1. Introduction

It is a difficult thing for people to evaulate the justice of a God. The very implication of being a God is a sign of superiority over people in some sense. In polytheistic societies Gods may be assumed to have limited powers and wisdom, and as such may be judged by alternative standards. Under the assumption of an all-wise and powerful God, the perspective of the observer is important.

The Bible displays many aspects of the Justice of God, including some that can make people uncomfortable. The following sections attempt to address why this happens, and how it should be interpreted.

2. God and Justice

This paper is concerned about the justice of God, as viewed by the Bible. The Bible talks about the justice and righteousness of God in many places. One example is in Isaiah.

Isasah 45:18.: For thus says the LORD, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: "I am the LORD, and there is no other. 19. ... I, the LORD, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. 21. ... there is no other God besides Me, A just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me. NKJV

This passage makes a number of claims relating to God. The first is that it was God who created the heavens and the earth. This places a claim of ownership of the earth and that he has a supreme power over it. Of course anyone can make this claim about themself, so it's validity has to be determined by the reliability of the Bible. This aspect is not to be considered here, and the assumption is made the the Bible is a reliable source.

Not only did the God form the earth, but it was also created with a particular purpose. In Isaiah it was said that he “formed it to be inhabited”. It is against this background that humans were created on Earth. We were part of a creation which took place to fulfill the purpose of God.

In verse 19, there is the claim that God speaks righteousness, and declares things that are right. He is then further described as a “just God”. It takes some thought to see the full significance of these statements. In some ways it is speaking the obvious, but in others it asks fundamental questions about what it really means to be just or righteous.

In the original context of this statement, people commonly believed in multiple Gods. In that case, some Gods were considered to be better and more just than others. This passage was claiming that the true God was the only God, and as well as that, was a just God. At this point it may be worth posing the question of what defines a just and righteous God. This is not really clear, because it means judging the standards of the creator against the standards of the creature. To some extent, this is the fundamental conundrum when considering the justice of God.

God vs Humans in Zephaniah

The prophet Zephaniah in the Bible is just one of many who set up a contrast between the righteousness of God and of man. The contrast is constructed between a rebellious people and a righteous God.

Zephaniah 3:1.: Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted, To the oppressing city! 2. She has not obeyed His voice, She has not received correction; She has not trusted in the LORD, She has not drawn near to her God. ... 5. The LORD is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails, But the unjust knows no shame. NKJV

This passage explicitly speaks of the justice of God. It claims that “Every morning He brings His justice to light”, which shows Him as an active God, continually applying His justice to His creation. It further says that “He never fails”, which is not surprising given that it is talking about the power of the creator in action.

The following section goes on to describe one form of the justice that was administered. The context of the Bible shows that the justice can be administered in a variety of ways, but the example in Zephaniah is one of the more severe.

Zepaniah 3:6.: "I have cut off nations, Their fortresses are devastated; I have made their streets desolate, With none passing by. Their cities are destroyed; There is no one, no inhabitant. 7. I said, 'Surely you will fear Me, You will receive instruction' -- So that her dwelling would not be cut off, Despite everything for which I punished her. But they rose early and corrupted all their deeds. NKJV

In this case, the unrighteous are destroyed in war. The concept of execution of justice through destruction is a theme that spans the Bible but is concentrated in the Old Testament prophets. The logic in verse 7 shows that the expectation is that this show of force in punishment should be sufficient for people to turn to the instruction and commandments of God. In this case, however, it was not to be the end of the matter. The subsequent verses outline a theme that is also common in the Bible. This is of a time when the whole world would be subject to the execution of justice.

Zephaniah 3:8.: " Therefore wait for Me," says the LORD, "Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All my fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy. 9. "For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one accord. NKJV

This passage has a sense of finality about it. It speaks of a destruction so great that God's values and sense of justice would prevail. The people would then be pure and willing to serve God. The concepts shown here are similar to those displayed in the natural justice that is implemented by humans.

