"When justice is divorced from morality, when rights of individuals are separated from right and wrong, the only definition you have left for justice is the right for every individual to do as he pleases. And the end of that road is anarchy and barbarism." John Piper
One of the most moving books that I’ve ever read was a high school English assignment, To Kill a Mockingbird. As a young man, it opened my eyes to injustice as nothing else had. Very few books have so strongly moved me. There’s a dated film version, yet I’d encourage you instead to read the book. It does have some racial language that was characteristic of the Deep South in the period that it describes, the 1930’s.
Sadly, injustice is not new. Worse, it shows no sign of going extinct. The recent case of Jussie Smollett, an actor on a TV show, Empire. Smollett claimed that he was attacked early one morning in Chicago by two people he couldn’t give descriptions of, not even as to their sex. He claimed that they hurled racial and homophobic insults as they assaulted him and then poured some liquid on him before wrapping a thin rope around his neck. He then told police that he went to a friend’s apartment with the rope still around his neck and continued to wear it until police were dispatched 45 minutes later. Though it was a hoax, charges against Smollett for filing a false police report have been dropped.
Like most of the world I’d never heard of Jussie Smollett or seen Empire before this hoax unraveled. I have no feelings about the show, positive or negative. Yet, like most people with a moral compass, I despise injustice, falsehood, and duplicity. This case illustrates the true state of injustice.
Injustice is often perpetuated by economics. That doesn’t fit the media rhetoric, yet the Smollett case in which he’s been given a free pass demonstrates that justice is often based more on economics than ethnicity. The O.J. Simpson, Kobe Bryant, Brock Turner or Robert H. Richards IV cases demonstrate that wealthy is the best Get out of jail free card. Spend a few days in criminal court in an urban area and you’ll discover that those given reduced charges, plea bargains or have charges completely dropped have one thing in common – a good lawyer. But it takes money to afford a good lawyer. The working poor, those in poverty and lower middle class can’t afford a high priced one. Please understand that I’m not denigrating lawyers or judges. They’re attempting to work within a broken system that often fails to protect the most vulnerable.
Injustice is perpetuated by our preconceptions and prejudices. Lady Justice is to be blind. Our legal system is built on a critical foundation – innocent until proven guilty. We’re in a sad state of affairs when someone can be convicted in the court of public opinion before the case ever goes to trial. That was the injustice of To Kill a Mockingbird. Injustice prevailed because bigotry was crammed into the jury box.
It’s noteworthy that the Smollett story came shortly after the Covington students news cycle. Journalists too frequently no longer report the news but editorialize. They’ve moved from objectivity to activism in an attempt to make stories fit their worldview. A naïve public hasn’t learned the media is driven by ratings, not truth-seeking.
With Smollett reporters lack of questioning his claims with the skepticism that they deserved shows that they swallowed his fabrication because it fit their preconceptions. Shoddy journalism has become the norm and it’s not just a liberal media problem. Conservative media pundits are often as guilty of re-shaping stories to fit their bias. That’s because it’s hard to wait and withhold judgment, especially if the competition may scoop you.
So, how can Christians encourage justice?
Remember that God is a God of justice. Isaiah 30:18 says, “For the LORD is a God of justice.” Justice is one of God’s attributes. It flows out of His holiness. Justice and righteousness are often used synonymously in the Bible. Righteousness is the quality of being right or just and is another attribute of God. It incorporates both His justice and holiness.
Justice requires objectively hearing both sides. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” The pursuit of justice means hearing both sides of a story. If we pass judgment after only hearing one, we’re acting like fools and making a mockery of justice. It’s wrong to jump to conclusions. We’re often too quick to judge and then mock the process of justice. To be committed to justice, we must be more patient before we pass judgment.
Justice requires blindness to who the individual is. Scripture warns us that it’s unjust to consider who someone is when deciding what’s true, right and just (Ex. 23:3; Lev. 19:15). Justice is perverted when judgment is pronounced based on someone being rich or poor; lowly or exalted; weak or powerful. Justice is about truth and righting wrongs, not about identity politics. Why? It’s central to the very character of God Who shows no partiality (Rom. 12:11). It’s wrong to favor any ethnic group or political persuasion when it comes to justice. That means that social justice isn’t justice. It’s evil to argue that justice can only be achieved by being partial to those who are “oppressed.” That’s opposed to the very character of God.
Human justice will always be limited because it’s only human. We can’t right every wrong. Justice is impossible apart from moral absolutes. God laid out checks and balances in human justice because mankind apart from God can never practice justice fully. We’re contaminated by sin.
God as Judge will ultimately bring about justice. No one gets away with anything. No evil will go unpunished. While we want the courts and governments to get it right, we know that sometimes they won’t. It’s why we need a perfect judge who executes perfect justice. This is only found in the God who is perfectly just. Before God all the world stands condemned. It’s only in the atoning sacrifice of Christ that we can be found just by the one who is the Justifier (Rom. 3:26). Ultimate justice will come in the end through God. Until then, we must rightly seek justice today, yet always keep an eye on the final coming judgment in the courts of heaven.
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