Jehovah Our God—Righteous and Just
“A God of faithfulness, . . . righteous and upright is he.”—Deut. 32:4.
1, 2. (a) The Bible provides what description of Jehovah as Judge? (b) How might we respond to this, and why?
REGARDING Jehovah God, a Hebrew psalmist long ago sang: “He is a lover of righteousness and justice.” And in another psalm we read: “I well know, O Jehovah, that your judicial decisions are righteousness.” Though those expressions were made many centuries ago, do they not appeal to you? Is it not satisfying and reassuring to think of the Creator, the final authority in the universe, as “a lover of righteousness and justice”?—Ps. 33:5; 119:75.
2 Undoubtedly one reason we respond in this way is that every one of us has been subjected to some forms of unrighteousness and injustice. Perhaps because of your national, racial or social background you have been treated unjustly. Or maybe at school, on your job or in the neighborhood you have been dealt with unfairly. And how often do we hear of unjust treatment from someone in authority!
3, 4. How does this compare with the ways of many human judges, this leading to what questions?
3 Jesus realized how people feel at being dealt with in that manner, as evidenced by the description he gave in one of his illustrations. He told about a judge who evidently had been appointed by the Romans. What was the judge like? Rather than being a person to whom you could turn with confidence of receiving fair treatment, he was “unrighteous.” In fact, the judge was described as finally giving justice to a Jewish widow only because she kept importuning him.—Luke 18:1-6.
4 How would you feel about such a judge? Here is a man who is supposed to render just decisions, but he hesitates to do so. What a refreshing contrast there is in the Judge who is described truthfully as “a lover of righteousness and justice”! But consider: While that is what the psalmist said about Jehovah, are you convinced that He is that way? You may be aware that some persons contend that God is not righteous and just. Have you been confronted with that claim? Does it affect your view of God? Could you give convincing reasons for agreeing with the psalmist?
5. What aspects of God’s righteousness and justice have been of concern to some persons?
5 Then, too, there are some persons who are interested in God’s Word and purposes but who are disturbed by questions that throw a shadow of doubt on their confidence in Jehovah’s righteousness and justice. For example, they may wonder how all people will have opportunity to hear and accept or reject the Kingdom message in the short time before the “great tribulation” brings an end to this wicked system of things. (Matt. 24:21) Another area of concern is whether certain relatives, vile men of modern times and others will be raised from the dead in the New Order or not. Or there may be apprehension about what privileges God will bestow in the New Order, particularly regarding marriage and family affairs. In connection with such matters, are you disturbed or are you confident that Jehovah will do what is righteous and just?
6. What does it mean to be “righteous” and “just”?
6 What does it mean to be righteous and just? Without getting involved in lengthy, legalistic definitions, this can be said: A person who is “righteous” is one who is doing what is right and moral. He is virtuous, free from blame. Related to this, a “just” person is one who, in an impartial way, administers what is right and fair. Certainly, then, there is much meaning behind this description of Jehovah: “A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.”—Deut. 32:4.
CONSIDER THE TESTIMONY
7. An examination of what testimony is fitting?
7 A famous lawyer once said: “There is no such thing as justice—in or out of court.” His experience in the legal profession, combined with the testimony of others, led him to that view. While that may be true, generally, in this world, what has “experience” shown about Jehovah? Let us consider some evidence, the testimony of persons who have had personal dealings with Him.
8, 9. (a) How was Abraham involved in a divine judicial matter? (b) How did he react to the situation?
8 Even before the Bible began to be written, men of faith expressed themselves regarding God’s righteousness and justice. Abraham is a case in point. At God’s command he had left the Mesopotamian city of Ur and became a migratory resident in the land of Canaan. (Gen. 12:1-5; Heb. 11:8) His nephew Lot took up residence near the city of Sodom. Later Abraham was visited by an angel representing Jehovah. The angel said that he was going to make a judicial inspection of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the outcry over the sins of the inhabitants. (Gen. 18:20, 21) Note that the angel did not say that some definite judicial action had already been determined upon. Rather, he was going to “see whether they act altogether according to the outcry” and complaint. How did Abraham react to this information?
9 Being interested in the possibility that the inhabitants of Sodom, Lot included, might be spared, Abraham prayerfully inquired what might occur. The record at Genesis 18:23-25 quotes Abraham: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city. Will you, then, sweep them away and not pardon the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are inside it? It is unthinkable of you that you are acting in this manner to put to death the righteous man with the wicked one so that it has to occur with the righteous man as it does with the wicked! It is unthinkable of you. Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is right?” Then, trying to determine the minimum number of righteous ones in the city that would permit its being spared, Abraham asked, What if there are forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or even ten righteous ones?—Gen. 18:26-33.
