What is right, righteous, guided by truth, reason, and fairness.

— Justice, 33
[do action=”vfdictstart” title=”justice”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice.”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”the moral principle determining just conduct.”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.”/] [do action=”vfdictend”/]

Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”The sword of justice has no scabbard.” author=”Antione De Riveral”/]

Concept of justice

‘Justice’ is a common word and a familiar concept. Almost every mature person knows intuitively what is ‘just,’ and can intuitively identify ‘injustice.’ However, precisely defining what the word ‘justice’ means, or what the concept of justice encompasses is not so simple.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Where you find the laws most numerous, there you will find also the greatest injustice.” author=”Arcesilaus”/]


We sometimes hear it said that Justice is blind. We can all picture that image of the statue of the blind woman with the outstretched arm holding a balance or a scale. That is more of an image of “American Social Fairness” than it is “Biblical Justice”. Being “fair” and being “just” are not the same things. We can be fair by giving each other the same amount of everything. But justice begs the question, what does each need? Biblical justice is not blind nor totally impartial to those who are most affected by evil and oppression, especially the stranger, the poor, the widow and the orphan. What does each need? Biblical justice requires that I come to intimately know who the stranger is, by name, who the poor man, woman, or child is, by name, and who the widow or orphan is, by name. That we reach out to them and help them with their needs. Biblical justice is more about creating serving relationships with those in need, than it is about their rights. Biblical justice forces us to get involved.

Justice by love = working to get people what is equal to their need.

Justice by law = working to get people what is equal to all others.

(Often not enough for some and too much for others)


Thinking about justice and what it entails has a long history. The most significant early treatise on the topic was presented by Aristotle in books V and VII of his Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle identified that there is a universal kind of justice that relates to all human beings: “…for there seems to be a kind of justice that obtains for any human being in relation to anyone capable of sharing in law and taking part in agreement…to the extent that the other is a human being.” In this sense, a person is just if he or she is moral, compassionate and obeys the law. In other words, a just person acts virtuously toward other people. Yet, Aristotle also noted that there are multiple forms of justice. He identifies ‘merit’ as a principle of justice and also its attendant problems: “everybody agrees that what is just in distributions must accord with the some kind of merit, but everybody is not talking about the same kind of merit.” Proportionality also features in his discussion: “the just in the distribution of things belonging to the community always follows the proportion we have described (…if the distribution is from public funds, it will follow the same ratio that the individual contributions have to one another); and the unjust which is opposed to the just in this sense is what contravenes the proportional.” Aristotle argued that when it comes to ‘rectificatory justice,’ people should be treated equally before the law: “…it makes no difference whether a decent person has defrauded a worthless one or a worthless person has defrauded a decent one, or whether the adultery was committed by someone decent or someone worthless; the law pays attention solely to the difference created by the damage done, and where one person is committing an injustice, another suffering it, or one person inflicted and another has been damaged, it treats them as equal. So what is unjust in this sense the judge tries to equalize…”Aristotle’s ideas undoubtedly had a significant impact on the Hellenistic world when the Christian church was in its infancy. Thus, it is not surprising to see similar ideas echoed by Christian theologians down through the centuries.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”When love is gone, there’s always justice. And when justice is gone, there’s always force. And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi, Mom!” author=”Laurie Anderson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying.” author=”Bertrand”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” author=”James A. Garfield”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use – of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.” author=”Robert F. Kennedy”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”A good man would prefer to be defeated than to defeat injustice by evil means. ” author=”Sallust”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” author=”Abraham Lincoln”/]


When considering what justice entails many related principles come to mind including equality, fairness, merit, need, and reciprocation. However, these different principles, when applied to specific situations, will more often than not lead to mutually exclusive judgments. Furthermore, many of the concepts may be applied in different ways. If justice is giving people their due on the basis of what is fair, then what is their due? It may be fair that they receive the same pay for the same work. However, if Joe works harder than Jane, is it not fair that he is paid more?


Justice as fairness was a phrase used by legal philosopher John Rawls to describe his specific view of justice. Nevertheless, it is clear that the general concept of fairness is closely related to justice. However, it is not always easy to determine what is and is not fair. For example, just procedures when trying a person for alleged crimes are intended to be fair on the accused and give them every opportunity to defend themselves. However, in many cases, these strict procedures can result in damning evidence being rejected as a result of minor or inadvertant oversights by the prosecution, which in turn may cause guilty parties to be acquitted and set free purely on a legal technicality.Thus, fair procedures could lead to an unfair outcome. Fairness may also be considered in terms of equality. Is it not fair that two people who do essentially the same work are paid the same? Is it not fair that everyone pay the same amount of tax? Is it not fair that the law treats everyone the same?


As noted above, it is a common view that justice requires that all people are treated equally before the law. In other words, like cases should be handled in the same manner without respect for the parties involved. However, if a government or dictator passes legislation that everyone caught shoplifting shall have their hands cut off, we would rightly object that this law is unjust! Alternatively, the government could legislate that all found innocent of shoplifting will have their left hand cut off. In both these cases, the government or ruler seeks to treat everyone equally, but the result is clearly unjust. Therefore, it is clear that impartiallity or non-discrimination is not enough to satisfy the demands of justice. Moreover, equality at one level often leads to inequality at other levels. Put another way, to produce equal results one must treat people unequally. However, treating people equally will produce unequal results. This is because all people are not inherently equal in character and ability. All people have different intellectual ability, physical characteristics and morals.

