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I grew up surrounded by a phrase that many evangelical Christians are familiar with. “God is love, but he is also just.” More and more, I’ve been finding myself disliking that phrase. It makes God’s justice out to be opposite of God’s love. I’d say that God’s justice is a product or an expression of his love.
I think that God has to be just. To me, any interpretation of God that doesn’t involve justice simply doesn’t work. Not only because I think the Bible describe God that way, but because we live in a world of extreme injustice. For the millions of people who are oppressed, a God who doesn’t have justice is a God of injustice. Often I’ve heard and used the term ‘God’s justice’ to describe my personal sin or abstract sin, but it’s interesting to see how the Bible, especially the prophets, describe God’s justice. It’s often in the context of oppression of the poor. Given the state of our world, I think that it’s more important than ever to have a right understanding of God’s justice. God loves so much that he defends the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized with justice. Jesus showed this justice by showing God’s love for the outcasts and rebuking those who would keep them out.
Athanasius, one of the early Church fathers, has an interesting take on this. He describes death and sin as a state of losing our existence. The great gift that God gave mankind was to exist, to live as children made in God’s image. Sin distorts the image of God within us. Athanasius describes how because God is a God of justice, he cannot allow his gift, the image of God within us, to be distorted. He is too just to allow such a thing to happen. Rather than the view I’ve grown up with, where God’s justice and love are opposed and God really wants to love us, but just can’t because of his justice, this view shows God’s justice and love being united. Because of God’s justice, he cannot and will not let sin and death have the final word over his beautiful creation. He would not be just otherwise.