“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Righteousness, I think, suffers from the way its first five letters are arranged. They coincidentally share spelling of another word that’s used to justify many things that are not righteous, all for the sake of being “right.”

I grew in a faith tradition deeply concerned with the “right” part of righteousness. In the way that it was defined—as our judicial standing before God—righteousness was a deeply personal issue. Sin makes us unrighteous; God’s forgiveness makes us so. So I grew to understand righteousness as an individual state of being.

As it happens, the writers of Scripture approach righteousness and justice as interchangeable concepts.

So, based on an individualistic view of righteousness—reduced to “are you guilty or forgiven?”—our imagination of justice is narrowly approached through an individualistic lens.

Take, for example, our criminal “justice” system, whose foundation, many proudly point out, is a Judeo-Christian worldview. The result of such a system, which is emphasizes punishment and incarceration rather than restoration and reintegration, is lamentably far from the justice described in Scripture.

Biblical justice is primarily motivated by restoration and reclamation.

It is measured by relationship rather than isolation. [1] It is not only established by God’s his covenant relationship—“You will be my people, and I will be your God”—but demonstrated in his continual renewal of that covenant in the checkered history of Israel. [2] And it is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. [3]

Approaching justice from the individualistic perspective focused on “just fruits” is often motivated out of our understanding of God’s moral perfection. But we must refocus our understanding of God’s perfection to include his relational wholeness—that God exists in three persons—to more fully appreciate the foundation and expression of biblical justice.

Biblical justice cannot be expressed in isolation just as much as God cannot exist apart from the Trinity. Justice that does not build, repair, and protect the beloved community is no justice at all.

[1] Hosea 2, Galatians 6:1
[2] Leviticus 26:1-13, Ezekiel 36:24-32
[3] Ephesians 2:13-18