Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. -- Isaiah 59:15
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
We often talk about justice versus mercy or love and the harshness of judgment. Justice certainly must be tempered with mercy, but no one wants to live in a world where there is no justice. Jesus decried the justice of “an eye for an eye”, yet even that Old Testament standard was more just than the brute nature of man. Sean Connery’s tough cop character in The Untouchables reflects the more primitive approach: Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife; you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way …. In contrast to the Chicago way, even a tooth for a tooth is merciful.
Society depends on justice. We believe in equality before the law. The Bible forbids taking a perpetrator’s wealth or social standing into consideration when rendering justice. In the book of Job, Elihu describes the supreme justice of God: Shall one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn him who is righteous and mighty, who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’ and to nobles, ‘Wicked man,’ who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands? (Job 34:17-19).
Justice holds us accountable for our actions. Mercy may take into account our motivations and circumstances. We generally think it is less offensive for a man to steal to feed a hungry child than to feed his own gambling addiction. But the action is wrong in either case and justice is due.
I read recently of some homeowner who shot and fatally wounded a man breaking into her house. His relatives were on the news condemning the shooting. They asked how the man was supposed to get new Nikes if he didn’t steal. How heartless it is to kill a man who merely wanted to steal someone else’s property in order to upgrade his cell phone. I’ll admit that I would hate to kill someone over money or some easily replaceable material object. The problem is that he might be willing to kill me or someone under my protection in order to get it. Sometimes that is hard to sort out during an interaction in the dark at 3:00AM.
As a society we seem to have lost respect for justice. I think it is the upholding of injustice and a topsy-turvy view of right and wrong that will destroy our nation and many others in the end. To live righteously these days, as in Isaiah’s time, is to put oneself in danger of condemnation. Clever rhetoric falsehoods are lauded while truth is ridiculed. Truth now requires a “trigger warning” and is too dangerous to be spoken. We must all agree that black is white and good is evil, or we risk being vilified if not physically attacked. And if we are attacked, we brought it on ourselves by such blatant wickedness as pointing out that the sun rises in the east.