DIVINE JUSTICE

BY:  JOHN R. GAVAZZONI

JULY, 2002

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PART ONE

Recently a brother in Christ and dear friend renewed a long-standing challenge to me to explain my view of God’s justice. The occasion for this was originally given because of our differing views on the subject of, what is commonly called, ultimate reconciliation, final restoration or Christian universalism, among other titles. My understanding is that, historically, its more formal description is restorationism according to The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, which I have in my sparse library (sparse because I have given away or thrown away literally piles of books recently while in the throes of a fresh realization that the “kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (I Cor. 4:20), and that it is a kingdom, “in the Spirit”). And yet I know, here I am adding more words in the hope that they proceed from the Spirit of Truth as emanations of Him who is Truth.

My friend committed himself to making something of a formal reply and/or rebuttal, feeling the issue was so central to our always respectful but lively discussions and I plan to post his reply when I receive it. We have never allowed our disagreement to ruin our fellowship in Christ, but he has, on several occasions, strongly re-affirmed his adamant opposition to my view, and so much so, that, though I once ministered in word and song in his church with a delightfully exuberant response from the congregation, he now feels that should it become known in his denomination that I hold this conviction and that he knowingly, nevertheless, allowed me to speak or even sing, the potential for irreparable damage would be too great. There also seemed to be an accompanying fear that some kind of spiritual infestation might occur even if I avoided the subject. With that introduction let’s get on with it.  

When the justice of God is raised in conventional Christian circles, I think it would be accurate to say that the first, knee-jerk, thought generally has to do with the idea of not being able to get away with anything when it comes to God. And most would place the subject against the backdrop of the law’s moral and ethical demands; demands which include that God not bend an inch in the matter of retribution. I think it is crucial, early on, that we make it clear that the law in its most essential form does not exist in eternity as a written code of behavior alongside God Himself. Surely one need not be pressed much to acknowledge that the primal, original form of the law is God Himself.  

The Almighty has no need to refer or defer to commandments in the form of written legislation to guide divine action. He is a law unto Himself. He is wholly, yet freely, moved by the perfection of His nature. He acts always consistent with that holy nature with impeccable and unimpeachable integrity. In short, He IS righteous, holy and yes, just. If one is inclined to make a study of the Greek words used in the New Testament which are translated as “righteous” or “just,” one cannot escape the conclusion that they are at least quite overlapping, if not identical in meaning and one must approach such a study without creedal or theological presuppositions, otherwise we will thrust upon the words a meaning that is not necessarily there. It is very possible for truly godly men to have a seriously flawed view of the meaning of righteousness (rightness) and justice (justness) so that if we begin without questioning their ideas at all we may simply promulgate convoluted theology.  

My intention is to trace rightness or righteousness, justice or justness back to the nature and character of God. This is necessary because we must start with the Root. The written law, we are told, was interposed, inserted; it was added because of transgressions. It was introduced to show sin as exceedingly sinful (Rom. 7:13). The law, in its written form of demanding legislation, Paul dares to say, is the power of sin (I Cor. 15:56). It is that divine instrument which, again according to Paul, provides sin with its opportunity to slay humankind (Rom. 7:11). It was specifically given as the expressed will of God for a theocratic nation on earth. So we cannot and dare not limit our discussion of divine justice to the context of the Mosaic Law, or for that matter, law generically, for Paul speaks in the same mode of thought not only of THE law, but of law without the article.