Although there is certainly a deep connection between justice and equal treatment, this connection does not mean that equal treatment necessarily implies equal shares, as egalitarians argue. Egalitarianism implies that we must embrace certain kinds of unequal treatment in order to achieve a more preferable form of equality. Egalitarianism is not the same as humanitarianism. Humanitarians are concerned with how people fare. Egalitarians, on the other hand, are concerned with how different people fare relative to one another. Indeed, when Martin Luther King proclaimed his ‘dream’ that his children would be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” he was describing a principle of justice based on equal treatment and merit, not a principle based on equal shares. At this point, it is important to recognize that living in a society is not a race. In a race, all competitors start on an equal footing because a race is meant to measure relative performance. Society, on the other hand, is meant to provide a safe and fulfilling environment in which to live where there is no arbitrary bias or exclusion. In order to live a happy and fulfilled life, people need a good and secure footing, not necessarily an equal footing. It is essential to understand that many people start with more because their parents provided them with more: a positive, stable family environment; inherited wealth; and superior education. These benefits are the gifts of loving parents. They are not unjust in themselves nor are they the result of unjust actions. Therefore, the goal should be to improve each person’s prospects, not to equalize them. Although many egalitarians acknowledge that achieving economic equality is impossible, they believe the answer lies in the doctrine of ‘equality of opportunity.’ Egalitarians believe that opportunities are not fairly distributed, and those with more wealth and power have many more and better opportunities. Therefore, they want government authorities to take control and ensure that there is a level playing field and that everyone receives the same opportunities. Although this may seem a reasonable step to take, it is ultimately a fundamental denial of reality. Power and wealth are not the only factors that result in more and better opportunities. A person’s basic intelligence (usually a derivative of their parents’ intelligence), their family life and upbringing, their place of residence (country, state or region), their native language, their religion and/or system of values, their emotional and psychological makeup, their physical appearance (stature, beauty, and physical strength), all contribute significantly to the number and kinds of opportunities available to each person. No amount of interference can change these realities. A smart beautiful person will always have more and better opportunities than a simple unattractive person. The only other options are to tear down those with natural advantages by somehow destroying those advantages, or by launching a program of eugenics where every person born has the same genetic characteristics. Such options, however, are clearly horrific, not to mention fundamentally unjust. From the above, it is clear that justice and equality are not the same. Sometimes equal treatment or equal distribution is just, but often it is not.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them.” author=”Lois McMaster Bujold”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Justice does not come from the outside. It comes from inner peace.” author=”Barbara Hall”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.” author=”Franklin D. Roosevelt”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain; and that innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune!” author=”Ann Radcliffe”/]

Mercy vs. Justice

True virtues are not supposed to clash – at least that is the ideal. Our personal interests or baser instincts may at times conflict with the virtues we are trying to cultivate, but higher virtues themselves are always supposed to be in harmony with one another. How, then, do we explain the apparent conflict between the virtues of mercy and justice?

For Plato, justice was one of the four cardinal virtues (along with temperance, courage, and wisdom). Aristotle, Plato’s student, expanded the notion of virtue by arguing that virtuous conduct must occupy some middle ground between behavior that is excessive and behavior that is deficient. Aristotle called this concept the “Golden Mean,” and so a person of moral maturity is one who seeks that mean in all that she does.

For both Plato and Aristotle, the Golden mean of justice could be located in the concept of fairness. Justice, as fairness, means that people get exactly what they deserve – no more, no less. If they get more, something is excessive; if they get less, something is deficient. It might be profoundly difficult to figure out exactly what it is that a person *does deserve, but in principle perfect justice is about perfectly matching people and actions to their desserts.

It isn’t difficult to see why justice would be a virtue. A society where bad people get more and better than they deserve while good people get less and worse than they deserve is one which is corrupt, inefficient, and ripe for revolution. It is, in fact, the basic premise of all revolutionaries that society is unjust and needs to be reformed at a basic level. Perfect justice would thus appear to be a virtue not only because it is fair, but also because it results in a more peaceful and harmonious society overall.

At the same time, mercy is often regarded as an important virtue – a society where no one ever showed or experienced mercy would be one which is stifling, restrictive, and would appear to be lacking in the basic principle of kindness. That is odd, however, because mercy essentially requires that justice *not be done. One needs to understand here that mercy isn’t a matter of being kind or nice, although such qualities may lead one to be more likely to show mercy. Mercy also isn’t the same thing as sympathy or pity.

What mercy entails is that something *less than justice be one. If a convicted criminal asks for mercy, he is asking that he receive a punishment that is less than what he is really due. When a Christian begs God for mercy, she is asking that God punish her less than what God is justified in doing. In a society where mercy reigns, doesn’t that require that justice be abandoned?

Perhaps not, because justice also isn’t the opposite of mercy: if we adopt the premises of virtue ethics as described by Aristotle, we would conclude that mercy lies between the vices of cruelty and and uncaring, while justice lies between the vices of cruelty and softness. So, both are contrasted with the vice of cruelty, but still they aren’t the same, and are in fact often at odds with one another.

And make no mistake, they are indeed often in conflict. There is a great danger in showing mercy because if used too often or in the wrong circumstances, it can actually undermine itself. Many philosophers and legal theorists have noted that the more one pardons crimes, the more one also emboldens criminals, because you are essentially telling them that their chances of getting away without paying the proper price have increased. That, in turn, is one of the things which drives revolutions: the perception of that the system is unfair.

Justice is required because a good and functioning society requires the presence of justice – as long as people trust that justice will be done, they will better be able to trust one another. Mercy, however, is also required because as A. C. Grayling has written, “we all need mercy ourselves.” The remission of moral debts may embolden sin, but it may also embolden virtue by giving people a second chance.