Human Justice

Law

In human justice, there is a model that is basically the same through all societies. Firstly, a there is a recognised code of conduct. The specific form of this code will vary from culture to culture. Typically it will involve a set of rules that have the basic support of the people concerned, or their rulers. In the case of a government, this will take the form of a formal law or constitution. In a teenage gang, however, it may be an unwritten principle of conduct.

There is a law of God in the Bible, which is not necessarily the same thing as the law of Moses. Even Jesus, who was accused of breaking the law of God, claimed that the law should be kept.

Matthey 5:17.: " Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. NKJV

Punishment

Once this law is established, in whatever form it exists, people are expected to follow it. If they fail to, measures are taken to punish the offenders. This punishment may involve physical pain, imprisonment, or some attack on the offenders' wellbeing, such as a monetary fine. In western society, the most common punishments are fines and imprisonment.

The Bible contains many examples of punishment for law-breaking. One dramatic example is in Hebrews.

Hebrews 10:30.: For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." 31. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. NKJV

Prevention of crime

Many people have argued about the role of punishment in the justice system. Once a crime is committed, it generally doesn't help the victim, or indeed anyone, to have the offender punished. Imprisonment helps guard against re-offence, but there is a greater role that than. One of the main reasons is as a deterrent to both that person and others, to prevent people from breaking the law. When people see that punishment is a likely outcome, they are less inclined to break the law.

When Egypt set themselves up against God, God returned with the prophecy that they would be destroyed.

Ezekiel 29:9.: "And the land of Egypt shall become desolate and waste; then they will know that I am the LORD, because he said, 'The River is mine, and I have made it.' NKJV

The emphasis here is that they would then know and have learnt the true place of God.

avoid punishing the innocent

It is a focus of most human justice systems that the innocent should not be punished. It is for this reason that there is a big and expensive legal system which is used to determine guilt or innocence. Many countries constitutionally assume innocence of a crime unless guilt can be proven. Although this means that offenders may more easily escape without punishment, the innocent are less likely to suffer from the crimes of the guilty.

The examples in the Bible show that God not only avoids punishing the innocent, but is patient to the extent of delaying punishment and judgement so that people have a chance of forgiveness.

2 Peter 3:8.: But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. NKJV

Running a society

The whole aim of the justice system is to keep a society running in a desired fashion. People generally agree on a set of laws that help the society run in the desired way, instead of what may eventuate from anarchy. This ultimately means placing a set of restrictions on the people for a greater good. Thus laws and punishments may have an undesirable aspect to them, but yet still be necessary for the overall good of the society.

In terms of the Bible, despite the restrictions of the Mosaic Law, King David claimed,

Psalms 119:97.: Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day NKJV

Love

One particular application of justice is in the management and education of children. It is in this case that the aspect of love on the part of the dispensor of justice is most evident. The term discipline is used here to refer to a form of punishment that is intended to educate a person for their own good.

The concept of discipline also occurs in the Bible with respect to God's punishments. In Deuterononmy the discipline of God is linked to the discipline of a man over his child.

Deut 8:5.: Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6. Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. NASB

This shows that the discipline is an aid in following the ways of God.

3. Biblical Examples of Justice

One of the early examples of justice through punishment in the Bible is the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. According to the Bible, this event occurred at about 2000BC, during the life of the man Abraham. Abraham's nephew, Lot, chose to live near the city of Sodom, and at that time, the men of Sodom were described as being wicked.

Genesis 13:12.: Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. 13. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD NKJV

In Genesis 18, God started taking action against the people of Sodom. Given the statement in Genesis 13, it appears that the wickedness of Sodom had been a long-running state. In chapter 18, some angels came to Abraham, and God gave a message to him. He chose to reveal to Abraham His plans to enact justice on the cities.

