- Joshua Grover
How should we think about different theories/systems of justice?
“...but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
Tools are useful if used correctly. Will you imagine a construction site? What do you see? A hammer? Nails? Wooden boards? A crane? Would you expect to find a worker using a beautiful violin to help properly measure how far someone should drill into the ground? Of course not. The violin is not a tool for measuring a hole in the ground.
On the other hand, imagine that you had the opportunity to experience a concert done by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, what do you see? Suddenly you could imagine beautiful violins being played, creating incredible, emotional, and pleasing music. But you would not expect to see a construction worker drilling a jackhammer into concrete on stage while the orchestra plays one of Beethoven’s symphonies. Why? Because that tool doesn’t belong there.
If you wanted to build a building, you would hire a construction company and expect them to use tools that would help erect that building. If you wanted to hear beautiful, timeless, classical music, you would purchase tickets to hear professional musicians play music together.
Now think of a thriving, healthy society. What do you see? Do you see leadership exercising sound and wise justice? Do you see neighbors helping and caring for each other? Do you see people pursuing what is true, good, and beautiful? How do we know that these tools (proper justice, love for neighbor, and the pursuit of the true, good, and beautiful) are the right ones? Because we look to the architect and conductor of society, and that Being is none other than God Himself. God has laid out for humanity through the Bible how societies are to function (Psalm 67:4; Proverbs 8:15-16; Roman 13:4, etc.,).
Well, what is true justice? True justice is the punishment of those who fail to meet a moral standard and rewarding those who do achieve that moral standard (I Peter 1:13-16). Why do we have prisons? Because someone failed to meet the standard of a law. Why aren’t you in prison? Well, because you, in the eyes of the American justice system, have met those standards. Thus, the exercise of true justice keeps people from breaking the law and detains those who break it. True societal justice allows humanity to flourish by rewarding the good and punishing the evil based on a proper moral standard.
Now think of the Gospel. The Gospel depends on a proper sense of justice. Humanity has failed to meet God’s moral standard. Therefore, humanity deserves to be punished by God. Yet God, who has met His moral standard, offers to us His righteousness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hence, a proper understanding of justice is necessary for the flourishing of society and the proper understanding and belief in the Gospel
Yet, we recognize with the Bible, both by its commands and testimony, that justice is often perverted (Lev. 19:15,35; Deut. 16:19). Does the perversion of the law necessarily invalidate the law itself? We confess with Paul, “By no means!... (God’s) law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” (Rom. 7:7,12). The law reveals sinners and unfortunately, though the laws of men do not hold up to the same scrutiny, we’ll still be sinners with the fairest of statutes.
Any theory asserting that people are morally right or wrong for subjective non-moral characteristics rather than objective moral actions is dangerous. Christians must strive for the rule of law to be exercised in all places with equity, upholding men and women as created in the image of God, being agents of responsibility who will be judged according to their works and not by their possessions. We will no less diminish their achievements than excuse their failures. We must decry any aberration from the law or unjust partiality, systemic or otherwise.
Let us not be those who “did what was right in their own eyes,” (Judges 21:25). God is the Architect of our society and the Gospel.
Consequently, any system of thought which denies a proper sense of justice is a threat to both a healthy society and a proper understanding of the Gospel. Embracing those ideas would be like shoving God to second fiddle while we, pun intended, “hammer” out the lead. It’s simply the wrong tool for the job.