Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.’
– Isaiah 56:1 (NKJV)
The Lord does not say to keep justice and do righteousness so you can save the world. He says to do so because His salvation is coming.
Though I can influence the people and the world around me, I cannot save the world. Only God can do that.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t make all the pieces fit together as they should. I can’t force the world to correspond to the plan laid out for it. I can’t even make all the pieces within myself fit together and correspond to a plan.
I didn’t think it possible that I’d knowingly contributed to injustice, but as I spoke with friends, I realized I’m so oriented toward making things fair and right that I can lack mercy for those in the wrong. And mercy is necessary to be able to live in the kinds of right relationship biblical justice requires.
I also clamor for rock-bottom prices that likely demean the lives of those providing them. And I become absorbed in tasks and productivity to the detriment of relationships.
Even with an acute sense of justice, I regularly fall short of what the Lord requires.
The longer I sit with my redefined understanding of justice, the more I realize no human being is capable of living a wholly just life.
According to the Bible, to be just, one must love one’s neighbor as oneself yet be willing to rebuke that same neighbor. This requirement alone probably disqualifies all of us.
The Bible also says one must keep the Sabbath, obey the Lord’s commands, help one’s enemies, practice generosity rather than hoarding, pay fair wages on time, and love and honor God.
Furthermore, one must not be jealous of what others have, show partiality, lend with interest, deal falsely, take a bribe, or cheat one’s neighbor. We are to guard our mouths so we don’t lie, speak maliciously, or profane the name of God. And we are not to estrange those from other lands, hate our brother in our hearts, take vengeance, bear any grudge, or turn to other gods.
Of course, we mustn’t forget feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and standing on behalf of widows, orphans, and strangers either.1
If this isn’t enough to convince you that even the cumulative efforts of humanity over time cannot fulfill the biblical call for justice, then consider the eradication of natural disasters that is necessary to make the world truly a place of peace and order.
Though we can participate in bringing about justice and are commanded to do so, we cannot restore the world to God’s original intentions. We are dependent on God to do so.
For the earth to be a place of order, peace, and right relationship – for humanity to align with the standard God has set – God must step in. And He does so because He seeks justice not only among us, but with us.
He fulfills His covenant with Abraham to bless all people on earth through him by offering salvation in Christ, a descendant of Abraham.2
Though we as God’s children have failed to fulfill our part in the covenant, the Lord still seeks right relationship with us, offering opportunities for repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.
Thus, three chapters after the verse that opened this piece – when justice cannot be found and the Israelites’ transgressions separate them from God – the Lord “saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm achieved salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him.”3
When we try to achieve salvation for the world, we have replaced God with yet another idol, well-meaning as we may be. When the point for us becomes changing the world rather than knowing God and trusting Him to change the world, we have gone astray.
1. The previous four paragraphs draw specifically on Exodus 23:1-13, Leviticus 19:4-19, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22:13-17, Ezekiel 18:4-32.
2. Matthew 1:1-15; Luke 3:23-34.