Justice Is a Bad Idea (Part II)

In Part I of my post, I discussed how we as Christians fail to make Jesus central to our pursuit of justice and instead settle for suum cuique or “an eye for an eye.” In this, what becomes more important is not Jesus but justice (as Hauerwas states).

When we come to Scripture we find that God’s justice is not suum cuique but mercy! Take a look at what Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV).

For Jesus, justice is not making sure evil doers receive what is due them. Rather, for those who follow Jesus, mercy is our mode of justice. In fact, this passage along with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is a picture of who God is and thus a picture of who his people should be. Miroslav Volf reminds us,

…God’s justice and God’s kindness (Psalm 145:17), God’s righteousness and God’s salvation (Isaiah 45:21), are intertwined. When God saves, God does justice; when God does justice, God saves–unless one refuses to be saved (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 223).

Inevitably, when we speak about forgiveness, someone will shout out: “That doesn’t make sense! It’s unrealistic!” For like this person, we have an inner nagging, a deep-rooted desire for justice to be done to those who’ve done us wrong. We also desire that the oppressed across the world find justice in terms of suum cuique. We want our enemies to feel the full wrath of judgment. Forgiveness is often (implicitly) seen as a hurdle to be jumped or dodged in order to get to justice. However, according to Dan Bell,

Justice and mercy are not opposing logics; rather, they share a single end: the return of all love, the sociality of all desire, in God. Justice attains its end by enacting mercy to overcome sin. Mercy overcomes sin to attain its true end, which is justice. In this way, mercy implements justice (Aquinas) and the rule of God’s justice is mercy (Anselm). Hence, Christ’s sacrifice was perfectly justice…because it renewed the communion of humanity in God (Bell, The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, pp. 189-90).

Ultimately, if we are to keep Jesus central to the pursuit of justice, we must see Jesus as the justice of God. In such, we look at Jesus’ death and resurrection to see that, instead of us receiving what is due our sin, God the Father through Jesus embraces humanity. Volf claims that true justice is found in the embrace of our enemies:

To agree on justice in conflict situations you must want more than justice; you must want embrace. There can be no justice without the will to embrace. It is, however, equally true that there can be no genuine and lasting embrace without justice (Volf, p. 218).

Our conflict with others will not be resolved in “an eye for an eye.” It will only be resolved through forgiveness, embrace, reconciliation, and mercy. If Jesus is the justice of God, then justice is mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, true justice can only be done by the community that has received the ultimate act of reconciliation from God the Father, the Just and Merciful. A people who deserved death yet we given life; damnation yet reconciliation; enmity yet friendship. Dan Bell expresses,

The liturgical reception of justice in turn forms the Church into a servant body that serves the world justly by extending Christ’s gift of renewed communion in God. This the Church does through the works of mercy. As a people whose life together is marked by corporal and spiritual works, it embodies the justice of God that promises to liberate both oppressor and oppressed from the agony of sin and gather all around the table of the Lord to share in the eternal bounty of divine charity (Bell, pp. 194-95).

The ultimate act of justice is not suum cuique. It is an invitation to the table. It is an invitation to my enemy to join me at the Lord’s table where we, both former enemies of God, are now his sons and daughters.

When my enemy becomes my brother, I have done justice.