What is the difference between divine justice and worldly justice?
God has the power to prevent everyone from ever acting unjustly, but he doesn’t have the power to make everyone act justly as a consequence of love for him and for neighbor, since acting from love is not acting because one has been forced. However, he has the power to make us capable of loving him and our neighbor so that we always act justly; and we must assume either that he has exercised this power, so that we are responsible when we fail to use the capacity he has given us, or that he is responsible when we act unjustly. The kingdom of God happens when everyone exercises this capacity and loves God and neighbor so that everyone freely chooses always to do what is just as the natural consequence of that love.
Suppose our neighbor is acting unjustly and we have the power to make him or her stop, thus protecting the victim of the neighbor’s injustice. We have tried persuading the neighbor, but it hasn’t worked. In such a case, it would be just for us to force our neighbor to stop committing the injustice. Our love for our neighbor would prevent us from using any excessive force, but would not prevent us from using the force necessary to stop the harm to the neighbor’s victim, unless using that force would result in greater harm than the harm prevented. So, we would be acting justly, consistently with love for our neighbor, for it is possible to love someone and also to force him or her to stop doing something unjust.
But would this action help bring about the kingdom of God? We are assuming that refusing to take any action in such a case would not be the just thing for us to do, since it isn’t just to allow preventable harm to someone when the prevention, as we are assuming, doesn’t cause any equal or greater harm as a side effect. So, refusing to act would take us away from the kingdom of God. But would acting, so as to force our neighbor to cease acting unjustly, help bring about the kingdom of God, in which everyone always freely chooses to do the right thing, out of love? Maybe our forcing our neighbor to do the right thing would help him or her eventually to see the light? But in that case, why couldn’t God simply force all of us to act in ways that would result in our eventually seeing the light, so that everyone would do the right thing out of love? And since that hasn’t happened, why isn’t God responsible for the unjust acts people commit against each other, just as we would be guilty if we chose not to intervene to prevent our neighbor from acting unjustly when we had the power to do so? Are we to say that God can’t bring about his kingdom by a just use of force, but that we can? That hardly seems like piety. Surely it is more accurate to think that God can’t do the logically impossible thing of bringing about love by using force and neither can we.
It follows that there is more than one way an act can be the right thing to do. The first and highest, the divine way is when the act is the result of love, not of being forced, and doesn’t involve forcing anyone else to do anything either. That is the kind of act that is done in the kingdom of God, where everyone freely chooses to do what is right, out of love. The second, and not as high but still noble and virtuous in a worldly way, is when the act is the result of love, not of being forced, but does involve forcing someone else to do or stop doing something, and results in the prevention of injustice. Acts that are right in this secondary sense do not occur in the kingdom of God and do not help bring about the kingdom of God. If they did, God would do them all the time, and none of it would be any of our doing. And that is impossible, because in the kingdom of God, it is all our doing, as a result of exercising the capacity God gave us freely to choose to act in accordance with his will, out of love for him and for the neighbor. No one is forced by God or by anyone else.
To sum up, doing something unjust moves us away from the kingdom of God. Doing something just in the secondary or worldly sense leads us neither away from nor towards the kingdom of God. Doing something just in the highest and divine sense, that is from love, with no coercion on either side, moves us toward the kingdom of God.