Virtues are traditionally conceived as standing midway between two vices; while justice and mercy may be virtues rather than vices, is it conceivable that there is yet another virtue that is midway between them? A golden mean among golden means? If there is, it has no name – but knowing when to show mercy and when to show strict justice is the key in navigating through the dangers that an excess of either may threaten.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”May we, in our dealings with all the peoples of the earth, ever speak the truth and serve justice.” author=”Dwight D. Eisenhower”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.” author=”Confucius”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Mankind censure injustice fearing that they may be the victims of it, and not because they shrink from committing it.” author=”Plato”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” author=”Martin Luther King Jr.”/]


In many cases, fairness requires that we treat people according to what they have done or achieved. In other words, people get their ‘just deserts.’ Desert can depend on effort, performance, excellence, character, or the mere fact of being human. If one person works harder than another, it is fair and just that that person be paid more. If a person steals another person’s property, it is fair and just that that person is punished for their crime and made to return the stolen property. However, there are many cases where success is achieved and reward is gained from good fortune, pure luck or coincidence. Why should anyone be rewarded in these cases? Of course, everyone is lucky to some degree but luck does not guarantee success. Effort and ability are still required. Luck and good fortune, however, reduce the amount of effort required. For example, people born in the western world at this time in history have far greater chance of achieving success, prosperity and long life, yet many still live in squalor, fail in business and die young. The principle of merit/deserts is also concerned with ‘just deserts.’ In other words, the principle of merit/deserts implies a proportionality principle, i.e. the punishment must fit the crime; the reward must reflect the effort. A greater crime requires a sterner punishment. A greater effort demands a greater reward.


Some argue that the existence of people in need in a world of plenty is fundamentally unjust, and that this warrants preferential treatment for those with the greatest needs. However, it is not at all obvious why someone should receive X in preference to others simply because that person needs X? Should a medical school student get the grade they need or the grade they deserve? Would anyone wish to undergo surgery if it was to be conducted by someone who passed medical school as a result of such grading, because the surgeon was a member of some needy, disadvantaged, or marginalized group? Furthermore, if we distribute or reward according to need, we often get more need! This is called a ‘moral hazard.’ In a race, rewarding speed induces speed. Likewise, rewarding need induces more need. In family situations, if we give more attention to children in need, we may in fact generate more needy children. It is also unclear how the principle of need will lead to just outcomes. For example, women deserve the vote not because they are needy or a disadvantaged minority, but because they are equal citizens. If we care about need—if we really care—then we want social structures to allow and encourage people to do what works. Societies that effectively meet needs, historically speaking, have always been those that empower and reward exercises of productive capacities by virtue of which people meet needs.”


Reciprocity involves returning good in proportion to the good we have received, and to make restitution for any harm we have done: The details differ strikingly from place to place, time to time, and every society is profuse with forms. There are rituals of gift -giving, unspoken undertakings between lovers, patterns of family life, expectations among friends, duties of fair play, obligations of citizenship, contracts—all understood as reciprocal. There is an intricate etiquette for it all, and it is connected (both in theory and practice) to prudence, self-interest and altruism, basic human needs, social welfare, notions of desert and duty, justice, and fairness. This principle echoes the Biblical ‘golden rule’ of Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The principle of reciprocity implies that justice can only be obtained by those who are capable of doing favors. Yet not everyone can repay a debt or a favor—especially if it was not ask for.

All of the above principles have had varying influences on our conception of justice and how it should be practiced. For example, by the 15th century, English common law had become preoccupied with procedural justice, such that, provided the procedural formalities were met, a person would be bound by a contract even if it was entered into by mistake or even fraud. The king eventually responded to such claims of injustice by charging the Chancellor (whos normal job was to issue writs) with the responsibility of redressing these situations. It is important to note that the Chancellors at this time were trained as priests. This meant that when they assessed claims of injustice, they did not base their judgments on the accumulated body of judicial precedent and legalistic form as the common law judges did. Rather, they based their judgments on Christian principles of justice and fairness. This body of law became known as ‘equity’, and where equity and common law were in conflict, equity would always prevail. The body set up to hear such claims was known as the Court of Chancery, and the Chancellors (or Lord Chancellors as they were later known) who comprised the Court had discretionary power over the rights of disputing parties. If a party had a legal right or remedy but was not morally deserving of that right or remedy because they had acted dishonestly or negligently, the Court of Chancery could stop them asserting their right or deny them their remedy. Principles of justice, then, are often mutually exclusive and apply to different and limited types of situations. For example, if we ask what are children due? The answer is: What they need. What are citizens due? Equality before the law. What are partners due? Reciprocity. What are contestants/ candidates/competitors due? Fair acknowledgment of their demonstrated merit. What are employees due? What they have earned. What are the poor and least advantaged due? A chance or opportunity to improve their situation. Justice is a cluster concept, and that we need to examine competing views of justice by looking at what those views produce i.e. what are the consequences?

From the above, it can be argued that determining which principle of justice to apply in a specific situation is deeply rooted in the moral question of what is right and wrong: A person who deliberately or maliciously harms or kills another is unjust because that person has committed a serious crime. A contract involves a binding agreement, and a party that breaks that agreement and offers no compensation is unjust, because they have acted dishonestly. A person who slanders or defames another is unjust because they have lied and/or acted maliciously. A person who is negligent in their duties is unjust because they have acted carelessly and irresponsibly. A manufacturer that makes a faulty product is unjust because they have acted irresponsibly and negligently. Parents who fail to provide and care for their children are unjust because they have a moral duty and responsibility to look after them. Citizens who claim their legal rights but do not fulfill their social responsibilities to their fellow citizens are unjust because they have broken the social contract that citizenship implies. A competitor, contestant or candidate who cheats when competing in a game or race is unjust because they have broken the rules and acted dishonestly. Indeed, law courts, when deciding new and complex cases, before they are able to determine which party in the dispute is ‘right’ or ‘just,’ often design new legal tests and principles which are almost always based on moral notions and principles.

