In Search of True Justice
By: Vincent Guider
Let’s face it, things are very tense in our land today and I bet it may have affected you as much as it has affected me. Flames of racist and homophobic political rhetoric are being stoked about Mexican immigrants, other minorities and the LGBT community at rallies coast to coast. Chants of, “Make America great again!” ring out at those same rallies, but one has to wonder who determines what great actually means. There is growing outrage in black and brown communities at numerous incidents of unarmed citizens being killed by police officers, and then there are the staggering arrest, conviction and incarceration rates of these citizens if they are lucky enough to even survive. We now see more confrontations and brutal retaliatory shootings directed at officers as a result. These mounting tensions have both law enforcement officials and they citizenry they are sworn to serve and protect on edge. Then matters intensify when we factor in endemic poverty, violence and other crimes in underserved communities while crimes in more affluent communities do not get equally scrutinized. The stark contrasts between prospering neighborhoods and blighted ones in the very same city can make us wonder how many different ‘Americas’ there actually are. The dire list of social ills can go on and on to the point of either frustrating us or rendering us completely ambivalent. One has to wonder, are these people are getting what they truly deserve? From a faith perspective, we cannot avoid asking the timeless question of what justice really is.
The quest for true justice can be a confusing. You and I may think we know what we want, so life as we know it (or want it) will be just, but we may not be quite sure what is best. Is justice always about positive repercussions vs. negative ones (not to be confused by Reward and Punishment Theory)? And who decides whom justice’s beneficiaries shall be and whom it shall inconvenience?
Every day I am approached by people requesting that I help them or get involved with their endeavors. I then have to make decisions about if and how my involvement will be right (just). Then if I get involved, I have to figure out how best to spend my time, energy, or money to be of most benefit without causing suffering. This is one way I go through the complicated process of discerning justice on a daily basis. Deciding what is just in a given situation is a weighty decision at times and always an important one.
When (let’s call her) Jane asked me for money and a ride last week as she does so often, I had to decided whether to comply or not. She often wants me to share my resources so she can make it through the day, and I regard my contributions in these situations as one of many manifestations of justice. However on one occasion I gave her money on a Tuesday evening and she had squandered it on foolish purchases by Wednesday morning. So when she asked me for money on Wednesday afternoon, after I investigated the whole situation, I said, “No, I cannot give you money again.” It would have been an injustice to her for me to reward her irresponsibility. On the other hand, Jane helps me to become better acquainted with justice at each encounter we share. I really want to do right by her and I also want her to do right by me
Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), the Irish author, said, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” Of course we, the Christian believers, really want justice in the world. However the real challenge for many of us is figuring out what justice actually looks like, who deserves it, whose job it is to deliver it, when and at what price. Delving even deeper, we are faced with a harder question. How do we deliver justice that is not for just-US? Justice is only really just when it is accessible, genuine, peace-instilling, fair, impartial, moral and honest for the recipient. And let us make no make no mistake; God is the giver, not us.
Justice and her work can be scary because she might expect us to sacrifice some of the comforts and perks we are used to in order for others to gain access to human dignities they deserve but do not regularly receive. She requires that we (1) stretch our imaginations to empathize with other people’s experiences, (2) believe that some people actually don’t have the food, good schools, networks, jobs, reserves, safe spaces, opportunities, etc we may take for granted, and (3) share with others in ways we’d want to be shared with if we were in need. Justice furthermore demands that we honestly identify what we did or did not do personally or institutionally to either cause or enable someone else’s misfortune. She asks us to use the opposite approach to us wondering what they did wrong to put themselves in such bad situations. We neither understand justice nor can we help to ensure her fruits for others if we remain entrenched, business as usual, in our familiar mindsets and communities. Justice only reveals her truths to us when we engage with others, eating, drinking, laughing, crying, listening, speaking, praying and partying with them because they deserve the same respect and dignities we want for ourselves. We only come to truly know and understand Justice when we summon up the courage to venture outside of ourselves and seek her out in others.
This summer, as I pray asking to receive, seeking to find and knocking so the doors will open to me, I will work at sharing God’s favor onto me with those around me who also deserve to know precious, sweet justice.