I believe there is a simple progression of godly reason, guided by the Spirit, whereby we can begin to understand God’s justice without the contamination of mere convention or tradition in the bad sense of that term. We begin with the God who is right, right with Himself, with His family, with His angels and with all His creation. He is righteous. In fact He IS righteousness. Being righteous includes the fact that He is consistently just. He never violates His righteousness in His dealings with men. He is, in His rightness and justness, a good God. He is not a bad god. He is not an evil god. He is always true to that most essential characteristic of His nature, which is love, perfect love. Out of His very nature proceeds the character of love. Twice the apostle of restoration, John, writing to bring believers back to the true, essential understanding necessary for communion with God and one another tells us that God is love (I John 4:8,16). It is that constituent of His Spirit-Being that leads us to true understanding; that is, the love of God is self-revelatory. Love enLIGHTens us. The light, which God is, is the love that He is, expressed and made known. Likewise, love, proceeding from God as light, is internalized in relationship as God becomes our life in Christ (“In Him was life and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)

In this integrity, of which I write, God never veers from His good purpose for us all. Even in His introduction of evil into the world, and indeed none other than He was responsible for its advent, He was and is always moving toward the ultimate good of sharing His glory with all creation. “The knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. (Hab. 2:14) “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof and all its inhabitants” (Psalm 24:1). “I have given them the glory that I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:24). “And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; …that the world may know…” (John 17:22-23)

Divine justice proceeds out from the ultimate intention of the Father, His intention that all creation enjoy and express His glory. Having desired, foreordained, purposed, predestined and willed that His sons manifest Him fully to a waiting creation and having, Himself, subjected all of creation to futility, not of its own will but by the will of Him who subjected it, and having consigned (penned up) all to disobedience that He might have mercy on all, He now acts JUSTLY through his sons ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, according to that will which is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (II Pet. 3:9) This, which seems to the carnal mind to be horrible ambiguity, is in fact the wisdom of God whereby he plows the soil of natural humanity through the instrumentation of evil so that the Seed of the Father of Glory might take root by grace. It must be by grace. Herein is the essential insight into the mystery of iniquity. (II Thes. 2:7)

So what does divine justice demand? The demand of divine justice is the demand of perfect love. It requires that we share the very glory of God and it provides what it requires. It provides a cross so that God, who authored so great a plan, made it happen even though it required His humiliation on a hill called Golgotha “…in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph. 3:11 NAS) Did you get that? He carried it out in Christ. Check every translation that you care to, and the meaning is the same in all of them (except for the King James, but thankfully the New King James gets it right translating it “realized in Christ Jesus”). Other translations agree with the New King James, saying that He carried it out; He accomplished it; He brought it to pass. Justice demanded this and nothing less, for justice is not a retaliatory reaction by God to man’s disobedience; it is not the reaction of petulant perfection. It is the called-for action of God that brings to pass the purpose of His love. Justice must not be seen as that which stands in opposition to the deepest desire of God, but rather as the just action of God which brings His pleasure to pass.

You say, “But some men reject it, they reject Him and all that He did. Justice demands that they be excluded.” Or maybe you say, “It is not God who excludes them, they exclude themselves.” Why, how terribly sad then that, in spite of the declaration of Holy Writ, the eternal purpose in fact is not accomplished in Christ and will not be. Dear one, is it I who miss the meaning of the cross? Was not Calvary the final, ultimate and collective rejection of God? And did not God, right there in the midst of human infamy, reject their rejection and receive the very ones who rejected Him? Was that not the demonstration of the heart of God? The issue is not man’s rejection of God, it is God’s acceptance of man in Christ. Does God accept a man because that man accepts Him? No, God accepts us in Christ and because of Christ and this divine initiation plays itself out in our acceptance of our acceptance in Him.

Evangelicals love to elevate the act of “accepting” Christ, but scripture bases our acceptance of Him upon His acceptance of us. “Accepted in the beloved. (Eph. 1:6) We are accepted with such overwhelming passion that finally there is nothing for the human heart to do but cry “Yes, Jesus is Lord.” You see, the fact that Yeshua (Savior) is Lord, means that salvation rules in God’s dealings with men. But you may insist that there is no chance for salvation after death, as if chance had anything to do with salvation. Where, I pray, do you find that in scripture? Where do you find it written that God only deals with men salvifically in the brief span of their earthly life? Almost always, the unthinking answer is: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment. (Heb. 9:27) Yes, after this the judgment, not certain banishment from the presence of God forever. What can judgment mean except the non-negotiable stance of God regarding His desire, pleasure, purpose and will? What can judgment mean other than the edict of God that exclusion, even self-exclusion, is not an option since He is the God “who will have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (I Tim. 2:4) It is God’s rectifying insistence that His will be carried out leading to His compassion, that does not leave us with confrontation, but mercifully does for us and in us that which He insists upon. This judgment is backed by the power of perfect love that casts out fear and which solves the problem of all men, all their lives, being in bondage to the fear of death. (Heb. 2:15)  