Arguably, the two most influential modern thinkers about justice are John Rawls and Robert Nozick. Although their theories of justice are quite complex, the key difference between them is that Rawls prefers ‘just’ (i.e. equal) outcomes, while Nozick prefers ‘just’ (i.e. fair) procedures and processes. Rawls argued that just principles are those that would be selected by any person in a society where they had no knowledge of their race, gender, intelligence, ability, physical characteristics, financial situation or the position they would occupy. He suggested two principles: (1) each person should have equal rights and basic liberties to the extent that these do not infringe upon another’s similar rights and liberties; and (2) social and economic inequalities are only justified when (a) they are reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all. Rawls calls this ‘justice as fairness.’31 It is also commonly called ‘social justice.’ There are, however, serious problems with this view. Firstly, principle (1) does not necessarily lead to just outcomes. What if two men—one black, one white, but equal in all other respects—who do not know their race, are presented with two scenarios: (1) each is paid $100 per week, or (2) the white man is paid $1000 per week and the black man is paid $500 per week? Which scenario should they choose? Clearly option (2) provides them both with superior income regardless of the color of their skin, but this situation would be unjust according to Rawls because it is based solely on racial grounds. Principle (2) is also problematic, as John Hospers points out: Suppose that the distribution of goods in a society (which for the sake of simplicity we shall take to consist of five persons only) is 6-6-4-4-4. Now an invention comes along which will enormously increase the standard of living, so that the resulting distribution becomes 50-50-40-40-3. Would it be justified? No, presumably the invention would have to be suppressed in spite of the great rise in the standard of living of almost everyone, because one person in the society is slightly worse off because of it.” Hospers goes on to cite the automobile as a real life example. The automobile benefited everyone except the manufacturers of buggy whips. Thus, Hospers concludes: “No major innovation would ever have occurred, from the dawn of history to the present, no matter how great its benefit to mankind,” because there would always be “someone somewhere who [would be] worse off because of it.”

Unlike Rawls’ forward-looking end-result theory of justice, Nozick held to an historical approach to justice. He held that “past circumstances or actions can create differential entitlements or differential deserts to things.” Nozick points out that advocates of distributive end-result justice believe present distribution is unjust because it does not match their view of how things ought to be distributed, and that this ‘injustice’ should be rectified. They also believe that this rectification requires compulsory redistribution through force. Nozick, on the other hand, held that end-result distributive justice ignores ethically relevant factors in the history of how people obtained their present property. What constitutes justice or injustice is not who holds what but how each person acquired their property. If a person acquires property justly then their holding is just, irrespective of whether they earned it, needed it, or deserved it. If a person inherited real-estate from the estate of a deceased relative, then they have acquired it justly even if they did nothing to deserve it, or if they already own several houses and have no need for another. If two workers receive equal wages, and one squanders them while the other saves, then their will eventually be a significant difference in each of the workers’ wealth and holdings. But no unjust actions have led to this situation and the worker who accumulated his savings has committed no moral wrong. This led B. J. Diggs to conclude that “the assumption that there is a problem of redistribution is the fundamental mistake of all theories of justice whose basic concern is to determine ‘who ends up with what.’”

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes. Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, the attribute to awe and majesty, wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; but mercy is above this sceptred sway, it is enthroned in the hearts of kings, it is an attribute to God himself; and earthly power doth then show likest God’s, when mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, though justice be thy plea, consider this, that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.” author=”William Shakespeare”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.” author=”Alexander Hamilton”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Justice is a contract of expediency, entered upon to prevent men harming or being harmed.” author=”Epicurus”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.” author=”Earl Warren”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.” author=”Alexander Hamilton”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”If it were not for injustice, men would not know justice.” author=”Heraclitus”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Liberty, equality – bad principles! The only true principle for humanity is justice; and justice to the feeble is protection and kindness.” author=”Henri-Frédéric Amiel”/]

Grace, Compassion and the Poor and Needy

Christians and non-Christians who hold to socialist or left-wing political and economic principles view justice as almost entirely consisting of end-result distributive ‘social justice.’ From a Christian and Biblical point of view justice means giving to people according to need and even giving more than they might receive according to the principle of equality.” Thus, advocates of social justice are pre-occupied with assisting the poor and needy. While there is certainly nothing wrong with assisting the poor and needy, there is clearly much more to justice, both Biblically and generally, than just this.

Where Western thinking stresses the economic aspect of poverty, the [Ancient Near East] understood poverty in the context of shame and honor.” Several Hebrew words are used to describe such people. It describes those who do not own their own land and therefore need economic protection. In other words, their poverty is a result of them being oppressed. The Biblical poor, then, are those who are vulnerable to abuse because they are not economically well off and/or have no kinsmen to protect them. As a result, they have suffered oppression, had their legal and moral rights suppressed, and been treated unfairly.

Tis an uneasy tension between justice on the one hand, and love, grace, and mercy on the other. Some peoples view of Justice lays all blame for the existence of poverty on ‘society’ and/or ‘government’ (cf. “the structures of society”). They assume—incorrectly—that poverty (injustice) is purely a result of governments and society in general acting unjustly. They never consider that, in many cases, poverty comes as a result of laziness, foolishness or just plain bad luck, and has nothing at all to do with government or other aspects of society. The Bible explicitly states that poverty can come about as a result of laziness, sleep, selfishness, lack of discipline, lack of action, impulsiveness, preoccupation with pleasures, drunkenness and gluttony, and chasing of fantasies. Wealth and prosperity, on the other hand, may come from wisdom, diligence, generosity, and righteousness.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Man perfected by society is the best of all animals; he is the most terrible of all when he lives without law, and without justice.” author=”Aristotle”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.” author=”Martin Luther King Jr.”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”You (God) have not only commanded continence, that is, from what things we are to restrain our love, but also justice, that is, on what we are to bestow our love. ” author=”Saint Augustine”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to it, the more ought law to weed it out.” author=”Sir Francis Bacon”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered.” author=”Aristotle”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Civilization is built on a number of ultimate principles…respect for human life, the punishment of crimes against property and persons, the equality of all good citizens before the law…or, in a word justice.” author=”Max Nordau”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and co-operation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” author=”Dwight D. Eisenhower”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Justice delayed, is justice denied.” author=”William Gladstone”/]

Solomon’s Justice

Too often the phrase “splitting the baby” is equated with justice. And sometimes the arbiters of justice in our modern world (judges) believe that giving something to both parties involved in a dispute is the wise and fair thing to do, after all, that’s the Wisdom of Solomon, isn’t it? Well, let’s take a look at the story and see……..

Two women having recently given birth came to King Solomon to settle an important dispute. One of the mothers had accidentally smothered her infant while sleeping, and silently replaced her dead child with the other. The mother of the living baby awoke, and realized the dead child was not hers.