Genesis 18:20.: And the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, 21. "I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know." 22. Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. NKJV

This event provoked a reaction from Abraham. It is clear that Abraham was concerned about the fate of his nephew Lot, and any other righteous people in the city. It seems that Abraham is not sure about the principles that God used in dispensing justice.

Genesis 18:23.: And Abraham came near and said, "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24. "Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? NKJV

Abraham obviously saw that the cities were likely to be destroyed because of their wickedness, but he was concerned that some people might not be deserving of the punishment. This is a concern that people commonly have about examples of God's punishments. Throughout the Old Testament, there are examples of punishment like this where many people are killed. The flood at the time of Noah is one example, but there was also death through war and famine. The dialogue in Genesis 18 gives some insight into the principles God used in dispensing this justice.

Abraham first started by asking whether the presence of fifty righteous people would prevent its destruction. Out of the whole city, that was a small number and significantly less than the majority, that democratic systems look for. Abraham went on to justify his question, and in doing so seemed to be trying to teach righteousness to God,

Genesis 18:25.: "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" 26. So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes." NKJV

Abraham's view of right and wrong held that the righteous should be preserved from the destruction of the wicked. Given that Abraham is said to be faithful to God, one would expect that Abraham's view had come from his belief in God in the first place. It is a little odd then, that he wasn't sure that God had the same view. Most likely Abraham saw here a conflict between two moral principles. On one hand he knew of God's strong sense of justice, and that wickedness had to be destroyed, but on the other hand he expected that the righteous would also be caught up in the city. In particular, he had a personal connection, with the presence of his nephew Lot.

God told Abraham what he wanted to hear, in that the city would be spared for the sake of fifty righteous people. This, however, was not enough to put Abraham's mind at rest. He knew that Sodom was a wicked place, and that there may have been less than fifty righteous there. So he then started asking what would happen if there were just a few less than fifty,

Genesis 18:27.: Then Abraham answered and said, "Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: 28. "Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?" So He said, "If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it." NKJV

After each confirmation, Abraham then kept asking one stage smaller, until he was asking about only 10 righteous among the whole city.

Genesis 18:32.: Then he said, "Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it for the sake of ten." NKJV

This episode shows that God is unwilling to punish the innocent along with the guilty. Instead the wicked are more likely to have greater freedom than they are worthy of enjoying. This is consistent with the human thought that innocence should be presumed. The danger here is that God may be perceived as more accepting, and weaker than he is.

In the case of Sodom, however not even 10 righteous people were found, and the judgement ensued. The record goes on to show, however, that the righteous were given an escape, and were even helped in leaving. Peter referred to the event, and the deliverence of Lot.

2 Peter 2:6.: and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; 7. and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked 8. (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) -- 9. then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, NKJV

The wickedness of Sodom had been obvious at the time, but Ezekiel looked at the motivating emotions that led to the wicked state. This shows that the situation of wickedness can easily be recreated when there is a loss of the principles of God,

Ezekiel 16:48.: "As I live," says the Lord GOD, "neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. 49. "Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50. "And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit. NKJV

Luke shows how the sudden destruction of Sodom would be paralleled at the return of Jesus

Luke 17:28.: "Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29. "but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30. "Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31. "In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. 32. "Remember Lot's wife. NKJV

Discipline

The discipline aspect of Judgement is portrayed in 1 Cor 11.

1 Cor 11:31.: But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. NASB

So in this case, judgment was applied for discipline, to prevent a final condemnation. In a similar manner, the believers of Jesus are judged to be disciplined. In Ecclesiastes, it is claimed that a lack of punishment leads people into evil,

Eccl 8:10.: Then I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of holiness, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done. This also is vanity. 11. Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. NKJV

The discipline concept is reinforced in Hebrews, where the punishments of God are dealt with in detail in the twelfth chapter. In this passage, the writer associates chastisement with the sonship of God.

Hebrews 12:5.: and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, my son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; 6. for those whom the lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives. NASB

The writer to the Hebrews then goes further to say that if we don't receive chastisement, there is something wrong.