“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their sins against them. (II COR. 5:19) Settled, done, and done JUSTLY. Of course men must believe. One of Jesus’ several metaphors for faith was “come unto me” (Matt. 11:28), and He clearly said that if He was lifted up from the earth, speaking of the manner of His death, He would draw all men to Him. (John 12:32) Check the context of the whole Gospel of John in which that statement is recorded and then ask whether or not He really meant all. It seems clear to this follower of Christ that an essential question is whether justice stands as part of the sequential conveyance of God’s grace to man or does it stand in the way, protesting that man has not done his part to make grace work. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:8)  

The Bible speaks of faith as a gift and glories in that fact that the Gentiles have been “granted” repentance; granted a change of mind and heart. Salvation is God’s decision and it is a just decision. Man is granted participation in that decision “…for God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thes. 5:9) When we “make a decision for Christ,” the decision originates with God and becomes our decision as a gift from God and is the individual’s subjective experience of the beginning of that process by which God becomes all and in all.

In terms of God’s relationship to man, could there be any evil greater than man being separated from God forever? Will such a condition actually come to pass, or is it the ultimate evil imagination? Again I speak in terms of man’s relationship to God, for it could be said that the greatest of all evils (and certainly this can only exist in the imagination of the mind alienated from God) would be that God should lose or be deprived of even a measure of His glory. What a subtle perversion of truth it would be to base the great evil of everlasting separation from God upon an attribute of God as is done by the extant presentation of divine justice.

The fact is that this dark speculation has arisen in the mind of man, speculation which attributes to God the standard of relationship that rules the world system and then is taught as a cardinal tenet of orthodoxy until we are at home with the unthinkable and the unthinkable has claimed a home in our minds with its intimidating claim of orthodoxy. Institutional Christianity has fortified that home, turning it into a stronghold of imagination in which every evil imagination resides and where the nightmare of man’s will thwarting God’s will is guarded as truth and supported by the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the justice of God.

Watch as the drawbridge is frantically raised and tightly closed, the religious archers poised with bows drawn taut, the oil brought to boiling when the army of the Lord comes against this stronghold. By all means available, the evil imagination of everlasting separation from God must be protected; the Christian mind must not be permitted to seriously consider that such an evil has never been in the mind of God as a possibility, probability or eventuality.

God is love and love acts wisely, righteously and justly. It is twisted theology which insists that God is justice and can only act lovingly, mercifully and graciously as His justice (understood as retaliatory vindictiveness) will allow. “If you don’t do what I tell you then justice demands that I withhold from you or allow you to withhold from yourself the goal of my love. My justice makes me powerless to fully follow through in my passion for mankind. So you see, your rebellious will, will finally prevail over my will and in the measure that this is so, you, the creature become sovereign in the matter that is closest to my heart.”

Such is the portrait of the god of much of Christendom and this portrait of our Father God is afforded a greater or lesser place of prominence in the majority of Christian thinking since institutional Christianity resorted to controlling the masses by fear rather than emancipating them from fear by the true proclamation of the unconditional love demonstrated on Calvary. There, God was reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their sins unto them. Conventional interpretation has entirely missed the very obvious meaning of the passage. It was in NOT reckoning our sins against us as we crucified His Son that God reconciled us to Himself, for only such a response as “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” expressing the will of His Father in prayer, could finally and forever answer the cry of the alienated heart which had concluded itself abandoned by God.  