10, 11. Did Abraham believe that Jehovah was going to do wrong?
10 Abraham did not know, as we do now, that there were not even that many inhabitants who were “righteous” in the sense that they were trying to do what was moral, virtuous and upright. But when Abraham said, “Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is right?” did he mean that he seriously questioned God’s righteousness and feared that He would act unjustly?
11 Not at all. On the contrary, the evidence is that, in view of what Abraham knew about the personality of Jehovah, he simply could not imagine that the Creator would destroy the wicked and the righteous. To Abraham, that was “unthinkable”; it was inconceivable. Abraham knew God better than to think that. As the apostle Paul indicates in Hebrews chapter 11, Abraham knew Jehovah to be a “rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” He was confident that God would not treat those wanting to do what is right in the same manner as the wicked. But how could he know that?
12. Why could Abraham be confident as to Jehovah’s dealings?
12 For one thing, Abraham knew what Jehovah had done in his own case. Acting in faith, Abraham had obeyed in leaving Ur. Had God ignored that? No, he had blessed and prospered Abraham. (Gen. 12:16; 13:2) In Egypt Jehovah had protected Abraham’s wife from being violated by Pharaoh. (Gen. 12:17-20) Later, with God’s help, Abraham had been able to gain the victory over four kings who had ‘kidnapped’ his nephew Lot. (Gen. 14:14-20) Yes, he knew about God from experience.
13. How would God’s past dealings come into the picture?
13 Abraham, however, had yet other reasons to believe Jehovah to be righteous and just. There were God’s dealings with persons who lived before Abraham’s time. For example, prior to the flood, Abraham’s ancestor Noah lived with his family amid a world of people the ‘inclination of the thoughts of whose heart was only bad all the time.’ (Gen. 6:5-7, 11, 12) When God brought that violent world to an end, what happened to Noah, a man who “proved himself faultless among his contemporaries”? (Gen. 6:9, 13) Did God sweep away righteous Noah and his family, wiping them out with the wicked? He certainly did not, and Abraham knew that!—2 Pet. 2:5.
14. To what conclusion would this evidence lead?
14 So when Abraham was faced with this seemingly undetermined situation, as to whether God would treat both the righteous and the wicked in Sodom in the same way, he had much by which to guide his thinking. Was he correct in concluding that it was “unthinkable” for the righteous Judge to treat both classes of people the same? He certainly was! Sodom and surrounding cities were destroyed. But Jehovah saw to it that “righteous Lot” had opportunity to escape along with his family.—2 Pet. 2:7, 8; Gen. 19:21-29.
15. Why is this of interest to us?
15 Now, what if you faced a question about how God might handle a future situation involving life or death for righteous ones and wicked ones? You have knowledge of God’s dealings with Noah as well as all his dealings with Abraham. You can see that God did what was righteous and just. Would that affect your estimation of what to expect from God in this yet future situation? Would you ignore the testimony in the Bible? or would you let it mold your thinking correctly?
NEED FOR MODESTY
16, 17. Why do we need modesty in this matter?
16 Knowing from the Bible account how utterly depraved the perverted inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were, we can understand why an outcry went up over their sins. And we can agree that God was acting in righteousness and justice in bringing them to an end. (Gen. 19:4-11; Rom. 1:26-28, 32) But what if someone did not have all the facts, and perhaps thought that the inhabitants were normal and seemingly innocent people? If, then, he were told that God destroyed the cities with fire and sulphur, he might reach a hasty and incorrect conclusion about the Creator.
17 This should highlight the need for modesty in regard to our reaching conclusions about God’s dealings. Proverbs 11:2 says that “wisdom is with the modest ones,” and that is certainly true in this matter. Would it be wise for a mere human who probably lacks knowledge of essential facts about some of God’s dealings in the past to set himself up as judge and jury and then proceed to condemn “the Judge of all the earth”? Another proverb states: “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.” (Prov. 18:13) Would that not be the case if a person who knew only a few details, and especially not the most important facts and principles involved, concluded that “the Judge of all the earth” acted unjustly, unrighteously?
