“If we should deal out justice only in this world, who would stand?”

I don’t get to read much while in seminary. I should rephrase that; I don’t get to read much outside of what my professors tell me to read. For those that know me, that fact truly hurts me deep within my soul. However, in the time driving back and forth from Delaware and Chadds Ford, I’ve made time not to read but to listen to audiobooks. One book I’m going through is Mark Twain’s autobiography. And in this book, there is a moment where Mark Twain complains about Twain’s editor for a different book. During this monologue, Twain casually comments, “If we should deal out justice only in this world, who would stand?” But even within that thought is so much truth; we cannot survive in a world of only justice.

            But the sad reality is that both we and Twain never hold to that truth very well. Whenever someone hurts you, you seek revenge. If your friends distanced themselves from you, you rather avoid them than fix the problem. When we are wronged, our response is so often retributive justice rather than forgiveness. Even Twain was sarcastic in his comment; he just spent twenty minutes explaining derogatory comments he made directly to the editor. Why is it that we are such an angry society?

            If we look closer at the problem, we see that this sense of justice goes so much deeper. In fact, the Bible addresses this very question, but rather than a question about others, God points the finger right at us: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). If we were to take a close look at ourselves, we don’t even stand our own sense of justice. Look at your life as a whole: you may see moments that you are truly proud of, but usually those moments are shrouded in shame, sin, and failure. Daily we fail our own sense of good and right and offend a righteous and holy God. In fact, we all fail God’s standard of justice because of who we are, what we do, and even what we think about.

            But thankfully God does not only deal out justice only in this world. The beauty of the Gospel is this: God did truly mark our iniquity, but it was not us that stood and faced judgment. Jesus satisfied God’s justice on the cross, was raised, and lives today so that we can have true forgiveness.

            You may feel ashamed by the things that you’ve done. You think that you cannot live up to your own sense of what it means to be good. If we really want to be truthful with ourselves, then “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way” (Is 53:6a). You will never meet your own standard of what it means to be a good person, but where we fail, God has answered: “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6b).