We who, in the collective unconscious, believed God to have acted unjustly by subjecting our innocence to over-powering evil, were now confronted by the true justice of the true God, who took responsibility for it all on the cross of Calvary, satisfying our needy hearts through the propitiating sacrifice of Christ by which He revealed the love behind the great plan that momentarily left us deprived of the light of life. Essentially we do not need to understand why, we, most importantly, need to know and believe the love behind the plan. Knowing that, we can rest in that love until it has fully lit our hearts to know the “why” of it all.

Such love can only be fully absorbed when it is seen in its refusal to retaliate with the infinite power at its disposal. Then, we can say, “I still don’t understand why the global agony, why the inhuman human condition was/is necessary but knowing the love, I can await wisdom’s explanation. If I can attack God as I have and there occur not a ripple in the continuance and consistency of His love, then my heart, if not my mind, can enter the rest of faith.”

PART TWO

JULY 15, 2002

In terms of God’s relationship to man, could there be any evil greater than man being separated from God forever? Will such a condition actually come to pass, or is it the ultimate evil imagination? Again I speak in terms of man’s relationship to God, for it could be said that the greatest of all evils (and certainly this can only exist in the imagination of the mind alienated from God) would be that God should lose or be deprived of even a measure of His glory. What a subtle perversion of truth it would be to base the great evil of everlasting separation from God upon an attribute of God as is done by the extant presentation of divine justice.

The fact is that this dark speculation has arisen in the mind of man, speculation which attributes to God the standard of relationship that rules the world system and then is taught as a cardinal tenet of orthodoxy until we are at home with the unthinkable and the unthinkable has claimed a home in our minds with its intimidating claim of orthodoxy. Institutional Christianity has fortified that home, turning it into a stronghold of imagination in which every evil imagination resides and where the nightmare of man’s will thwarting God’s will is guarded as truth and supported by the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the justice of God.

Watch as the drawbridge is frantically raised and tightly closed, the religious archers poised with bows drawn taut, the oil brought to boiling when the army of the Lord comes against this stronghold. By all means available, the evil imagination of everlasting separation from God must be protected; the Christian mind must not be permitted to seriously consider that such an evil has never been in the mind of God as a possibility, probability or eventuality.

God is love and love acts wisely, righteously and justly. It is twisted theology which insists that God is justice and can only act lovingly, mercifully and graciously as His justice (understood as retaliatory vindictiveness) will allow. “If you don’t do what I tell you then justice demands that I withhold from you or allow you to withhold from yourself the goal of my love. My justice makes me powerless to fully follow through in my passion for mankind. So you see, your rebellious will, will finally prevail over my will and in the measure that this is so, you, the creature become sovereign in the matter that is closest to my heart.”

Such is the portrait of the god of much of Christendom and this portrait of our Father God is afforded a greater or lesser place of prominence in the majority of Christian thinking since institutional Christianity resorted to controlling the masses by fear rather than emancipating them from fear by the true proclamation of the unconditional love demonstrated on Calvary. There, God was reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their sins unto them. Conventional interpretation has entirely missed the very obvious meaning of the passage. It was in NOT reckoning our sins against us as we crucified His Son that God reconciled us to Himself, for only such a response as “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” expressing the will of His Father in prayer, could finally and forever answer the cry of the alienated heart which had concluded itself abandoned by God.

We who, in the collective unconscious, believed God to have acted unjustly by subjecting our innocence to over-powering evil, were now confronted by the true justice of the true God, who took responsibility for it all on the cross of Calvary, satisfying our needy hearts through the propitiating sacrifice of Christ by which He revealed the love behind the great plan that momentarily left us deprived of the light of life. Essentially we do not need to understand why, we, most importantly, need to know and believe the love behind the plan. Knowing that, we can rest in that love until it has fully lit our hearts to know the “why” of it all.

