Friday, July 2, 2021

On Justice

Well, here we are again, trapped in another news cycle in which 'justice' is the buzzword. And almost none of the talking heads know what they're actually talking about. 

The world talks about justice only one way - as vengeance. To the world, justice is one-directional; it always flows toward the oppressed. And this leaves us with a one-sided kind of justice where only a certain party has an opportunity to speak, where only one side deserves to be heard, where there is only one right answer and one position to take. Anything less than the dominant narrative, and you are complicit in 'injustice.' It's how we've come to live in a world where justice can be boiled down to the testimony of a single woman or the color of a person's skin or the way someone sexually identifies him/herself - these are the oppressed. They alone have the right to speak. And when we dare speak about justice, we must speak only in support of the oppressed. 

It's this kind of vortex that right down into, well, something far less than justice.

Except this time, we're throwing a new word into our conversation: 'technicality.' Oh, our culture is up in arms over the technicality. The system is rigged, they say. The system is unfair. For these kinds of technicalities to exist, there must be something extremely wrong. And what about justice?

Here's where we get to have a really good conversation. Because it's precisely these kinds of technicalities that preserve true justice for all of us. 

It's unpopular to say it but we must: Justice - true justice - is not justice unless it is as just for the perpetrator as it is for the oppressed.  

Read that again because this is what drives our culture so crazy about real justice: justice is not justice unless it is just as just for the oppressor as it is for the oppressed. 

And that's what the 'technicalities' are for. 

It's a tough pill to swallow, and I get it. We're a people whose fragile flesh tends more toward vengeance than justice, toward getting someone back or being paid back for wrongs done, toward exacting retribution whenever and wherever we can. We are a bloodthirsty people, and our moral compass has been tilted toward the oppressed. How could we fathom saying that justice has anything to do with anyone but them? 

But if justice is only for the oppressed, then what we do is we just take the entire burden of injustice in the world and we shift it onto the shoulders of the perpetrators. We tip the scales in entirely the other direction. And when we step back and look at it from an objective perspective, we can see that what looked like an unburdening was actually an other-burdening, and the scales of so-called 'justice' are still not in balance. 

We want to pretend that sometimes, that doesn't matter. That some offenses are so egregious as to warrant our being okay with justifying our own injustice in the name of what we want to pretend is just. But that's our flesh speaking and not our righteousness. At least, not God's righteousness in us. 

And that's why we have to have these technicalities. They remind us to seek justice, not vengeance. To stop trying to shift the burden of injustice and instead, create a truly just society. They prevent us from throwing another human being created in the image of God so far into the pit that he can never climb out of it. Justice requires our seeking his good just as much as we seek the good of the oppressed. 

Even our Old Testament God, suspected to be a bit harsh sometimes, shows us that. Just look at the justice passages in the Scripture - they are not vengeance passages, not once. They don't simply shift the burden of injustice from one shoulder to the next. They do something better - they make it a burden we all bear. Not by taking sides, but by locking arms. 

That's the only way we can do it. 

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