Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Justice, The State, and The Church

I said before that it is necessary to define justice before actually discussing or theorizing about applications or manifestations of it. I gave a two-fold, even paradoxical, definition for justice in a previous comment. The definition covered two aspects of justice- retribution (punishment or reward) and restoration (reconstruction and equality). To define justice with one of the aspects at the expense of the other is only a half definition; and subsequently to apply only one of these forms of justice to a given situation is half justice, or incomplete justice, and may even, logically, lead to non-justice or injustice.

God's justice is always complete. He punishes or rewards when it is required and necessary; but he doesn't end there. He then restores. Perhaps this illustration would help: Let's say that in a relatively stable and clean neighborhood stands one house or building that is ridiculously ugly, falling apart, and is covered with graffitti; to top it off, one can not see the widows because the grass, that is older than you, is in the way. Worst of all, the house is so completely exhausted with its condition that it is ready to fall. This house is an abomination to the neighborhood, and according to the "broken-window theory," this house's presence will attract more corruption that would eventually affect the whole neighboorhood. What is the best thing to do? The stains of this house's depravity, so to speak, has made it impossible to be reformed in that condition! "Let us destroy," says one, "and bring this disgraceful house to ruins!" So it happens. The house is destroyed for its disgrace and for the violation of the neighborhood's code of real estate values. Retribution, or punishment, was executed and satisfied the community who indirectly fell victim to the building's shame. Shouts of joy followed by the clapping of the crowds encouraged the city officials to bow in their grattitude for the honor. The only problem? There is a pile of rubble. Furthermore, lets say for some unexplainable reason, the buildings in this community had a tendency to become degraded; some slowly, some quickly. Eventually, due to this form of justice, the whole neighborhood would be demolished.

Throughout the Bible, namely the OT, we see that God is engaged in justice. He does punish (sorry Mennonites and extreme Liberals); this is clear. But he doesn't just leave the house destroyed. In his love and compassion, as well as in his creativity, he rebuilds! That is, he restores, not to the old condition but with a better one; one that is free and has a purpose for this neighborhood. This is God's justice- deconstructing subjects of corruption because of their corruption, in the light of divine law; and reconstructing them into objects of love and grace, who in turn will function as subjects reflecting the same type of justice.

The state has been faithful to its calling for justice (retribution), for God has definitely set them in place for that reason. Government is a part and result of human nature as a consequence to civilization. I don't doubt that. But I believe that the church, as restored individuals and as a reconstructed community, should be faithful to our calling of justice, namely, restoration. We must counterbalance society's concept of justice in order to make it fully justice, at the same time keeping an eye for their misuse of retribution, for there is a tendency for the state to abuse this privelege. The state is responsible to apply the dirty work of retribution, which they would do gladly since they don't understand the grace of restoration. But the church is responsible to apply to those who need restoration, which, spiritually, is everyone, but, socially, it's those who have suffered the consequences of errors- whether it's imprisonment or poverty as a result of many factors. We don't need another institution that is primarily focused on punishment, the state is enough. What our society needs is to understand and experience the other aspect of justice which, like God, has been forgotten.


Bryan Feil said...

i enjoyed this post ivan. i never really thought of the church's response to that of the counter balance of the states. and maybe that is because usually we put them together. or at least thats how i was raised in the church to believe and understand things.
The body of christ is to always be the little reformation and add the sense of something besides what the state has offered its citizens. as you stated 'we don't need another institution that applies punishment' because one is plenty.
What about those involved in the body of christ get involved in the states matters and either are participating in them or are trying to make them 'more just' is that their responsibility? do we need followers of christ in all areas of life or should we step out of it and just be working on our mission of reconciliation?

Deviant Ivan said...

Perhaps this seems a little legalistic or even radical (but Christ is radical), but I believe that depending on the context one should try to see what God is doing. Today, I believe that in the US God has already instituted a strong retributive criminal system. I can see a Christian involved in a vocation that is connected to capital punishment and warfare; but I think that God is calling us to go beyond that and engage in a more ministerial vocation. The soldiers that encountered John the Baptist were not told to forsake their vocation but rather to practice justice and mercy and to be satisfied with their wages. Their system was pretty much retributive,but John challenged them to pursue something that supercedes their idea of justice. James said somewher in chapter 2 or 3 that "mercy triumphs over judgment;" he didnt say that judgment was wrong, he just said that judfment is good but mercy is greater. the secular world knows judgment very well, but it doesnt know or understand mercy. I wouldnt make it exclusive for all christians to forsake vocations involved with the two retributive applications of justice; i would just say to listen to the voice of God: we could be like Pilate who legitimized the crucifixion of Christ and washed his hands and said "his blood be upon you; im guiltless;" or we can be like Christ to the adulterous woman, saying, "Neither do i condemn you. Go your way and sin no more" (forgiveness and restoration).

Bryan Feil said...

it sure would be discouraging to be in that place of retribution and not see much happy w/ mercy but it doesnt' mean we shouldn't strive for it!