Your judgments are like the great deep, O Lord, You will save men and beasts. (Psalm 36:6)
The notion of justice in Scripture is rather straightforward. It has to do with proper order and balance. The one who has much should not exploit his advantage and oppress the one who has little. In all things, there will be an accounting. And in the accounting, things will be “set right.”
Those who have ignored the proper justice of the world around them will find this accounting to be their undoing. Those who have been deprived through injustice will find this accounting to be their salvation. This theme runs throughout the Scriptures, both Old and New. It is the very core of “righteousness” (“right-setting”). We can extend the theme into our interior life as well: sin is the oppressor and our souls are the oppressed. There is, as well, an extension of this theme into nature itself. Creation requires justice.
It is possible to think about how nature functions. It is always seeking a right-ordering of itself. When something becomes disordered, it becomes unstable and a re-ordering begins to take place. We could describe the various “laws” of nature that have been observed to be expressions of this re-ordering.
In the Old Testament, there were commandments directed to Israel whose intent was towards the right-ordering of nature. Fields had to lie fallow (unplowed and unused) every seven years: the land was not to be exhausted. An ox who was powering a treadmill was not to be muzzled: an animal should not be forbidden to eat the grain it is grinding. The gathering of the harvest was purposefully inefficient: the left-overs in the field belonged to the poor. All of these matters are concerns of justice. Ignoring them was considered wicked and unjust.
The law of the Sabbath year carried a promise of justice. If it was ignored, God would come to the aid of the land and allow it to rest. Israel would be taken captive and removed from the land until its Sabbath rest was fulfilled.
Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. (Lev. 26:34-35).
This was understood to be the mechanism of justice beneath Israel’s captivity in Babylon. That period lasted 70 years, providing 70 Sabbath years to cover Israel’s ignoring of the Sabbath law.
Nothing of this should be dismissed as an oddity of ancient Israel or a matter of Israelite ritual requirements. It is a profound illustration that the justice of God involves the whole of creation. The coming of Christ is not an abolition of such a concern, but its fulfillment. The promise of salvation extends not only to human beings but to all of creation (Romans 8). Prior to the completion of that promise, the justice of God remains at work. Injustice carries consequences.
It is easy to observe that our present relationship to creation is marked by extreme injustice. We maximize efficiency, ever driving towards more extreme biological and chemical measures to force an artificial abundance. That same narrow concern (an injustice) brings the consequence of poisoning our food system and destroying other elements of the ecosystem. These consequences are justice at work. For those consequences will ultimately fall on us. If the land does not receive its proper rest, it drives us out. We suffer as a result.
There is little doubt that the entire planet is engaged in an act of justice. Technology has been used in an unjust manner, seeking to maximize profit (in its largest sense) with little to no concern for the right use of nature. The consequence is the promise of an accounting. God will establish righteousness in creation as well (and we will languish in never-ending arguments).
In our season of fasting, we seek to place ourselves “among the righteous.” Our actions are meant to reflect the justice of God. We eat less. We let the animals rest and stop eating them for a while. We share our abundance with those who have little. We increase our prayer, seeking to reestablish our right place in the presence of God. This is the path of “righteousness, peace and joy” (Ro. 14:17).
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24
Oh, it will.