Hebrews 12:7.: It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8. But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. NASB

Ananias and Sapphira

A dramatic example of justice being performed in the new testament occurred in the incident of Ananias and Sapphira. This was recorded in Acts 5. At that time, people were pooling their possessions within the community of believers. These people, however, were deceptive in their involvement with this scheme,

Acts 5:1.: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? NKJV

They had sold the land, but didn't give the full story of what they had done.

Acts 5:4.: "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." 5. Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. NKJV

In this case, there was no opportunity for reform, or rehabilitation. Instead, it was immediate destruction, and somewhat out of step with current western thinking on justice. Does this mean that God is to harsh in His punishment? Many have thought so. If that is the case though, one must ask under what principles it is too harsh. Certainly, it can't be too harsh under the principles of God, because these are the very principles in question. Instead, this view must be under principles derived from another source, which will most likely be the likes of a particular society.

Note though, that the use of this type of punishment by God does not specifically condone its use at the hands of other people. The Bible shows God as reserving His own position as special, and above that of humanity. He is not obliged to live by his own laws to humanity, simply because He is not humanity.

4. God's Choice With Creation

The question may be posed about whether God can be trusted to dispense the correct form of justice. Certainly, over the years, various Governments have been considered wrong in their systems of laws and execution of their perception of justice. People have also felt uncomfortable with the actions of God, as revealed through the Bible. There is, however, a strong principle that affects how we should interpret the actions of God.

In the book of Jeremiah, God is likened to a potter, who has power over his creation.

Jeremiah 18:1: The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 2. "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words." 3. Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. 5. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 6. "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! NKJV

The message is that just as the potter has the right to create and destroy his creation, so God has a right to ownership of his creation. This does not conclude the argument, however, as in our world, the ability to do something does not necessarily mean that it is something that should be done. One of the purposes of laws is to prevent people from controlling others in this way.

The book of Romans uses the example of the potter as part of an argument on this subject, This time, the aspect of the creator and the creation is developed.

Romans 9:20.: But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21. Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? NKJV

In human terms, potters are given every right to do anything they please to a piece of pottery that they created. Romans 9 then likens humans to such a creation of God, and as such God has every right to do as he pleases. The consequence is that the God has a supreme authority and is, by definition, the standard for right and wrong.

In Malachi, people are said to weary God in seeking for a justice that is different to what they receive.

Malachi 2:17.: You have wearied the LORD with your words; Yet you say, "In what way have we wearied Him?" In that you say, "Everyone who does evil Is good in the sight of the LORD, And He delights in them," Or, "Where is the God of justice?" NKJV

In this situation, there were people looking for a type of justice that they were not receiving. They saw this as being a sign that God was lacking, or unjust. This was falling into the easy mistake of expecting something that is false.

The prophet Isaiah has also used the example of the potter.

Isaiah 29:15.: Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD, And their works are in the dark; They say, "Who sees us?" and, "Who knows us?" 16. Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, "He did not make me"? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"? NKJV

People, in their own arrogance, can view God on the same level as themselves and doubt his judgment. The analogy of the potter shows that it is as pointless to consider the creator as unjust as it is for the pottery to consider the potter as unjust.

The Nature of Man

To look instead at the justice of humans as perceived by God, there is also a story of inadequacy. Jeremiah is quite critical of the standards of human instinct,

Jeremaih 17:9.: " The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10. I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. 11. " As a partridge that broods but does not hatch, So is he who gets riches, but not by right; It will leave him in the midst of his days, And at his end he will be a fool." NKJV

As a result of this instinct, people have built up an impression of life and values that are not necessarily correct. It can challenge the supremacy and justice of God, and also the perception of what to expect out of creation. When expectations, such as rewards in life, are too high, God may be condemned for not providing something that is not even deserved.

Expectation

At the time of creation, God was in complete control of the fate of His creation. The opportunity was there to make many choices about the properties of the creation, including things such a lifespan, and the environment of the Earth.

