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Psalm 82

The title of Psalm 82 in the NRSV is “A Plea for Justice.” We hear this word “justice” thrown around a lot: in the news, on social media, in the mouths of both politicians and pastors alike. In many ways, justice has become one of those hot-topic “buzzwords”; it seems that everyone wants to have the market cornered on justice.

But do we even really understand what justice is? More importantly, do we view justice in the same way as God?

At its most basic definition, justice simply means, “getting what you deserve.” By this definition, there are two main streams in thinking about justice. The first understanding of justice is that of courtroom justice: vindication for an injustice or deserved punishment for a crime committed. We think of convicted criminals “getting justice” when the sentence is handed down to them. We believe in a “divine justice” when God will ultimately judge the living and the dead.

This version of justice is demonstrated in the first two verses of Psalm 82. Here, we see God placed as the judge in a heavenly courtroom. Our Lord is called upon from among the gods to judge the nations and pronounce judgement on the wicked.

At our human core, we all long for this first version of justice. We want to see evil-doers punished for their atrocities. We want to believe that people reap what they sow and get what they deserve. We want to see people pay for their crimes and endure the consequences of their actions. Whether it is the Boston marathon bombers, a child molester, or a mass murderer, we demand justice. We may even comfort ourselves with the thought that in those cases when people escape justice in this lifetime, they will face ultimate judgement in the life to come. We hope for a sort of cosmic karma: “what goes around comes around.”

However, there is a shadow side to this view of justice. A consistent longing for this sort of justice can eventually turn into a twisted sense of vengeance. Thinking we know better than God, we frequently put ourselves on the judgment seat. How easily we forget that the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19).

Fortunately, there can be another way of thinking about justice. Looking at the definition “justice is getting what you deserve” from an alternative perspective, justice now becomes the idea that there are some basic human rights that all people are entitled to possess: freedom, safety, dignity, equality, health, love. In this line of thinking, justice is assuring that people are getting the rights that they deserve.