The Justness of Justice
Justice. I love the word. I love how it rolls of my tongue, how it instantly lends an air of dignity or rightness to any cause I may choose to promote. I love its weightiness and implications. But I hate the word, too. I hate not knowing how exactly to define it. I hate not knowing how God defines it. I hate the way it’s thrown around in any social or political situation, allowing people to justify this movement or that decision.
Justice. What exactly is justice? We all have an idea of what justice means to us, and we pull out our varied definitions as needed.
· Justice is the opposite of grace—God withholds the judgment we deserve and instead shows us mercy. God’s justice, then, is the thing we avoid via salvation.
· Justice is the righting of wrong. When we are mistreated or misused, justice is the thing we crave—the satisfaction that our offender has been made aware of his offense and must atone accordingly. Justice is the result of our righteous indignation.
· Justice is the means of punishing true evil. When a person commits a heinous act against humanity, justice is the appropriate correction, the proportionate punishment.
· Justice is all of mankind knowing freedom from poverty and oppression. Justice is equality of resources, opportunities, and wealth. Justice is having enough to live.
Each of these loose (and personally paraphrased) definitions represents an iota of the meanings of justice. Accordingly, we slap qualifying terms on these definitions to distinguish our intended idea of justice: criminal justice, distributive justice, moral justice, universal justice, retributive justice, social justice—the list goes on seemingly ad infinitum.
I imagine that my quest to understand and appropriately apply justice will continue throughout my life, so I won’t bore you with any more rambling on this topic just now. I did, however, want to take a moment to look more closely at a specific type of justice: restorative justice.
Restorative justice is a particularly hot breed of justice in the world right now, as a small but passionate group of individuals are promoting its use in the penal system, academic settings, and corporate environments. Restorative justice says that justice is not the simple punishment of an offender’s wrong-doing. Rather, justice should look towards both the victim and the offender, offering healing and restoring them to a healthy place in society. For the victim, that means addressing hurt, insecurity, and loss. For the offender, that means instilling true consciousness of the wrong-doing and a desire to make restitution.
What an amazing concept of justice! And although modern proponents look to aboriginal or Native American societies for historical illustration, I think many Christians will identify a resoundingly biblical theme. For instance, in Galatians we read, “if anyone is caught in sin, you should go to him and restore him gently” (6:1). This single verse embodies a variety of New Testament principles—principles that stress the importance of holding our brothers and sisters lovingly accountable for their sin, restoring them holistically into the greater community.
Secular proponents of restorative justice are applying these same principles in today’s punitive justice systems—an alternative to traditional trial and sentencing. We see this especially marked in New Zealand’s juvenile justice systems. But even larger than that, advocates are working to implement restorative solutions in scenarios like the Rwandan genocide, a global tragedy with hundreds of thousands of offenders and victims.
These are just quick snapshots of the worth of restorative justice; and as I stressed previously, restorative justice itself is just one brand of an overwhelming variety. Even so, the point is to take a moment, consider our definition of justice and see how we may improve and apply the concept to a broken world.
How about you? How do you define justice?