They stood before the King, and argued a fairly typical “he said/she said” type situation that we see in courts today all the time. King Solomon asked for a sword, so he could cut the baby in half, and give part of the baby to each.

The real mother cried out not to cut the child in half, but to give it to the other woman. Solomon gave the baby to her, because he knew that would be the real mother’s reaction.

OK. So why is this used as an example of Solomon’s wisdom? Because he was really going to split the baby? Of course not.

The Wisdom of Solomon was in devising a plan that would reveal the truth.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of Faith, Strength, Energy, Will, Sympathy, Justice, Imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” author=”Dorothy Thompson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice.” author=”Magna Carta”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due.” author=”Domitus Ulpian”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Justice requires that to lawfully constituted Authority there be given that respect and obedience which is its due; that the laws which are made shall be in wise conformity with the common good; and that, as a matter of conscience all men shall render obedience to these laws.” author=”Pope Pius XI”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Faith in the ability of a leader is of slight service unless it be united with faith in his justice.” author=”George Goethals”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Courage is of no value unless accompanied by justice; yet if all men became just, there would be no need for courage.” author=”Agesilaus the Second”/]

What is Justice? What Does it Mean to You?

By Russ Moran

Whenever I do a book signing for my book Justice in America: How it Works – How it Fails, I always ask the audience for a one word synonym for justice. Invariably the word “fairness” is shouted out. When someone says “that isn’t fair,” he often means “that isn’t right,” or “that isn’t just.” We make these judgments all the time, without thinking about it. If you’re short-changed at the gas station, that isn’t fair. If you see someone swipe an item from someone’s shopping cart, that isn’t right. These judgments don’t require a philosophical analysis, or ponderous dissection of competing interests. Usually, you just know “it ain’t right.” Our concept of justice is deeply imbued with morality. But the hooking up of the word fairness with the word justice is a modern Western concept. There was a time when justice is what the pharaoh, emperor or king said it was. They never asked what is justice; they simply meted it out. But in the West, especially in America, we equate justice with fairness.

Justice is a human need, just as food or water, and a lack of justice results in a hunger or thirst for it, as if one senses that something is missing – a “disturbance in the force.” A longing for justice seems to be an innate human desire, not one formed by ideological opinions, although ideology can impact what one believes to be justice. A sense of justice or rightness lives in your gut, unless you are a sociopath, in which case you couldn’t care less. A sociopath or a person suffering from an antisocial personality disorder is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association as “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” If a normal person commits an act of injustice, he feels unsettled, perhaps ashamed or embarrassed, and although he may try to justify his actions in his mind, the very attempt at justification shows that he does care about his actions, and how they affect other people. Don’t expect justice from a sociopath.

The following is a group of vignettes, most based on real facts. I ask you to determine if the facts indicate that justice has been done. If you feel uncomfortable after this exercise, relax. The object is to make you feel uncomfortable, and also to demonstrate that the elusive concept of justice isn’t an easy one. I do not provide answers, because I’m not sure I have them.

Is There Justice in the Following Situations?