Such love can only be fully absorbed when it is seen in its refusal to retaliate with the infinite power at its disposal. Then, we can say, “I still don’t understand why the global agony, why the inhuman human condition was/is necessary but knowing the love, I can await wisdom’s explanation. If I can attack God as I have and there occur not a ripple in the continuance and consistency of His love, then my heart, if not my mind, can enter the rest of faith.”

PART THREE

AUGUST 6, 2002

Our relationship with God is established by how God relates to us, including the justice element in that relationship. We can do nothing to establish a relationship with God, nor can we destroy the relationship eternally established by God which is rooted in the quality of His Being and His own knowledge of Himself and His knowledge and perception of us in Him. God knows us as we are in Him (“WHOM He foreknew, He predestined.” (Rom. 8:29) He is aware of who we are NOT; that “who” that parades around as us, but is an impostor. It is the being that we have in Him that He knows, that is, He communes with intimately.

The darkened heart of man perceives a relationship with God that proceeds from a knowledge that is removed from its original context. Take something out of context and you distort its meaning. In the Garden of Eden, God arranged for man to temporarily receive a knowledge that is out of context. They took to themselves a knowledge that became the all-pervasive influence in how they viewed God, themselves, all other creatures and the universe. They partook of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and from that point on their minds were “nourished” by that perspective. They now knew good and evil WITHOUT KNOWING GOD!!

We were never intended, permanently that is, to know anything apart from knowing God intimately. When you walk in communion with God and as part of that communion are made to understand the place of good and evil in the purpose of God, that is entirely different. Then one knows things in their place, in their proper context. One knows the place of good and evil in the outworking of the purpose of perfect love.

A sense of morality and ethics apart from intimate communion with God leads to horrible ambiguity and confusion. It leads one to a sense of a cold, unfeeling, arbitrary, judgmental omnipresence that has no Presence. It leads to one or the other of the two poles of this world, either the despair that comes from trying to apply an essentially impersonal standard to life, or to the pathetic pretense that one has accomplished such a thing. Restated: either a hopeless sinner or a self-satisfied Pharisee.

When one views God and God’s justice from the perspective of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their mentality, alienated from the life of God, comes to understand justice as the implementation of law by one who is essentially a judge rather than the implementation of love by One who is essentially a Father. But, having been created with the capacity to receive unconditional love and thus the need for such (since capacity determines need), we cannot silence our heart’s cry. Our cry is, “Don’t just boss me; love me; be my Dad.” So we create a theology that mixes the two. We create a god who loves us but whose love can only operate within the guidelines the of the standard of an essentially legal relationship.

A vicious cycle begins. We resent this existence forced upon us, but we cannot escape it, so we learn to live in it, patterning our lives and relationships according to our view of God for we are created to be like God, and temporarily, we will be like god as we perceive him to be. Our perception of God dictates our life style and relationship style. Then, the more we practice such a life and the more our relationships are made to fit this syndrome, the more this delusion becomes pseudo-reality to us. Every time we look back at God it is clearer and clearer to us that He is what He isn’t.

But, thanks be to our wonderful Father God who is unmoved by all this. He’s still in relationship to us according to His Father-heart and acting righteously, justly to unfold to us and for us the glory of being a son of such a Father. Even our season of horribly misunderstanding Him and His justice will finally serve His loving purpose and in this, we rest. According to the scenario of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we cry out for anything except justice, but according to the Tree of Life by which we are nourished in the true knowledge of God, we do cry out for justice, for we know that we will be heard by Him who always does right by us, who always acts faithfully and in the integrity of His perfect love.

We have come to think, theologically, that we need to be saved from the terrible justice of God, not realizing that apart from His justice, there is no salvation. Salvation is the result of and composed of the righteousness or justice of God. It is just and right that our Father should be gracious to us, not reckoning our sins against us, for that is consistent with His nature. Finishing on the note with which we began: the primal meaning of justice must be understood as the righteous outworking, in relationship, of the law which God is, the law of love. Law can be defined as that which must be. Since God is Love, that is what must be and must be decisive in all His relationships. All else is delusion.

