Friday, September 21, 2007

What is justice?

“For the follower of Jesus, justice is not defined by the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, Kant’s categorical imperative, or any other social formation of law. It is defined by Jesus by the Spirit—and we learn of its Spirit-directedness through the Bible.

“Some will say that this is too religious, that it is too Christian, or that it is not practicable for a pluralistic society. I care about none of those criticisms, not because I don’t think working in the public square requires common sense and even agreement on the U.S. Constitution for amicable discourse, but because we need as Christians to recover what we think the Bible says ‘justice’ really is: the conditions that obtain when humans are right with God, with self, with others, and with the world.”—A Community Called Atonement, p. 125


Anonymous said...

That's an interesting point, but I wonder if it's not too simplistic. How does the author reconcile individual vs. group justice or justice vs. mercy? Biblically, I can accept that YHWH acted justly in the exile of Judah in regards to the group, but were there none faithful such that exile was, at some level, unjust?

More recently, the other day I was stuck in traffic waiting to get through a series of traffic lights and I wouldn't let someone in a car in the right lane merge into my lane. The right lane next to me was clearly marked for right turn only, there was a line of cars behind me, and only moments before a motor cop came through forcing a couple of cars in the right lane to follow through on the right turn imposed by that lane. I suspect the cars behind be felt that I acted justly. At one level, I felt justified having waited in traffic to get through the lights. And yet...I'm not sure that I shouldn't have responded with mercy instead.

I suppose I struggle with the proper application of justice and mercy in a fallen world.

Anonymous said...

James and Steve,

What I'm getting at is this: justice is a statement about how a given behavior conforms to a given standard. We drive justly if we drive 30 miles or less on a street measured for 30 miles an hour. That justice is simply behavior that conforms to an ordinance for safety.

As ancient Israelites, we live justly if we live by the Torah.

For Americans, we live justly if we live by the Constitution. Choosing to be kind and merciful to our neighbor is not a part of our Constitution so that kind of behavior is not "just" and "goes beyond the Constitution."

For the Christian, we are to live by God's standard -- to love him and to love others -- so true justice for the Christian is to live by that standard.

Scot McKnight