We live in a nation in which “justice for all” is an ideal shared by nearly everyone, but it scarcely means the same to anyone. The phrase itself has been engraved into our collective consciousness in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Pledge was authored in August 1892 by a former Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy. In its original form it read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. And then, in 1954, as America pushed back against the threat of Communism, the words “under God” were added.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The original intention of The Pledge was not so much to express loyalty to the flag or the republic but to encourage “justice for all,” particularly for immigrants who were flooding into America at the time. Francis Bellamy was a strident social justice advocate who “championed the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources, which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.”[i] Those beliefs have recently had a resurgence in popularity in some quarters.
In an odd twist of history, Bellamy also lent his voice to help “convince President Benjamin Harrison to issue a proclamation declaring a Columbus Day holiday,”[ii] believing that it would encourage the acceptance of immigrants from Europe. Columbus Day has fallen out of favor with many social justice advocates recently. The meaning of justice shifts from one generation to the next in our culture.
Justice and the Golden Rule
And that brings me back to why the phrase “justice for all” scarcely means the same to anyone. The concept of justice has a much different meaning to a socialist than it does to a capitalist. Immigrants seeking access to America have one view of justice, while citizens seeking to secure America’s borders have another. Justice typically has a different meaning to a citizen who is being detained by police than to the police officer who is trying to detain him. It may mean something different depending on whether you sit at the prosecution’s table or the defense table. It may mean something different to a black person who has personally experienced racial injustice than it does to a white person who has never consciously committed an injustice against a black person. And it meant something different to those who lived a century ago than it will to those who might live a century from now. Why? Because each person sees justice as that which is fair and right for himself or herself. How often do we actually put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and consider what is fair and right for the person who is on the opposite side of the issue?
Justice will elude us until we learn to put ourselves in the other person’s place. Jesus said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Note that “the Law” – the standard of Justice – is fulfilled in doing to others as you would want done to you.
The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is repeated over and over again in the New Testament. There’s a reason for that. Repetition conveys emphasis. The Lord is calling His people to greater depths of love and higher heights of justice than humans have ever achieved. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
God’s Justice Isn’t Blind
Justice is often depicted as a blindfolded woman holding a pair of scales. The scales represent weighing evidence; the blindfold suggests that Justice is oblivious to the status of the person who is being judged – it doesn’t matter if the person is rich or poor, black, white or brown, politically connected or not, famous or unknown.
But even if Justice truly possessed these qualities, she would still be far from just because she could not see what’s in a person’s heart. She does not and cannot know all the extenuating circumstances. It is rare that she can even establish important facts with absolute certainty. Statues representing Justice can be found in front of court houses around the globe, but is there any man-made judicial system in any country that truly provides equal justice for all?
In contrast, God shows no partiality, but He sees everything. His justice isn’t blind; it’s omniscient. “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13).
And make no mistake, every human being will give an account to an all-seeing God for everything – their thoughts, their words, and their actions (Eccl. 12:14; Matt. 12:36). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). History will not be our judge; God will.
God’s standard of judgment is perfect – not filled with loopholes and inequities. The words of God, revealed by Jesus and recorded in the writings of His apostles and prophets, will be the standard by which we will all be judged. Paul wrote that there will be “day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel (Rom. 2:16 cf. Acts 17:31). Jesus said, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
God’s justice will settle EVERY issue.
It has been said that “If life is to be meaningful there must be a God who ensures justice.” And indeed, there is a God who ensures it in the end. “He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless” (Isa. 40:23).
Unless there is Justice for all, there is no justice at all. Ultimately, justice for anyone demands justice for everyone. And God is THE ONE – the only One – who can provide that.
If we are God’s children, justice should characterize our personal interactions. We are to execute true justice and stand up for the oppressed, the underprivileged, the poor, and the needy (Zech. 7:9-10; Prov. 31:9; Ps. 37:30). But our duty to stand for justice also means that we must guard against being pressured to approve of injustice that has dressed itself up in the guise of a just cause. “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice” (Exo. 23:2). Satan loves to turn crowds of well-intentioned people into his servants; the Crusades serve as a powerful illustration of that.
So, let us stand for justice for all, and not just for ourselves. Let us rely on God’s word as the definitive standard of true justice. Let us advocate for justice for the oppressed, no matter what their race, level of affluence, or whether or not they’ve been born yet. But know this: Justice for all will ultimately come from the throne of God. Trust Him. He will make it right.
“The LORD sits enthroned forever; He has established his throne for justice, and He judges the world with righteousness; He judges the peoples with uprightness. The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:7-10, ESV).
[i] Jones, Jeffrey Owen; Meyer, Peter (2010). The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance. Thomas Dunne Books
[ii] Jones, Jeffrey Owen, “The Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.” Smithsonian Magazine (Nov. 2003).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.