PART FOUR

AUGUST 22, 2002

Editor’s Note: The follow comments were addressed to a woman, who after reading Divine Justice, asked if the final restoration of all means that the unrighteous “get away with” what they’ve done. John uses this as a springboard to express what and who we cannot get away from. Jan Antonsson

The larger question that must be addressed is not what anyone can “get away with,” but what none of us can escape from. (Sorry for the the awkward sentence construction, I’m just trying to be as clear as possible). There is a destiny that every man and woman, and really all creation, cannot avoid and that is to be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab. 2:14); knowledge, in this case, meaning experiential, intimate knowledge; communion in and with all that makes God, God, as it were.

In our natural creatureliness, two paths lie before us, the one being that which is native to us (sharing in the life and glory of God), and that which is alien to us, that being a death-existence devoid of the intimate, experiential knowledge of God. In Adam, we already took the latter path, but in Christ, that rebellion and ensuing death is swallowed up in victory and we (the new man) behold the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Chris.t” (II Cor. 4:6) In the New Testament record this destiny is clearly and explicitly stated boldly by Paul in the Book of Romans by his affirmation to the saints in Rome that whom God foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. Paul clearly teaches that as the destiny of the believer. But what few understand is that he does not, in his over-all teaching, explain such destiny as exclusive to the believer, but rather particular to us in this age, for “we are first-fruits in Christ; not God’s pets, but God’s patterns,” as E. Campbell Morgan succinctly wrote.

We, those have been brought to faith in God by the faith of Christ during this age of grace, cannot ultimately escape, fall from, avoid or miss the destiny of being conformed to the image of Christ. This is Father’s edict. It must be. It must come to pass. The sequence is clear in Romans, Chapter Eight. First God foreknows us as glorified in Christ and upon that ground He predestines us to the same. Further building upon the foundation of His eternal purpose, He called, justified and glorified us (all past tense, please note). It’s a done deal, in Christ. To repeat, it is first our predetermined destiny and also the destiny of all creation.

The judgment of God enters to insure that the edict of God be carried out. There are countless ways and things that God enlists in His corrective judgment whereby He leaves us no escape from conformity to the image of Christ. The consequences of sin, designed by God, finally and ultimately militate against our flight from our God-ordainded destiny. Some of the judgment occurs in this life; some after this life and it differs from individual to individual.

So often when this kind of question is raised, I sense a residue of misunderstanding clinging to our mentality. For so long, the gospel was presented to us as a way to escape “going to hell” and the way to “go to heaven.” Interestingly, these expressions and the concepts behind them are foreign to New Testament thought. The issue of the gospel has to do, not with getting to some blissful place in the cosmos and escaping from some awful place, but it has to do with becoming whole, in spirit, soul and body, so as not to perish, so as not to have the human personality disintegrate into a poor, pathetic, shrunken, diseased, counterfeit of that person we were generated and created to be. Salvation has to do, not with going somewhere, but with being and becoming a certain quality of humanity, the Jesus quality of humanity, a quality of humanity in union with God and “having the glory of God” as its inheritance.

This has been accomplished in Christ and is now unfolding in all the world. The idea of justice or judgment being a matter of “God’s gonna get you for that” is a pathetic distortion from the dark ages. Divine Justice is a matter of Father saying “I’m gonna get you for myself and I won’t let you get away with anything less.”

One further thought: The Son of God is the image of God and we were created in that image, created in Christ. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Now notice carefully; the image of God is Christ and the image of Christ is His body, the church. In the mystery of Divine Being, The Person and the Image are One. The Lord Jesus Christ is the fullness or completeness of Deity in bodily form and we are the fullness or completeness of Christ in corporate bodily form. Our destiny is to be conformed to that image; to be the kind of persons who are built up together in love into the mature body of Christ that we might with our Head, the Lord Jesus, give full expression to all the cosmos of the glory of our God and Father.

 

DIVINE JUSTICE [John R. Gavazzoni] July 2002          1

 

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