There are several definitions for justice:
- the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.
- rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice.
- the moral principle determining just conduct.
- conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.
- the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
- the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings:a court of justice.
- judgment of persons or causes by judicial process:to administer justice in a community.
- a judicial officer; a judge or magistrate.
According to www.etymonline.com, justice first appears in English in “mid-12c., ‘the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward or punishment;’ also ‘quality of being fair and just; moral soundness and conformity to truth,’ from Old French justice ‘justice, legal rights, jurisdiction’ (11c.), from Latin iustitia ‘righteousness, equity,’ from iustus ‘upright, just’ (see just adj. )”; “from ius ‘a right,’ especially ‘legal right, law.’ The more mundane Latin law-word lex covered specific laws as opposed to the body of laws.”
Justice is a popular word today, but it is often modified: we talk about social justice, economic justice, and even environmental justice. But it seems to me that the modifiers, both the adjectives and the people who insert the adjectives, actually distort the meaning of the word. For instance, when people talk about social justice, they mean that there is something wrong with society, and the government needs to use its power to fix it. Social justice has nothing to do with whether or not the individual deserves his or her reward or punishment.
One of our favorite Bible verses is Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” But what is it “to do justice”? If we follow the definition, it is to make sure that everyone gets his or her deserved reward or punishment. If a person develops a product that everyone wants, like the personal computer, it is justice if that person makes a lot of money selling that product. If a person provides a service that a lot of people are willing to pay for, it is justice if that person makes a lot of money. If, on the other hand, a person provides no service to others and sells them no product that others want, if that person makes no effort to improve him- or herself to be able to provide a product or service, then it is justice if that person is unable to make money. Yes, it is true that some people have an advantage at the start of life, but that advantage was provided by a parent or grandparent who worked hard to provide a service or sell a product.
So if we are going to “do justice,” shouldn’t it be that we make sure, as much as possible, that people get what they deserve?
Except that we are also supposed to “love kindness,” and oftentimes doing justice doesn’t seem to sit well with loving kindness. In addition, we are supposed to “walk humbly” with our God. How do we execute justice with our limited understanding without becoming something less than humble? We are also told,
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
How do we do justice when we are not supposed to judge?
I think the answer is in the same Bible that we find the words about justice. The answer is mercy, which is not the same as justice. Justice says that we deserve what we get, and ultimately what we should get is punishment for our sins. But Christ’s resurrection offers us mercy, something far, far better than what we deserve. It’s like we invent nothing, create nothing, offer nothing and yet become very rich.
Maybe God’s justice includes mercy, and what God wants from us is not to execute justice like an Earthly judge but to execute justice the way He does, tempered with forgiveness and second chances.