Overall, the creation itself was a blessing to those created. This was the opportunity of life that would not have been there without the creator. After the sin of Adam, and subsequent condemnation to death, the state of humans appears reasonably clear. In Genesis, life is shown to be a window of existence, surrounded by non-existence.

Gen 3:19.: In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." NKJV

After dying, it appears that it is just like the person never existed. Ecclesiastes spells this out.

Eccl 9:5.: For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. 6. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun. NKJV

King David, in the Psalms showed his view of death,

Psa 6:4.: Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies' sake! 5. For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? NKJV

Similarly, death is spoken of in Romans, but this time connecting it to the justice of God.

Romans 5:12.: Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned -- NKJV

This shows the extent of one of the first acts of Justice of God in this creation. From the garden of Eden, there was a condemnation that would spread to encompass the death of all people who have lived on the earth.

The hope and destiny of humans can also be viewed from a Godless viewpoint. In this case, scientific and philosophical priciples may be applied to determine what people can expect from life. Rules about the length and meaning of life are then established from observation. In terms of observation, the basic case is quite simple. People are born, live for about 70 years, and then die. After a person dies, the only visible things left are memories and descendants. The following generation may observe the legacy of a person, but this has no observable effect on the person who is then deceased.

Both the creation record and natural observation show that the only thing that can be expected out of life is what can be seen. This is normally about 70 years of living, followed by a cessation of living. The Bible shows that God's blessing for the world was the creation itself. Science is a study of observed things, and so only expects what is seen. On this information, there is no evidence or reason to expect any more out of life, or any greater purpose. People do find it hard to accept death, so they say that “there must be more to it”, but this is not a valid argument. We cannot claim immortality exists simply on the basis that we would like it to be true.

Furthermore, it cannot be considered a “right”, or something a person is deserves. The example of the potter shows that God is the creator and the one who has rights, and the creature has to accept the rules of existence defined by the creator. The word “has” here is also absolute. Even if a person disagrees with this, it is not possible to rebel and overcome the creator. While we can rebel against God's laws of living, we cannot overcome God's laws of existance.

From the Bible, people are deserving of death as a result of the rebellion of Adam. From science people have no more right to immortality than they do to walking at the speed of light. So basically God build a creation that had mortal people.

This analysis appears bleak, but only because our society has an expectation for more. There is nothing inherent in the observable design of the world that says that people should deserve any more hope than that. Similarly when considering that the world was created by a God, there is no basis for expecting any specific “rights” beyond those that are stated or observed.

From a human perspective people often expect a particular lifestyle and length of life. If it is shorter, or deemed less pleasant, they feel cheated. If it longer, or more pleasant it is often considered a thing that was deserved. This is based on observation, and the standard being set by the observation of other peoples' lives. From the perspective of the Bible, however, we are blessed to received life in the first place, and even more blessed to receive a long and healthy one.

This raises a fundamental question. Would it be unjust for God to create a mortal humanity where there was no hope beyond death? Is it wrong to create people where there is a chance of dying at a young age? Even from a human perspective, it is hard to say that a God would be doing wrong thing in that creation.

5. Justice Beyond the Present

Even though neither science nor our position with God provide any expectations from a God beyond what we can readily see, the Bible does provide more answers. The book of Daniel talks of a time when there would be dramatic changes on the earth.

Daniel 12:1.: "At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. 2. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. NKJV

This passage relates closely to the one in Zephanaih. Both talk of a day of God's anger when justice would be dispensed.

Zephaniah 3:8.: " Therefore wait for Me," says the LORD, "Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All my fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy. 9. "For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one accord. NKJV

In Daniel 12:1, four categories of people exist:

  1. Those people who are alive at the time of the event.
  2. Those who are dead and stay that way. The use of the word many implies that not all are raised.
  3. Those who receive everlasting life.
  4. Those who receive everlasting comtempt.