18. What led to Job’s experiencing severe troubles?
18 The Bible account involving Job might be used to illustrate this further. Unknown to Job and his three companions who later counseled him, Satan challenged Jehovah regarding Job’s integrity. Jehovah was confident of Job’s loving loyalty, so He permitted Satan to bring a succession of troubles on Job. Job’s possessions were taken away. The attendants of his flocks and herds were killed by raiders. His sons and daughters died in an unusual storm. Then Job was struck with severe physical maladies, and even his wife reproached him. (Job 1:6-19; 2:1-9) How would Job and others react? How would you have reacted? What would you have concluded about God?
19. How did Job react? But what about his three companions?
19 Though determined to be loyal to God, Job did not understand why he suffered. In defense of his own righteousness he spoke of God as having the right to afflict the righteous as well as the wicked. (Job 32:2; 10:7; 16:17; 23:11; 33:8-12) Of course, we now know that in this Job was ‘speaking without knowledge,’ for it was Satan, not Jehovah, that was afflicting him. (Job 34:35) What position did Job’s companions take? They immodestly and foolishly answered without knowing the facts either. They charged that God is not interested in man’s integrity. (Job 4:17-19; 15:15, 16) Also, in effect, they condemned Job’s sons as being sinful and claimed that Jehovah had killed them. (Job 8:3, 4, 20) Yes, the Bible correctly says that the effect of the arguments of Job’s companions was “to pronounce God wicked.”—Job 32:3.
20. (a) How should this example affect our reaction to certain Bible accounts? (b) What should our reaction be?
20 Today we are able to study the complete account, and we have no trouble in seeing how wrong those companions were in their views as to God’s manner of dealing. But what of other Bible accounts about which we may not have so much information? When, for instance, we read in the Bible that Jehovah or persons under his direction executed some wicked people, cities or nations, will we copy Job’s companions and proceed “to pronounce God wicked”? (Deut. 9:1-5) How much wiser and more modest it would be to conclude that even though we do not know all the facts or issues involved, what took place must have been consistent with Jehovah’s being a “lover of righteousness and justice.” (Deut. 7:2, 23-26; Lev. 18:21-27) That was the conviction of Elihu, a young man who corrected Job and his companions. Elihu proclaimed: “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly! Yes, for a fact, God himself does not act wickedly, and the Almighty himself does not pervert judgment.”—Job 34:10, 12.
RIGHTEOUS AND JUST TO ALL
21, 22. Jehovah’s righteousness and justice differ in what significant way from how many humans acts?
21 How all-encompassing are Jehovah’s righteousness and justice? Can they be expected to apply equally to all persons and at all times? We can well be concerned about this, for when humans have authority or high office, the way a person is treated often depends on “who you are.” A rich, important individual who does wrong may be “winked at,” pardoned or given a light punishment, whereas a poor or insignificant person is more likely to be punished with severity. Have you not observed that? But what of Jehovah?
22 Elihu’s comments give us the answer. Notice that Elihu, in describing Jehovah, did not limit his remarks to God’s dealings with Job. He made the all-encompassing declaration: “God himself does not act wickedly, and the Almighty himself does not pervert justice.” Then Elihu added that Jehovah “has not shown partiality to princes and has not given more consideration to the noble one than to the lowly one, for all of them are the work of his hands.”—Job 34:19.
23. How does the Mosaic law bear out this fact?
23 This fact can be backed up by noting one aspect of the law that Jehovah gave to the Israelites. In making provision for human judges to deal with the problems and possible misconduct of individuals, Jehovah commanded the judges: “You must not be partial in judgment. You should hear the little one the same as the great one.” (Deut. 1:17; 16:18-20) Was that required simply to avoid a cause of unrest? No, it was expected because in that way these judges would properly reflect the characteristics of their God. We read: “It is not for man that you judge but it is for Jehovah; and he is with you in the matter of judgment. . . . For with Jehovah our God there is no unrighteousness or partiality or taking of a bribe.”—2 Chron. 19:6, 7; Ex. 23:6, 7.
24. Of what, then, can we be confident?
24 Is not this testimony regarding Jehovah’s impartial righteousness and justice reassuring, giving us evidence of how He will deal with us? We should also see it as an indication that even regarding matters that are yet future we can be sure that He will act in accord with the standards He has set and followed in the past.
