Justice in Faith
The word 'justice' is one of the most useful terms that any
would be politician, spiritual leader, or revolutionary has in their arsenal. It's an emotive word, one that does not have to be explained and is considered so central to society that its use is rarely questioned. Justice is something that everybody seems to want. In the name of justice those in search of power can raise an army, be it armed with guns and bombs or with righteous indignation and a computer keyboard. The use of justice can be used to garner positive results; in the name of justice we have striven to acknowledge and halt the prevalence of rape culture in our society. However justice has also been used for less noble ends. Our conception of justice has led us to celebrate the death of a 26 year old and cry out for the death of his 19 year old brother.
Our justice system is firmly rooted in the idea of punishment. We build bigger prisons, introduce longer jail times, and yet are confused when this 'justice' fails to lead to a better or safer society. We are always looking for the right person to punish and the right way to punish them, but does this system truly reflect justice? Does this idea of justice fit into the message of Christ's compassion?
Christ lived in a time where there were definite expectations about 'right behaviour' and 'wrong behaviour.' According to the justice system at the time, people who lived a certain way were scored, shunned, and left to be outcasts of society. Social shaming was one way in which people were punished. And yet who was Christ most often seen with? Was it the people who lived correctly? The people who were accepted into society? No. We are told again and again that Jesus ate with the outcasts, blessed the sinners, welcomed the criminals. He, who we view as the ultimate judge of mankind, the ultimate distributer of justice, did not engage in punishment. He did not shame sinners. Instead he welcomed them to his table, listened to their stories, and helped them through his stories. His sense of justice was not rooted in punishment, but in compassion.
And he went beyond simply talk and discussion. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he shows how the justice system is unjust. If our system of laws and punishment were truly just, how could a man who was completely innocent face the fate we only deem just for the worst of crimes? In dying at the hands of justice, Christ showed the ultimate injustice of the system.
Ultimately, the question we must ask ourselves is whether we seek to have faith in justice, or justice in faith. Do we assume that a system of punishment will lead to a better society, or do we accept the lesson of Christ, and recognize that true justice is rooted in compassion, in hearing the troubles of those around us and seeking to make our world one that is centered around healing rather than punishment.
This seems a simple proposition, but the challenges in making it a reality are all too clear. There are people who knowingly commit terrible crimes, who knowingly harm others, and who cannot be simply allowed to remain in society. However a focus on prison as a place of captivity and punishment will not solve our problems. Cries for the death of a single man will not solve our problems. Developing harsher punishments for rapists without education and cultural change will not solve our problems. Greater awareness of mental health will help. Greater compassion for our neighbours, be they our next door neighbours, our neighbouring communities, or our neighbouring nations, will help. Greater education, more listening, more teaching, will help. We must have Justice in Faith, not faith in justice.