“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice…” Jesus
One of my daughters is a lot like my wife, Laura. She always wants things to be fair. I grew up with the assumption that life wasn’t fair and a dogged determination to overcome whatever injustices there were in life. This served me well, but I also noticed that I was drawn to situations where I could help others overcome the injustices they faced. A part of me wanted to help others overcome things that are not fair; but the other part of me also wanted someone to make things right. Couldn’t someone with more power than me bring about a rightness or fairness or justice to my world? Whatever we call this is what we hope our leaders will enable. It’s what we hope we will find in God. Christians have a habit of saying, “God is love, but he is also justice.” But, what does the average person mean when they say, “God is just?”
Often when we use term “justice” we are referring to the idea that things will be better if people were punished for what they did wrong. We want God to forgive us but punish others for what they do wrong in our eyes. We see God’s justice as retributive. It makes us feel good when people are incarcerated or punished for what they have done. Ever since the Cain killed Abel, we long for justice in the form of retribution. Either they get payed back in some sort of revenge or they pay their debt to society by being “locked up” for some arbitrary length of time.
Even though my wife and my children believe in fairness, they don’t really believe in this retributive form of justice. Like many in recent times, they have concluded that retributive justice usually doesn’t reform people; and, if the victims don’t find some peace internally, none of this really makes them feel better long term. I always had a suspicion that this really wasn’t what God had in mind. Recently, my views have been changing toward a different brand of justice that I see reflected in Jesus words and actions. To get some perspective, I asked a group of friends in a Facebook community to give me their definition of justice. Here are some of the responses I got.
“…the state or condition in which everything and everyone in the created order is in right relationship with each other and can reach their God-given potential.”
“…setting things right.”
“…everything sad becoming untrue (Tolken).”
“…communal state of well being in which all wrongs have been righted and all members are regarded and treated equally.”
“…the restoration of wholeness, or a move toward wholeness.”
“…the broken are healed.”
“…reordering, renewal and restoration of all things.”
“…God’s love expressed.”
“…all power expressed only in the service of others, especially the weakest.”
“…the correct balance of social equality that is reflective of God’s goodness.”
As you may have gathered, this type of justice that is much more like Jesus is restorative justice. Instead of going into a deep discussion about what that means, I think I would rather suggest that the solution is found somewhere in all the definitions above and in the life and teaching of Jesus. Restorative justice is when God makes things right and it is deeply bound up in his love.
It’s Christmas day and I was inclined not to write today. But what could be more appropriate to write about on Christmas day? Jesus literally came to bring justice (setting things right) to the world. We do want justice for the sinner. And when we say justice, we must mean things like forgiveness, mercy and love. These are the things that make for peace. These are the things that restore. These are the things that Jesus taught. When we love our enemies, do good to those that hurt us, and turn the other cheek, we also restore them. This is justice!
Today, I held my grandson, Jackson (whom I call J.B.). J.B. was born eight weeks premature and I didn’t get to hold him until recently. Today, as he looked into my eyes, I had the same feeling I keep having for my children and my other grandchild. I want to leave them a world where they can prosper and be challenged and live in peace. I want them to experience love and grace and mercy – I want them to find justice. Not the kind that seeks to fix the world through punishment. I want them to find the kind that truly restores—the kind God gives.
** Please feel free to like, forward or comment on this blog. Part of this is for me to just sort through my beliefs and feelings, but it would mean so much more to have your input. **