I’ve accepted since I was quite young that justice is a paradox but that it is the bond of society. We may differ on what is just and justice itself is different across countries and courts but from a young age we have a strong sense of what is fair and right. We engage with and support groups where we are treated fairly and where we understand why it is good to have apparently unequal treatment. We disengage from groups where we perceive injustice, selfishness, and privilege to be the way of the world and this produces a dangerous individualism; a survival of the fittest. So justice is very important.
With this as a background perhaps you will understand why recent news piqued my interest. I was fascinated to hear some reporting and reflection on the Victorian (Australia) Court of Appeal where three judges rejected an applicant’s appeal 2 to 1 against his conviction. What fascinated me was that the judges –senior, experienced, critically acclaimed judges –heard all of the evidence of the trial and yet didn’t arrive at the same judgement on the most critical aspect of the appeal. What and how is justice determined when different verdicts are possible from the same ‘input’?
The other news item was the news that a man who had stolen $50.75 –he was armed with a knife though no one was hurt –was finally being re-leased from prison after serving 36 years. The justice enshrined in the legal code of his state colloquially known as the ‘Three Strikes Law’ meant that he was sentenced to life without pa-role for this offence. I can understand the intent of the law makers here but to my way of thinking, this sort of outcome isn’t justice. Of course, that’s partially my point –according to my way of thinking!
Laws are necessary in this world. By them we negotiate how we live together. But they are fallible and our version of justice is malleable. We sense this today with identity politics and competing rights between private views and beliefs and public expression and behaviour, between the religious and the commercial, and in the whole gamut who are discriminated these days.
As citizens of our community we should be aware of and supportive of justice. This involves both abiding by and where necessary –according to our way of thinking –challenging the laws of the land. This involves our personal behaviour as well as our public behaviour –and we can –and should –work with like minded fellow citizens for justice.
The Christian Church and Christians are not immune to what is happening in their contexts. They are shaped by the version of justice in which they live. Often today there is a strong call to be active socially and politically for the sake of justice –and here I am uneasy –not that one shouldn’t be a Good Samaritan or help those who suffer injustice –but because, I think, Christians can be confused or start to assume that their version of worldly justice –according to their way of thinking –is God’s justice.
If the Christian Church has a role and function in this world it is to talk about and seek to live God’s justice. God’s justice is not about equality or rights or rewards or punishments but is the mystery of the innocent being punished for the guilty. Yes, there is sin and punishment but its outcome is that the debt is paid and the captive goes free! The message of forgiveness –of Jesus and his cross and empty tomb –is the single message the Christian Church can offer –and the best way it can serve the world. For if it doesn’t talk about and live out this justice, no one else will. GS