Thursday, July 8, 2021

Justice and Grace

As we wrap up a week of talking about justice and how justice needs to be just not only for the oppressed, but for the perpetrator, we come to another truth about justice that deserves its own conversation, and that is this:

Our justice says more about us than it says about our injustices.

Your sense of justice - what you're willing to fight for, what you expect, what you're willing to accept - says more about who you are than it does about anything else. Literally anything else. 

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the admonition in the Bible that you should never keep someone's tunic overnight, even when he has given it to you to secure a loan. It goes on to say that you may not know whether or not he had that tunic to loan to you or if it's the only thing he's got to keep himself warm tonight. But it's more even than that - it's trusting that your provision for his need indebts you to him just as much as it does you. Once you reach your hand out to a man, you're in this together - and it immediately becomes not about his poverty or what he owes you, but about what the two of you are able to navigate in this world together. 

When you enter into this kind of relationship with this man - even one that seems so imbalanced as to say that he is a poor man and you are a benefactor - you are no longer a 'me and he;' you are a 'we.' 

And that's the thing that I think happens with justice, or at least, I think it should. Our sense of justice ought to immediately wrap us into a 'we' where we aren't fighting for causes any more, but we're fighting with one another. We're fighting together for something better for all of us.

Honestly, if you have the money to lend, you don't need the tunic. You don't. You have no use for it. To keep it would be only to have a symbol of your position and power over someone else. That's why you give it back. You level the playing field when you give it back. 

In the same way, if you have justice, you give it freely to all who need it, no matter which side of the story they are on. In fact, you work diligently to make sure that everyone who needs your justice can have it. Justice is just that kind of a gift; it's a grace. 

If you have justice, you don't need an apology. If you have justice, you don't need to 'stick it to' someone else. If you have justice, you don't need vengeance, and so you're able to just let go of all of that human frailty and embrace something truly better. 

I say that justice is grace, that it is gracious. And we have the wrong idea of this word. We think that gracious means it gives generously of itself and affords just a ton of space for leeway or exception or forgiveness, but that's not what I mean when I talk about justice being gracious. What I mean is that justice embraces with the same fullness of love every broken thing and draws them together into that 'we.' It can do that when it comes from the right place. In fact, it must do that. If it doesn't, it's not justice. 

It's strange when we look at cases like some of those that we've had in our headlines lately - cases with such powerful narratives attached to them from all angles, and we realize that how that case resolves (and how we resolve that case in our own hearts) says more about us than about any single person in that courtroom or any dynamic in our culture. When we have a man on trial for rape and a woman across the aisle accusing him and a thousand headlines wrapped in the stories of hundreds of other women, the outcome of that trial, how we settle it in our hearts and how we respond to whatever is happening and what happens next says more about us than it does about the accused rapist, about any of the women, or even about society or justice as a whole. 

That's why we have to take justice so seriously as a Christian ideal; it is part of the very fabric of our identities. But it is also why we have to actively pursue true justice in a vengeance-thirsty culture - because it is part of the very fabric of our identities. And our sense of justice is a witness to the world of a better way. God's way. 

Which recognizes that justice is just for all or it is just for none. 

Justice is gracious - because the truth is that our justice says more about us than about our issues. It says more about the man in the middle than it does about the perpetrator or the oppressed. What we choose to do with offense in our world says more about us than it says about anything else. And grace is the name of the game - grace for BOTH sides. 

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