In Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis points out that westerners have been largely spared an age-old experience regarding our legal system:
In most places and times it has been very difficult for the “small man” to get his case heard. The judge (and doubtless, one or two of his underlings) has to be bribed. If you can’t afford to “oil his palm” your case will never reach court. Our judges do not receive bribes. (We probably take this blessing too much for granted; it will not remain with us automatically). We need not therefore be surprised if the Psalms, and the Prophets, are full of the longing for judgment, and regard the announcement that “judgment” is coming as good news. Hundreds and thousands of people who have been stripped of all they possess and who have the right entirely on their side will at last be heard. They know their case is unanswerable–if only it could be heard. When God comes to judge, at last it will.
Evangelical Christians (and I’m sure others as well) often focus on the idea of God’s judgment as a terribly frightening event that will bring about the end of the world or condemn people to hell for their misdeeds. But Lewis notes that when Jesus talked about judgment He tended to paint a very different picture, of the type that is reflected in the Psalms. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, judgment comes not on those who have committed wrong acts or believed the wrong thing but on those who failed to act with compassion toward the needy. Justice in the eyes of Jesus is about setting the world right. What separates the sheep from the goats is not the crimes that they have done but the good they have omitted to do. The case before the judge is not a criminal case, but a civil one. No wrong has been committed, yet justice has not been done.