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Justice Brings God’s Pardon To The World

Justice Brings God’s Pardon To The World July 28, 2021

Unknown artist: St. Epiphanius of Cyprus / Wikimedia Commons

Justice is important. God desires us to seek after and promote it. Those who promote the dictates of justice, do God’s work. However, what we promote is not proper if all we seek after is legalistic forms of justice which know nothing of mercy and grace. Thus, those who act justly, those who promote social reforms and the restitution needed to reestablish justice in a society which has abandoned it, find that mercy is necessary for those reforms to be executed. This is why those who are just in their actions find that they bring not only justice to their society, but God’s pardon to it as well: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her” (Jer. 5:1 RSV).

If we want to be free from the burden of the law, we must fulfill the purpose of the law, which means, we must embrace justice. To do so, to seek after the meaning of the law, requires us to look beyond a legalistic approach to the law. We must seek to do what the law intends us to do in such a way we do out of nature and not mere obligation. “For this reason, begin to be just and you shall be free from the Law, because a law which is already contained in morals cannot contravene morals.”[1] On the other hand, if we do not embrace justice, if our society turns away from such justice, we risk the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, for they were destroyed from within, as their lack of justice left them no standing by which they could be saved (cf. Ezek. 16:49).

Those who promote justice, those who act out such justice, can and will be able to save those who otherwise would suffer the fate of their injustices. Just as the cries of the oppressed reach up to God, demanding justice, so the work of the righteous rises up to God like incense so that in and through them, God can be appeased and the wrath of God, seen in and through the consequences of social injustices, can be overtaken by God’s mercy, bringing pardon to all:

Someone else asked him [Epiphanius of Cyprus]: ‘Is one righteous man enough to appease God?’ He replied, ‘Yes, for he himself has written: “Find a man who lives according to righteousness, and I will pardon the whole people.”’ (Jer. 5:1).[2]

St. Epiphanius of Cyprus was known, in part, for his fight against heresy; sometimes, he misunderstood people and fought against them wrongly (this can especially be seen with his association with Theophilus of Alexandria and their struggles against St. John Chrysostom). He was very conservative in principle and in ideals. Nonetheless, he tried to truly live out the faith and its teachings, which is why he understood how justice, how righteousness, could be and would be shared. He saw firsthand how one just and holy person could and would bring mercy and grace to a society which was not completely just. One holy and just person is enough. Many of the desert monks and nuns understood this in the way they wrote on the accomplishments of their own holy saints, from St. Antony of Egypt, to St. Macarius the Great: those saints not only accomplished righteousness in themselves, but they became so holy they were able to act as mediators for the world, preserving people from destruction.

If we want to inherit the kingdom of God, we will seek after justice, for, as God said to the people of Israel, it is only in and through the pursuit of justice will we receive our true inheritance:

You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality; and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God gives you (Deut. 16:19-20 RSV).

As long as we subvert the cause of justice, we will find ourselves far from the righteousness of God. As long as we are far from the righteousness of God, we will not be able to receive the bounty of God’s deifying grace. If we want to be heirs of God, if we want to be partakers of the divine nature and realize the divine life in ourselves, we must embrace justice. We must act on its expectations. We must allow it to become second nature to us so that we will always end up doing what is right and just naturally.

We are not meant to be, nor can we ever truly be, individuals cut off from each other. We are interconnected. What we do has an effect on everyone else, even as what they do has an effect on us. If we love Jesus, we will do as Jesus said. As we follow Jesus’ words, the justice of God will rise in our soul. We will find ourselves becoming vessels of God’s grace, so that in and through us, others will receive the grace and pardon which they need. Thus, we will bring God’s mercy to society. This is why God can and will be appeased by one just person. Indeed, the Christian faith is founded, in part, on this principle: it is in and through the one perfectly just person, Jesus, that the pardon of God is spread throughout humanity and the whole of creation. To believe in the Christian faith, to believe in the saving work of Jesus, is to believe in the social dimension of justice, and therefore, in the way one person and their justice can bring salvation to others, even as one person and their injustice, can and will bring others down with them (as the doctrine of original sin teaches).

Those who are truly holy, those who seek righteousness through justice, know that they are not separated from the rest of the world. They know that their work is not just for themselves, but for the world. No one is an island all by themselves. We are all interconnected. Try as we might, we will never be separate from the rest of the world. Let us therefore disavow such an illusion and realize, therefore, our need for justice is social, and the ramifications of our actions, just or unjust, are social as well. If we are just, we will indeed bring God’s pardon to the world, so that through us, and the justice which we have embraced, many will find God’s mercy and love.


[1] Salvian the Presbyter, “The Governance of God” in The Writings of Salvian the Presbyter. Trans. Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1962) 127.

[2] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 58 [Saying of Epiphanius 14].

 

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