  1. Did the Defendant win by getting the death sentence? Two men held a family hostage, including a mother, father, and two daughters, ages 11 and 17. They beat the father with a baseball bat and left him for dead in the basement. He crawled to safety to a neighbor’s house. The men took the wife to her bank to obtain $15,000. A bank security video was seen on national television which shows her advising the bank teller what is going on. You can’t hear the woman, but her face is a graphic image of the word “fear.” The teller alerts the police, but it is too late. The men sexually assault the wife and one of the daughters, then strangle them and set the house on fire. A jury returned a verdict on multiple counts against one of the men, Steven Hayes. His partner, Joshua Kimisarjevski will be tried in 2011. Hayes was sentenced to death. Now here’s the rub: By all accounts Hayes wants to die, and was pleased with the verdict. Question: How do you punish a person who wants to die?
  2. Millions for the Lawyers – Pocket Change for the Clients. A class action lawsuit was filed against Allstate and Farmers Insurance Companies over a practice called “double rounding.” Under this method an insurer would “round up’ a premium of, say, $1,000.50 to $1,001. The companies would then round again for semi-annual premiums. So $500.50 becomes $501, resulting in a driver paying $1,002 annually, or an extra $1.50 per year. The case settled. Each plaintiff-driver in the class got $5.50 (yes, five dollars and fifty cents), and the attorneys received a fee of $10.3 Million.Nice work if you can get it! Was justice done here?
  3. Stoned to death for the offence of being raped. A 13-year old Somali girl claimed that she was forcibly raped by three men as she walked to visit her grandmother. After her family reported the incident, she was accused of adultery by local Islamist militants. She was sentenced to death by the most barbaric of methods – stoning. The sentence was carried out by dozens of men in a stadium packed with over 1,000 observers. In a sane world, can this ever be called justice?
  4. 50 years-to-Life for Shoplifting. A guy stole five children’s videotapes from a K-Mart, and 2 weeks later swiped another four videotapes from a different K-Mart. The retail value of the property was just over $150. His testimony was that he wanted the videos as Christmas presents for his nieces. He had a criminal record of petty crime going back a couple of decades. Under California’s “three strikes” law, a third felony offense results in a mandatory minimum of 25 years to life. He was convicted of two felonies for the videotape thefts, nailing him with the third strike. He was sentenced to two consecutive 25-year- to- life sentences, making it 50 to life. The shoplifter, Leandro Andrade, will be eligible for parole in 2046 – when he is 87 years old. Did Mr. Andrade receive justice?
  5. Taxpayer Funded Bonuses. Insurance giant AIG received a massive taxpayer funded bailout of some $173 million during the financial crisis in 2008. Nevertheless, the company awarded over $165 million in bonuses to 418 employees, 73 of whom got over $1 million. The company defended the bonuses arguing that if it didn’t honor its contract with the employees, they would flee for other ventures. Ask a pink-slip recipient if this is justice.
  6. Price Gauging or Market Efficiency? Nothing makes a politician happier than to call a press conference after a disaster, and accuse assorted villains of price gauging. After any major hurricane, there are always wide complaints of gasoline price gauging. But some argue that market forces should always be allowed to play out, and that higher prices insure that refineries will have the incentive to get the fuel to where it’s needed, and that artificially low prices result in shortages. If the market was unable to assign higher prices, the market would then replace the high prices with scarcity. What is right?
  7. Is it Fair to be Born with a Silver Spoon in your Mouth? Liberals believe that our institutions should strive to make things right for the downtrodden (see discussion of John Rawls above). Conservatives believe that an individual’s best path to success is to let that person be challenged, and to use the challenges to forge a better life. . On October 28, 1955, an African-American boy is born in a public hospital in a poor section of Brooklyn, NY. His parents are both drug addicts, and his father leaves the family when the boy is 3 years old. He misses school constantly and begins a career as a petty criminal when he is 15, and receives a 25 year sentence for armed robbery when he is 25. On the same day in Seattle, Washington, another boy is born. He is white, has educated and supportive parents who surround him with all the accoutrements of learning. The little boy from Seattle is named Bill Gates, and he becomes a gozillionaire. Ok, this example is about distributive justice, but I felt it belonged here as an example of what the debate is all about.
  8. What a difference a block can make. On the same day, within a block of each other, two young men are severely injured in separate car accidents. One accident takes place in the Bronx, New York, and the other in Westchester County, which borders the Bronx. For the sake of this hypothetical, assume they are the same age, earn similar incomes, and sustain the same severe injuries. Each contacts a talented personal injury lawyer. A jury renders a verdict in Westchester, awarding plaintiff $95,000. Westchester, a wealthy area, is known among lawyers for its conservative jury verdicts. The Bronx, on the other hand, consists of working class neighborhoods, populated by potential jurors who tend to go for the underdog. and is known for its generous jury awards. The Bronx jury awards the other plaintiff $1,500,000. One block, big difference. Is it justice?
  9. How you are Injured can Make a Big Difference. Similar to the above example, two young men are severely injured, one in car accident, the other by a physician who committed medical malpractice. In this example, the subsequent jury verdicts are in the same county, but in a state where there is a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damage awards in medical malpractice verdicts. The car accident victim gets a verdict for his pain and suffering of $5,000,000. The medical malpractice victim gets $250,000. Same injury, big difference. Is this justice?
  10. A Compassionate Decision that Resulted in Tragedy. In 2005 a Navy SEAL reconnaissance team was on a secret mission in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. They were seeking a high-value enemy target, a Taliban leader who commanded about 150 heavily armed fighters. Three goatherds and about 100 goats happened upon the team. The men trained their weapons on the herdsmen and motioned to them to sit down. They then debated about what to do – shoot them or let them go. If they let them go, chances were that the herdsmen would alert the nearby Taliban force, who would then attack the SEAL team. Petty officer Marcus Luttrell cast the deciding vote and they let the herdsmen go. About an hour and a half later they were attacked by the enemy force. Three of them were killed, and only Luttrell survived, although severely injured, by rolling down a hill and crawling seven miles to a friendly village. The Taliban force also shot down a helicopter that was attempting a rescue, killing all 16 aboard. Luttrell would later regret his vote to release the goatherds. “I must have been out of my mind. I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant.”[v] With his vote, Lutrell showed compassion, but the result was hardly justice.
  11. It’s Who you Know. A woman accepted an exciting executive position with a fast- growing company. To take the job, she had to relocate her family and leave a secure well-paying position. The day before she reported for work the vice-president who recruited her was fired. Her “political” position with the company was that of an outsider – she was considered one of “his” people. Instead of the large office she expected she was given a desk in a hallway. The executive team that she looked forward to working with was indeed a team – and she alone was the opposing team. Her dream of an executive career became the reality of being on overpaid functionary with no future. Injustice, or just the way the chips fall?
  12. Sometimes You Lose the Prize for the Wrong Reason. A talented high school senior was everybody’s bet to win the school’s coveted Art History Medal. When she didn’t win the award, she and many others were shocked. The essay was well written, extensive, and thoroughly researched. Years after graduation she would learn from someone on the committee that the reason she didn’t get the prize was that her father was an artist, and the committee assumed that the essay was written by him. Truth is, he didn’t even see the essay until after it was submitted. Can she forget this old injustice?
  13. He Would have Died Anyway. Is that an Excuse to Kill Him? Four sailors were stranded in a lifeboat with little food and no water. One of them was a 17-year-old cabin boy. He drank seawater, became ill, and appeared to be dying. On the nineteenth day one of the men stabbed the boy to death. He and the other two ate the boy’s remains. If they didn’t eat, they all would have died. How would you judge them if they were in your courtroom?
  14. Chloe – Get me CTU on the Phone! Jack Bauer, the iconic star character in the long running TV series 24, was not hesitant to use “advanced interrogation techniques,” which some consider torture, when interviewing a suspect while a bomb is ticking. If the statue of Lady Justice was replaced by a statue of Jack Bauer, you could eliminate the blindfold and the scales of justice – the sword is all that Jack needs. A member of the fictional CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit), Bauer would save civilization weekly by thwarting the bad guys, and would confront the audience with one of the major moral questions of the day: Is it just and moral to torture a suspect, when you know the suspect has knowledge of a ticking time bomb, and, if it detonates, hundreds of thousands of people will die? Khalid Sheik Mohammed, mastermind of the attacks of 911, was waterboarded – a process that replicates drowning – after his capture by American forces. He divulged information about a planned attack on Los Angeles. That attack was prevented because of the information he gave. Opponents of torture argue that cruelty can never be justice. Those in favor stress the moral righteousness of saving countless lives. One of the tougher calls in moral philosophy.