The justice that is performed seems to enacted in three different ways. Some people are apparently ignored. Others are given a reward, while the final group are punished.

Reward of the Wicked

Psalm 37

The rewared of the wicked is a theme that spans the Bible, and there are many references to this. The psalms include quite a number of these. In Psalm 37, king David goes into some detail about future rewards of the wicked and the righteous. This chapter speaks of a time when justice will be done by God, which is a concept closely linked with the times in the prophecies of Daniel and Zephaniah above.

Psa 37:18.: The LORD knows the days of the upright, And their inheritance shall be forever. 19. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, And in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. 20. But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the LORD, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away. NKJV

Here it is stated that the wicked will perish, and the enemies of God will vanish. Verse 28 further adds to the contrast,

Psa 37:28.: For the LORD loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. 29. The righteous shall inherit the land, And dwell in it forever. NKJV

Psa 37:37.: Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; For the future of that man is peace. 38. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; The future of the wicked shall be cut off. 39. But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in the time of trouble. 40. And the LORD shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, And save them, Because they trust in Him. NKJV

The emphasis of these passages is that the wicked are to be destroyed, while the righteous receive a salvation. In particular there is a contrast in the term of existance. There is an end to the wicked through destruction, not an ongoing punishment.

Know not God

The justice and punishment shown in 2 Thess 1 is decisive.

2 Thess 1:6.: since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7. and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8. in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, NKJV

This again speaks of a day of judgement, and closely parallels the alternative accounts above. This description adds the the colour of the vengeance being taken out in flaming fire. This shows severe action, but again the punishment is destruction.

The people receiving the destruction are those that “do not know God”. Though other use in the Bible, this does mean simply an absense of knowledge about God, which is understandable as many wicked may well know about God. As an example, the sons of the priest Eli would well know about God and his laws, but the criticism of the was that they didn't know God,

1 Sam 2:12.: Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD. NKJV

Similarly of the people of Israel in Jeremiah,

Jer 9:6.: Your dwelling place is in the midst of deceit; Through deceit they refuse to know Me," says the LORD. NKJV

Evil upon themselves:

Isa 3:8.: For Jerusalem stumbled, And Judah is fallen, Because their tongue and their doings Are against the LORD, To provoke the eyes of His glory. 9. The look on their countenance witnesses against them, And they declare their sin as Sodom; They do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves. 10. " Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, For they shall eat the fruit of their doings. 11. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, For the reward of his hands shall be given him. NKJV

Luke 16

Responsibility

Anther aspect of God's justice that is brought out in the Bible, is the level of responsibility. Jesus showed this in a parable.

Luke 12:42.: And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 43. "Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. NKJV

The blessing of the faithful servant is clear and straightforward. It then talks of an unfaithful servant, who would be punished as a result of his actions,

Luke 12:45.: "But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, 46. "the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. NKJV

In the conclusion, he described the different possible punishments:

Luke 12:47.: "And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48. "But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. NKJV

In this case, the type of punishment depends on the knowledge and responsibility of the person involved. This is consistent with the principles that humans have developed over the years.

One concern that people can have with the justice of God is that is can be too harsh and sudden on an unknowing victim. In particular the condemnation of an unknowing person to eternal torment is something that comes to peoples' minds. This example shows that that need not be a concern because God considers responsibility. Even more importantly, this concern can be dispelled when the judgement of God is better understood.

Reward of the Faithful

Justice is not just about the punishment of the wicked. It also encompasses the rightful reward of the faithful. This aspect of God's justice is shown in Isaiah 30.

Isaiah 30:18.: Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him. 19. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; You shall weep no more. He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; When He hears it, He will answer you. NKJV

So indeed, the justice of God is a comfort to those who receive his Grace. The beauty of this is portrayed in 1 Corinthians,

1 Corinthians 2:9.: But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." NKJV

So God's justice is not only to be feared, but something to be hoped for.