Justice Must Be Impartial
The mismatched treatment President Biden and former President Trump continue to receive from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) highlights a department that has lost its sense of justice. That should come as no surprise because the DOJ has also lost its fear of God. Not only is God the source of justice, but the American legal tradition imported many of its legal principles from the Bible.
One could reverse-engineer much of American courtrooms just using the first five books of the Bible. An incomplete list of similarities include: higher courts to tackle more difficult questions (Deuteronomy 1:17), a prohibition against bribery (Deuteronomy 16:19), impartial treatment across classes (Leviticus 19:15), equal legal treatment of non-citizens (Leviticus 24:22), and capital crimes (Genesis 9:6). Scripture even contains seed concepts for trial by jury, a multiplicity of witnesses, and due process rights of the accused (see Numbers 35).
Having thrown out the Bible’s authority, U.S. officials now evince little regard for the principles derived from it.
Consider the prohibition against partiality, “You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s” (Deuteronomy 1:17). Here, the reason for impartiality is that the judges should not fear powerful people because they should fear God, who is more powerful. If someone doesn’t fear God, the rationale for impartiality vanishes.
The prohibition is also connected to the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), when the Lord tells Moses just before, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). But the second greatest commandment flows naturally out of the first, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). If someone doesn’t love God, they lose their best incentive to love their neighbor, as well as to tangibly apply that love by showing impartial justice.
Jesus pulled out these principles when he characterized an unrighteous judge as one “who neither feared God nor respected man” (Luke 18:2). Without this fear of God and love of neighbor, justice grows scarce.
Next, consider the prohibition against bribery, “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:19). This prohibition builds upon a foundation of impartiality. The reason given here presumes a wise — that is, God-fearing (Proverbs 1:7) — judge, and a concern to vindicate the just cause of the righteous. Essentially, even if the judge is not naturally inclined to partiality, a bribe reintroduces an incentive for partiality; therefore, bribery must also be prohibited.
This reasoning applies to more situations than a crude exchange of money for a favorable judgment. It applies to any situation where the actual or potential prospect of material gain improperly influences an official in his application of justice. This is important because America doesn’t see much straightforward bribery anymore; it’s often much more subtle. So, a person who agrees to pay an extraordinary sum — more than he normally would — for, say, a real estate parcel or a painting, in exchange for a political favor is bribing the official. Even cleverer, the money could be transferred to a close relative or shell company to further disguise the corrupt element of the deal. The principle applies anytime an official’s interest in carrying out justice is distorted by other considerations. If that official’s boss tells him to do something unjust or he’ll be fired, that is still a distortion of justice that violates this principle (even if, technically, it evades the prohibition codified in law).
The reason behind both prohibitions is found in God’s own just character. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17). In other words, this is what justice looks like because this is what God the Judge is like. Again, this reason for impartial justice is lost upon those who don’t fear God.
An important distinction is that ancient Israel’s governmental structure differed from modern America. Ancient Israel had no legislature, as God had already given them a law. Nor were there executive officials, except when God called one for a specific purpose. Thus, ancient Israel’s government consisted primarily of judges — appointed by the people (Deuteronomy 16:18), raised up by God (Judges 2:16), or anointed as priest (Deuteronomy 19:17) or king (2 Samuel 8:15) — resolving disputes between private parties. In addition to judges, America has law enforcement officers and public prosecutors who are also charged with ensuring the law is justly enforced. So, while America is not under the Mosaic law, its basic principles of justice apply even more broadly in the American system.
The question is, what should the righteous do when “justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away,” when “truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14)? We should pray. That is, we should appeal from human injustice to the divine Judge.
What should we pray? Scripture authorizes at least three pleas (seek earnestly, and you may find others) to offer up as we lament the prevalence of injustice. First, we should pray that justice officials would be saved, or at least that they would not molest Christians. Paul exhorts Timothy to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timoty 2:2-4).
Relatedly, we should pray that God would make justice officials just in their dealings. Justice comes from God, after all, and they cannot be just without him. Solomon even offers up this prayer for himself, “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!” (Psalm 72:1-2).
Finally, we should pray that God would take justice into his own hands. Three psalms offer this prayer, “Arise, O God, judge the earth” (Psalm 82:8, see also Psalm 9:19, 94:2). On at least seven other occasions, characters appeal from human injustice — real or perceived — to the justice of God (Genesis 16:5, Genesis 31:53, Exodus 5:21, 1 Samuel 24:12,15, 2 Chronicles 6:23, Psalm 119:84, Lamentations 3:59). Let Jesus be our model: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). God will finally judge everyone, and his justice is impartial.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.