corrupts the strength and beauty of
the metal.  “For he [God] is
like a refiner’s fire” (Mal. 3:2).

This connection between love, justice, and judgment does not
in itself answer a deeper question, which I think is really the question for most Christians who
wrestle with the question of “sorting”:  the nature and justice of God’s election.  I think most
people intuitively know that justice, making things “right,” requires
sorting.  The question is who
exactly gets sorted, and how.  I’ll
try to offer some thoughts on that in another post.

For now:  what do you think of the links between love, justice, and judgment?  Does “restoration” require “sorting?”  Can there be loving justice without “violence” against injustice?

 

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