Justice, and the lack of it, is part of our lives. To the extent that we manage our system of justice well is the extent to which we as a society will continue to grow and prosper.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”It is a denial of justice not to stretch out a helping hand to the fallen; that is the common right of humanity.” author=”Seneca”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”It violates right order whenever capital so employs the working or wage-earning classes as to divert business and economic activity entirely to its own arbitrary will and advantage without, the social character of economic life, social justice, and the common good.” author=”Pope Pius XI”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” author=”Martin Luther King Jr.”/]

A Synopsis of Rerum Novarum and Justice

By Gerald Darring

One reason compelling Leo XIII to write Rerum Novarum was his conviction that the present age has handed over the working poor to inhumane employers and greedy competitors. He saw the working poor as needy and helpless and insufficiently protected against injustices and violence. His sympathy went out to these poor, who have a “downcast heart”.

There has been a strong tendency under capitalism to judge the poor harshly. Leo was not party to such judgment. He felt that most of the working poor live undeservedly in miserable and wretched conditions. The poor work so that they can procure and retain property and in order to get the means necessary for livelihood, and most of the working poor prefer to secure better conditions by honest toil, without doing wrong to anyone. The pope did, however, acknowledge that the working poor are envious of the rich, and he thought that the minds of the working poor are inflamed and always ready for disorder.

Leo was careful to point out that the poor are equal in citizenship to the rich and that their work is the source of the nation’s wealth. In making these points, he challenged the position of those who belittle and look down on the poor, considering the poor, even the working poor, a burden on society. Even more significantly, he challenged the position of those who use religion to support their oppression of the poor. In a clear anticipation of what would later be known as the preferential option for the poor, Leo XIII let it be known that the favor of God seems to incline more toward the poor as a class. Those, therefore, who favor the poor in attitude and action are God-like.

The working poor, Leo asserts, should be liberated from the savagery of greedy people. Those who seek to assist the working poor can do so through three types of institutions: associations for giving material aid, privately-funded agencies to help workers, and foundations to care for dependents.

In speaking to the working poor, Leo XIII had much to say out of his concern for order in society. He wanted the poor to understand that the lowest in society cannot be made equal with the highest and that poverty is no disgrace. To suffer and endure is human, even if the suffering presents itself in the form of poverty, and anyway, what counts from the perspective of eternity is not how much we have but how we use what we have. The working poor are told not to injure the property or person of their employers and not to seize forcibly the property of others because private ownership must be preserved inviolate.

The message to the working poor up to this point seems to be aimed at calming and consoling the poor, encouraging them to accept their position in society without rancor and without doing harm to others. Leo XIII was particularly concerned about harmony in society, and he sought to enlist the aid of the working poor in preserving good order. But there was something else that concerned him very much: the material well-being of the working poor. He told them in no uncertain terms that they should receive what will enable them to be housed, clothed, secure, and to live without hardship. He made it clear that they were not to accept unjust treatment as though it were inevitable, and that they were to stand up for their rights at the same time that they helped to preserve good order in society. Protect your own interests, but refrain from violence and never riot; your demands should be reasonable; press your claims with reason; form unions but do not strike. The message about preserving good order is clear and unmistakable, but so is the message about standing up for rights. Leo XIII wanted the working poor to protect their interests, to make demands, to press their claims, and the principal means for doing this was the formation of unions. In their efforts to claim their rights, the working poor should find in the government an ally, and Leo made it clear that the working poor should be given special consideration by the government.

The social activist component of Leo’s program for dealing with the working poor was matched with a moral component. Christian morals must be re-established, Leo felt, for true dignity resides in moral living. For the worker, morality consists in doing one’s work entirely and conscientiously, in contributing to the sum total of common goods, in working harmoniously with one’s wealthy employer, and in not associating with vicious people. Leo unites these worker obligations with the universal Christian obligations of religious practice and a simple lifestyle, and he proclaims that “if human society is to be healed, only a return to a virtuous life and institutions will heal it”.

Rerum Novarum also contained a message to those who deal with the working poor. Early on in his encyclical, Leo XIII declared that the working poor must be cared for. This immediately put him at odds with those proponents of laissez faire who held that industry should not be burdened with moral concerns about the welfare of workers. For Leo, employers have clear moral obligations: workers are not to be treated as slaves; the dignity of your workers’ human personality must be respected; do not use people as things for gain; do not oppress the needy and wretched for your own profit. The approach to employers is on a high moral plane, but it is also very practical: you need your poor worker, so work with him harmoniously. It is immoral to treat workers unjustly, and it is also not in the best interest of ownership and management.

Employers are not to give impossible or inappropriate work. They are to give every worker what is justly due him, and they are not to harm the savings of workers or regard their property as anything but sacred. Leo combines these employer obligations with the duty to consider the religious interests and spiritual well-being of workers and to refrain from exposing workers to corrupting influences. The result of this combination is a message of concern for the worker as a full human being, a person with physical, spiritual, psychological, moral, and familial needs.

Since employers have wealth, Leo has something to say to them about their wealth and their position in society as wealthy people. He warns them against the pitfalls of being wealthy, pointing out that wealth does not end sorrow and that it is a hindrance to eternal happiness. In view of eternity, what counts is not how much we have but how we use what we have, and we will have to account to God for our use of wealth. The wealthy are told that their goods are for their perfection and the benefit of others, and they are encouraged to share their goods when they see others in need: when the need is extreme, the demand is of justice; otherwise, the demand is of charity.

Leo tells the wealthy the same thing he told the working poor: virtuous living must be re-established, for true dignity resides in moral living. Morality for the wealthy employers consists in coming to terms with their “proud spirit” and being “moved toward kindness”. They are to be mindful of their duties, which means that they are not to oppress workers with unjust burdens or inhuman conditions.

Leo XIII deals in Rerum Novarum with a number of specific issues relating to the condition of workers.

