Friday, October 27, 2006


When you think about justice, what do you think about? Is it the idea of "bringing someone to justice"? Making someone pay for something they did?

In Scripture, there are 134 references to "justice," but there are also times that I think I fear what true justice means. From my perspective, justice generally means that someone why has wronged me or someone I know has to pay for what they did. If they steal the radio out of my car, I want to hunt them down and make them replace it or pay for a new one. If they hurt me in some way, they should be hurt back. This concept behind this is called "retributive justice." Basically, it's the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth." Now, it should be noted at this point that the eye for an eye justice recommended in the Old Testament was actually an improvement on the methods of justice at the time where if you committed a crime against someone, not only you but your entire family would be liable for it.

The point about this kind of justice is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the offender's heart. If someone wrongs me and I hunt them down to make them make restitution, the heart of that person is not changed. In fact, in today's world, this might harden it even further. But what if the concept of justice was not about retribution, but about restoration. Of course, incumbent on this is the idea of a redemptive community to be restored to, but that's another topic for another day. What I have to understand is that the way of life that Jesus prescribes and describes in the Sermon on the Mount is a way of life that is absolutely contrary to how we generally think about things in this life. It's the idea that the justice God pursues is not intended to alienate people or harden their hearts. It's about the reconciliation that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21.

Retributive Justice is ultimately a selfish and self serving method of doing things; an ideology of Restorative Justice is one that would go a long way toward bringing the radical, world changing teachings of Jesus into a sharp focus for both His followers and those who don't.

So the question naturally is: How does this play out? What would this look like for Jesus' followers to really, truly live out the idea of Restorative Justice?


Sam Davidson said...

For me, 'justice' defines a society in which conditions are equal. A lot of our acts of injustice (murder, theft, etc.) are the results of unjust sytems and structures that create conditions that lead to unjust behavior.

Thus, I think 'justice' is served not when someone dies for killing someone, but when someone has the proper support and education to know that killing is unacceptable.

Scott said...

Great thoughts, Phil. This is from a sermon I preached back in April:

Jesus brought justice into an unjust world. We must be people who are committed to the balanced pursuit of justice. When I say balanced, I mean that we often approach the concept of justice from the punitive aspect.

But Justice also carries a tremendous restorative component. In our western mindset we often approach justice as offenders getting their due.

But justice is about fairness. It is about making sure that the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the forgotten have a voice, have a champion.

Justice is about doing right to others. The oppressed long for justice because it gives them relief.

The poor longs for justice because it gives them assistance.

The lost long for justice because it gives them hope.

Those who dread justice are those who have been unjust—the ones who have failed to be fair.

To live that Christ-centered life we must understand that there are social implications to justice in addition to the legal, punitive aspect.

Look at how Jesus lived His life, who He broke bread with, who He ministered to: People in desperate need of justice: an adulterous woman, a shamed woman at a well, a leper, a tax collector—Justice for them was not punitive but restorative.

Too often we look at proclaiming justice as pronouncing impending punishment—where to proclaim justice is to offer hope to the hopeless, homes to the homeless, salvation to a lost and dying world.

Kat Coble said...

As a believer in both Justice and Mercy as well as consequences I think Christ was clear.

We render unto Caeser what is Caeser's, and unto God what is God's.

Restorative Justice belongs to God. We should as Christians strive to see human beings hearts remade by Christ.

But what you call "retributive" justice is also called "consequences" and is exactly what Christ advocated. If God didn't believe in retributive justice there would have been no crucifixion. There would have been no hanging of Judas. There would have been no need for Zecheriah to lose his speech until the birth of John. There would have been no death for Ananais and Sephira. Paul would not have been beheaded and Peter would not have been crucified upside down.

Our sins will have earthly consequences. The grace of Christ is the release from eternal consequence.

Brent said...

Kat Coble, when you mention "earthly consequence" do you mean natural consequences or divine consequences (or both)?


Kenneth & Victoria said...

I'll admit I don't have concise thoughts on this, one of the largest questions about the nature of the universe, but I think the definition of "justice" involves something of "balance," of "right over might," and of "equal opportunity," though not "equality" because it's just the way of things that some have more and some less.

In the Bible justice seems both to refer to economic and legal justice--I'd be interested to know which is represented more often because I get the sense it's economic (although often the line is often blurred--with unjust weights in the market, for example).

I wonder if there are any explicitly Christian political economists? For example, it's interesting that the Christian right stands diametrically opposed to the estate tax, when de Tocqueville raved about its usefulness for breaking the unjust European system of perpetual family wealth and serfdom. Maybe it's a matter of individualistic versus societal scope?

I know all these thoughts are kind of random, but I also have to point out that none of Kat's examples include a person doling out justice on another person. Judas was arguably the only person in the list who could be argued to rightly judge that the offender deserved death, but I hardly think Jesus would applaud his sense of justice. Indeed, I think he's a counterpoint to Peter's redemptive story, since Peter also betrayed Christ but found forgiveness instead of an early grave. And I'm afraid I have to take exception to saying that Paul and Peter's deaths (or those of any of the martyrs) were the just consequences of their acts. While we do all die because of sin in the world, the martyr's deaths were pretty plainly the consequences of doing the right thing in an unjust world.

Finally, as pathetic as it is that all my comments circle around Battlestar Galactica, I have to ask, Phil: Did you write this entry before, after or during the episode?


Phil said...

kat, one of the ways you talk about the death of Jesus relates definitely to a theory of atonement that talks about God almost as a child abuser, and at the very least as being subject to a law higher than Himself. It's certainly something that is a greater subject that is deeper than the shallow knowledge that I have, but it presents an idea that God is wrathful and vengeful and Jesus acts as an umbrella against His wrath.

And Ken, I wrote this Friday morning before the episode of BSG. But it did fit nicely into the topic of Justice.

G. Brandon Hoyt said...

Justice is harmony. Everything coordinated, and called forth on time.

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