From what we know of King Abimelech in Genesis 20, he was a righteous man. He was averse to sin and atoned when he did. He earned his happy ending. When the sister of a travelling herdsman passed by his kingdom, then, he rejoiced. She was beautiful, and he could provide her with stability and prosperity for the rest of her days, as part of a wholesome marriage.
And so he sent for Sarah, and she came. That night, God came to him in a vision: “You are a dead man on account of the woman you have taken, for she is a married woman.”
Was Abimelech a bad man for doing this? No; in fact, God himself states the contrary. It was because of the king’s integrity that the Almighty intervened. He was to return Sarah to Abraham, who, being God’s chosen, would pray to God, who would in turn spare the monarch’s life. A very unsatisfactory answer for an honest petition. Echoes of Job reverberate, as the divine response to the paraphrased question “Why have you taken everything I own, my health, and my children?” was literally “Gird up your loins like a man, and I will question you.” Earnestly. Read the literal translation of Job 38:3.
Now, to many, this would seem rather unfair. Bad things happen to our pious protagonists, through no fault of their own. The book of Genesis is filled with very similar cases. Abraham pulled the exact same stunt in the exact same way in Egypt before. His son Isaac would do the same after. Abraham cast out his illegitimate son, practically leaving him to die because his wife disliked his mockery. And this is well before the legendary stories of Jacob cutting in line to receive his father’s blessing, or Joseph’s comical roller coaster of alternating prestige and misery.
Yet, at the end of Genesis, we have a perfectly set stage for the nation of Israel. Before the Hebrews even entered the Promised Land, they have either ticked off or made a non-aggression pact with every neighboring faction, from Egypt (See Genesis 12:20) to Lower Mesopotamia (See Genesis 31:52). Abimelech, Laban, Egypt, Edom, and the Arabs all want nothing to do with the fledgling nation. As a result, the Jewish religion remains as intact and pure as humanly possible, the longest lasting belief system in history and still immaculate after five thousand years. Elihu says in Job, “God is mighty but does not despise anyone,” but even the righteous are sacrificed for God’s plan. The sovereignty and plan of God cannot be held back by the wills of mankind.
Perhaps there is no creature that can pervert the last statement more than Satan. In nearly every appearance, he tries to find a flaw in mankind, from Adam and Eve to Job to Joshua to Judas. He was easily able to introduce sin to mankind, and, while defeated and rebuked all throughout the Old and New Testaments, he continued to return, and will continue to return until Judgement Day. These humans are imperfect, and easily swayed, and primed for open rebellion! Why do they have God’s attention, let alone mercy? There is no balance, no fairness in God’s behavior! Satan is so driven mad by this that he becomes imperfect and uses imperfections in the attempt to reveal human imperfections. We may laugh, but it is a risk we all take if we follow a like path.
Logically speaking, no one is safe from recompense. There is no cosmically-set atonement for wrongdoing or imperfection, so the imperfection and everything it touches must be purged. Justice for the righteous means that for the mediocre, which means that for even the evil-doers. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Annihilation is the inevitable ultimate.
Put in more practical, less biblical terms, the pursuit by what many would consider economic justice has led to entire nations tearing down the richest among them. However well- or ill-gotten the gains of the wealthy were, the resources they provided as wealthy and/or smart individuals are torn down with them. It is not the goal of the revolutionaries to build anything, so the destruction of old establishments are replaced by nothing. Before long, few people are left in a well-enough-off position to care about the parity they so craved. Like a forced entropy, good and evil are both sent spiraling into nothingness.
This is a translation of the good news of Christ: not that the wrong will be made right, but that there is something salvageable in the world, in humanity. God found what was left so valuable, oddly enough, that he was willing to pay an exorbitant sum for it. Will there be good people who go to hell? Absolutely. The point was never that everybody can go to heaven. The point is that now it is possible to go to heaven, and that some people will.
Had Abimelech hardened his heart, the line of God’s chosen people would have ended. He submitted that a nation far more beautiful than his could grow. Had Job cursed God and died, he would have been powerless to stop his miseries, keeping him from regaining what wealth he had. Because he submitted, his wealth was restored many times over. Had Jesus waived death, as was His right, the world would be condemned for eternity. He held true to His purpose, and the saved owe Him a debt of gratitude. The debt would consume us, were it not waived.
So what is our role? While justice is not a goal, its pursuit in moderation is biblical and beneficial. We should do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, in our own personal way. We should be just within our sphere of influence and defend those who have none from being overtaken. We should do away with petty grievances with others on our level, because the resolution of those grievances rarely ends productively. We should be grateful that even in the least just moments of our lives, we will not be tempted beyond our capacity. Within these bounds, without the shackles of our perception of justice, is the ability to live free and to advance God’s kingdom.