Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice, and the Gospel

Often people talk about restorative justice as if it’s a better alternative to retributive justice. What they get wrong is that restorative justice means nothing if there hasn’t been some kind of prior judgment. What is there to restore if that person’s status and standing hasn’t changed as a result of judgement? The Gospel similarly is incoherent if there’s no real guilt and condemnation out of which we are saved. You were formerly dead (status and standing) in your trespasses, but you’ve been made alive (restoration) in Christ.

But it’s not like God simply chose to forgo our punishment. Jesus substituted Himself into our place, becoming sin, and received our punishment. Retributive justice isn’t set aside in the Gospel. Retributive justice is still satisfied, and God put that on display to the world through the bloody and brutal crucifixion of Jesus. It pleased the Father to crush the Son. It’s only after that that restoration comes to the fore in the resurrection (I think you do see themes of restoration throughout the life and ministry of Jesus).

All that to say, a practice of justice modeled after the Gospel demands that retribution be made. The question is who will incur the punishment? Will it be the sinner (law alone) or the one sinned against (law and Gospel)? If your restorative justice doesn’t put on display the real cost of the crime then your Gospel likely tells a story where Christ died for nothing. You would shamefully hide the justice of God in the death of Christ.

If your Gospel doesn’t call people to recognize God’s judgement against them and their sin, and to repent, then your telling of Jesus dying on the cross for them is just some sentimental portrait of sacrifice that does nothing to save.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s