Saturday, February 26, 2011

Justice and only justice, you shall follow…

By T. M. Moore in The Limits of Politics via

“Justice and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”  --Deuteronomy 16:20

imageThe exercise of justice involves securing the parameters of order within which goodness may arise in a society. It is the duty of government to ensure justice, to keep the boundaries clear and firm, and to afford ample opportunity for each member of the society to flourish in goodness. Government must act for justice when a boundary has been infringed, a liberty violated, and, thus, the cause of goodness interrupted.

According to Scripture, in particular, the Law of God, the practice of justice takes five forms.

  • obligatory justice. This is what people are required to do with respect to one another, according to the Ten Commandments. We are obliged, therefore, to honor one another, not to harm or murder, not to be involved in unlawful sexual activities, not to steal, not to lie or deceive, and not to covet. Where people are instructed in and learn to practice this basic level of justice, obligatory justice, much evil is avoided and much goodness is encouraged.
  • preventive justice. People should think about the possible consequences of any action they are anticipating, so as to prevent the violation of a boundary of order or any infringement on the liberties others. In ancient Israel, for example, it was my duty to build a railing around my roof, to prevent guests from falling off. Today I must put a fence around my pool, if I have one, to prevent children from falling in unattended.
  • justice is retributive in nature. That is, if I have harmed someone else or his property, it is quite possible that justice could require my being harmed in just the same manner, or, at least, to the same degree. If I bring a frivolous lawsuit, for example, seeking so much in damages, and lose, I will be responsible to pay the amount of the damages I sought to the person I wrongly sued. Think how that might reform our increasingly litigious legal system.
  • restorative justice. If I am careless – or, for that matter, intentional – in causing harm to someone, so that he cannot work, it is my responsibility to pay for his healing and the opportunity costs he might have incurred during his rehabilitation. The Good Samaritan shows us the true spirit of this law by going beyond the mere letter of it to care for, out of his own funds, one injured not by him, but by others. Here was a true neighbor, indeed, as Jesus explained.
  • distributive justice. People in communities show love to their needy neighbors by making it possible for them to find meaningful work and by providing offerings to meet their temporary needs. This is what the gleaning laws were about, as well as the law governing the three-year tithe. God instructed His people to use their resources to help those in need. In the period of the New Testament, the first believers understood that in spades, as they would frequently bring from their accounts or their goods to meet the needs of those who were without.

imageA government serves its people for good when it ensures a social order that encourages goodness and the practice of justice in all these ways. The specific laws and applications will change from generation to generation, but the principles of justice remain the same, and good governments abide by them.