“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
This post isn't directly in regards to Ferguson, but the debacle that has ensued has inspired it. On the one side, those who believe that Michael Brown did not need to be killed have cried out for justice. But the cry is for justice in a particular direction, that is to say they want justice for Michael Brown. On the other hand, some, like Sean Hannity of Fox News, have cried out for justice as well, but they are also crying for justice in a particular direction; they want justice for Officer Wilson. The underlying implication of these cries is that getting justice for one person means not getting justice for the other. Is this how we ought to understand justice? Perhaps Scripture can help.
Throughout Scripture justice and righteousness are frequently used together, for instance in Psalm 33:5 it says that God loves both justice and righteousness. These two concepts are closely related, and they both seem to be hard wired into the human spirit. This is known by our own experience as well as Scripture. Although humanity's idea of justice has been impacted by sin, it is clear that the general idea of justice is present in all people. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 2:15 that God's law is written on people's heart. Law and justice are not the same thing, but they are interdependent. So what is justice? Leviticus 19:36 gives us a clue, it says, "You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt." The idea here is that the weights used would be accurate in their measurement, unbiased toward the seller and the buyer. In the realm of legal justice, law represents righteousness and functions as the weight by which a person(s) is measured.
Justice is not achieved only in the measurement of righteousness. In order for justice to be achieved an appropriate consequence or payment must be applied. This idea is what is being referenced in Exodus 21:23-25, "But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." When there is a victim, there must be appropriate punishment towards the perpetrator and appropriate reparations made to the victim; only then is justice achieved.
There are a couple of things absent in the discussion above. First, there is the absence of emotion. Nowhere in Scripture, that I can find, are the emotions considered in the determination of justice. Whether a person "feels" that justice was done is very different from whether justice was actually done. Second, justice for one person is not a negation of justice for another. In other words, justice is about a passionless evaluation of the facts and appropriate judgment executed based on those facts. When justice is achieved all reparations are made and all crimes are paid for.
Understanding justice isn't only about how people interact in a just way, it is foundational for understanding the gospel. God loves justice He cannot allow for injustice; eventually, justice will be achieved. This will not be achieved until eschaton, but the groundwork of the cross has been laid down. The price for sin has been paid satisfying God's demand for justice. For those who accept the gift of salvation they are declared righteous because justice has been satisfied.
In the mean time we have an imperfect justice system established and executed by imperfect people. Nevertheless, when we evaluate whether justice was done in any situation these are the principals we ought to use in our evaluation.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.