OUR SENSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE
25. Our own internal “sense” bears what testimony about Jehovah?
25 Another avenue that can be considered with regard to God’s righteousness and justice involves an internal sense that we have. The Bible says that man was made in God’s image. (Gen. 1:27) That does not mean His bodily form, for He is spirit and we are flesh. Rather, as Colossians 3:10 shows, this “image” involves personality or qualities. God created Adam with qualities that He himself has, including love, justice, righteousness and wisdom. Though we are imperfect and far removed from perfect Adam, most humans reflect to some extent these godly qualities, even as humans earth wide manifest a degree of conscience or moral sense. (Rom. 2:14, 15) This being so, our own sense of justice and righteousness should be reason for us to have confidence in God’s having and manifesting these qualities, but in a way far superior to us humans.
26, 27. How can this be illustrated with the hellfire teaching?
26 As an illustration of the response of this “sense,” consider the reaction on the part of many people—perhaps our own reaction, also—to the teaching of hellfire. Especially in the past, many churches taught that the souls of the wicked are tormented forever in hell. The Bible does not uphold such an idea, for it states that the dead are unconscious and that most of the dead will yet live again by means of a resurrection. (Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ezek. 18:4; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14) But even without knowing what the Bible says, many persons are repelled by the hellfire doctrine. They cannot accept it even if their own church teaches it. It ‘goes against their grain.’ They cannot believe that a God of love, justice and righteousness would take someone who was bad for, say, sixty years and torment him with excruciating suffering forever. And many persons have been relieved to learn that their sense of justice and righteousness is borne out by God’s Word.
27 The very fact that we humans, who only imperfectly reflect the “image” of God, have a compelling desire to see done what is righteous and just, should increase our assurance that Jehovah himself is guided by such qualities.
28. Why do we still need to exercise caution as to what we feel is the right course?
28 On the other hand, the fact that we are admittedly imperfect should recommend that we take care that this “sense” does not get distorted and lead us to incorrect conclusions. If someone’s sense of what is righteous and just became exaggerated by imperfection, it might be like a man looking through a wavy pane of glass. Much as he wants to see clearly what is on the other side, the image reaching his eyes is affected by the imperfect glass.
29, 30. (a) What have some persons concluded about salvation? (b) What, though, does the Bible teach?
29 That a similar thing might develop with regard to our view of the righteousness and justice of God’s dealings can be recognized in what some persons have come to believe. Moved by their own sense of compassion, righteousness and justice, and convinced that if they feel this way God must surely feel even more this way, they have taught the doctrine of universal salvation. They reason that it would be unjust or unrighteous for God to let imperfect humans perish eternally. So they conclude that, based on Christ’s sacrifice, God will forgive every human who has ever lived. Why, they go so far as to say that God will forgive even Satan the Devil!
30 While that doctrine might ‘strike a responsive chord’ in the emotions or feelings of some individuals, it simply does not harmonize with what Jehovah himself says in his Word. The Bible enables us to see clearly His view, which is undistorted by human imperfection. Thus, the Bible says about a person who sins and blasphemes against the holy spirit: “It will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things nor in that to come.” (Matt. 12:32) Also, the apostle Paul wrote to Hebrew Christians: “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment.” (Heb. 10:26, 27) Yes, the Scriptures plainly show that some humans will not gain eternal salvation. As Jesus expressed it: “He that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; he that disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.”—John 3:36; Rom. 2:7, 8.
31. In addition to our own “sense,” what else is needed and why?
31 Hence, we can appreciate that mere human thinking based on our own “sense” of righteousness and justice needs to be balanced and guided by what Jehovah himself says. How thankful we can be that there is abundant testimony and evidence bearing out that God “is a lover of righteousness and justice”! (Ps. 33:5) And that thankfulness should be increased by the knowledge that his exercise of these qualities cannot be distorted by imperfection. In all ways, at all times and with all persons, He does what is perfect and in accord with his abundant knowledge, wisdom and love. We will always be able to say: “I well know, O Jehovah, that your judicial decisions are righteousness.”—Ps. 119:75; Rom. 11:33-36.
32. What areas, then, can we consider?
32 Confidence in this certainly should influence our thinking on questions about God’s future dealings, such as in the matters already mentioned with regard to the extent of the Kingdom preaching, the resurrection and marriage in the New Order. In the following article, then, let us consider these matters in the light of the Bible and with full assurance that our God is righteous and just.
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JEHOVAH, THE JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH, DOES WHAT IS RIGHT
God rewarded Abraham with herds for obedience
God delivered Lot when He destroyed Sodom
God spared Noah and his family when He destroyed the wicked
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Elihu corrected Job and his companions, saying: “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly!”