Workers have a natural right to form unions, and this right is beyond the authority of government. The associations that Leo envisioned could be of workers alone or of workers and employers, for he dreamt of a harmonious society in which the different levels of society cooperated rather than competed. The encyclical comes down strongly in favor of unions, stating that their increase is to be desired. The immediate object of unions is the private advantage of those associated, so that workers are to use their unions to secure increase in goods of body, soul and prosperity. In keeping with the spiritual tone of Leo’s worldview, the encyclical states that the principal goal of unions is moral and religious perfection. Wise direction and organization are essential to the success of unions. Members are free to adopt any organization and rules, but they should keep in mind that the organization should suit the purpose. The proper operation of unions involves offices, funds, and arbitration, and the union should seek to insure that every worker has sufficient work and that workers in need are helped.

Leo XIII wanted very much for workers to claim their rights, but he also wanted harmony and peace in society. He took the position that strikes are evil and should not be permitted, placing his hopes on the ability of employers and employees to sort things out amicably with the help of the government and the Church.

Wages must go beyond the free consent of the employer and employee; they must go beyond the personal desire of the employer; and they must satisfy the right to secure things to sustain life. Wages should never be less than enough to support a worker who is thrifty and upright: a worker should receive “a wage sufficiently large to enable him to provide comfortably for himself, his wife and his children”. If a worker accepts less than this, he submits to force: he is the victim of injustice. Work should not be so long that it dulls the spirit or that the body sinks from exhaustion. The factors in the establishment of hours are listed as: the nature of the work; the circumstances of time and place; the physical condition of the workers.

A worker should “cease from work at regular intervals and rest”, and he should be given “as much leisure as will compensate for the energy consumed by toil”. Writing at a time when it was commonplace to work people in factories seven days a week, Leo used religious obligations as a weapon in the struggle for a six-day work week, and he insisted that there should be rest combined with religion.

Special care must be taken that women and children are not treated unjustly in the workplace, and health safeguards are to be provided for all workers in the workplace, especially in factories.

Leo XIII took a strong stand on the private ownership of property. Private ownership must be preserved inviolate and it must be regarded as sacred. It is wrong, however, for ownership to be limited to a small number of people, and private property must be spread among the largest number of population. In line with this, Leo declared that there should be “a more equitable division of goods”, in other words, less of the wealth should be in hands of the few rich and there should be fewer poor people.

The purpose of government is to cause public and individual well-being. The government must protect the community and its constituent parts, and it should protect equitably each and every class of citizens. Equitable protection of all citizens means that government should give special consideration to the weak and poor, and this special care should include the working poor.

The government should seek to improve the condition of workers because part of its task is to safeguard the well-being and interests of workers and because it is in the government’s self-interest to improve workers’ conditions. The government’s care for workers should include protection of the goods of the worker’s soul. The government’s intervention in matters of wages, hours, and working conditions should be avoided, since these matters should be worked out between employers and employees. The government does not have the authority to forbid unions, but it can oppose, prevent, and dissolve unions when their objective is at variance with good morals, justice, or the welfare of the state.As custodian of good order in society, the government should see to it that there are no strikes, but more than that, it should seek to remove the causes of strikes. It should also protect private property: “the masses ought to be kept within the bounds of their moral obligations”.

The government must permit freedom of action to individuals and families. It cannot abolish private property but it can control its exercise, although crushing taxes should be avoided. Civil power should not enter arbitrarily into the privacy of homes, but the government can and should give public aid to families in extreme difficulty. It can restore rights within the family, but it is not the government’s job to care for children. Public authority should intervene whenever “any injury has been done to or threatens either the common good or the interests of individual groups, which injury cannot in any other way be repaired or prevented”. Specifically, the power and authority of law should be employed if strikes or work-stoppages threaten disorder, if family life begins to disintegrate, if opportunities for religious practice are not provided workers, if working conditions threaten the integrity of morals, or “if the employer class should oppress the working class with unjust burdens or should degrade them with conditions inimical to human personality or to human dignity”.

A socialist once came to see Andrew Carnegie and soon was railing against the injustice of Carnegie having so much money. In his view, wealth was meant to be divided equally. Carnegie asked his secretary for an assessment of everything he owned and at the same time looked up the figures on world population. He did a little arithmetic on a pad and then said to his secretary. “Give this gentleman l6 cents. That’s his share of my wealth.”


By James Galbraith

That’s not fair!

Observe any gathering of children, and within five minutes you’ll here someone, somewhere shout ‘That’s not fair”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday School class, a soccer team or a singing club – there’ll always a child or two who feels as if justice is not being done at that moment.

What triggers the utterance of these words?

Perhaps there are four children hungry for a snack. Three get granola bars and eagerly tear into them. But then the granola bars run out and the fourth child feels he’s been left out.

Not fair!

BUT, the mom finds a chocolate bar to give the fourth child! Now the other three look at their crunchy snacks and holler

“Not fair”.

So the mom, frustrated with the whining, send the four outside to play, and now all four are hollering “not fair”, because the show they want to watch is on and they want to stay inside.

We hear “Not fair” the first time because one child is not getting what the others got. This can be called “unequal treatment”, and it usually triggers a not fair!

The second utterance comes from one child getting something better than the others. Even though the three were happy with the granola bars, once they see the fourth getting something better, they sense a “preferred treatment’, and that will get a “Not fair” pretty quick!

The third utterance comes form all parties being forced to do something they just don’t want to do. This can be called “coerced treatment”, and it is a prime trigger of those dreaded words “Not fair”.

The trouble is, all of the above is perfectly fair. The children, in all of these circumstances, are working with a sense of justice that centers around themselves, and in doing so cannot see what justice really is.

And guess what – it doesn’t get any better as they grow up. I’ve used children in this introduction, but this self-centered sense of justice is the not the exception, it is the norm for any age group in any society.

We all want justice, but we all start with what we perceive to be justice for us.

Furthermore, we all consider ourselves to be “fair” or people who practice justice, but again, we start with what we perceive justice to be.

When we speak of justice, what usually come to mind?

Judgment/Punishment – Making sure that those who do wrong get what they deserve

Fairness – ensuring that everyone is treated equally, and given equal opportunity

“Right – ness”, or more formally – righteousness – simply doing the right thing because we know it is right, as opposed to wrong.

All of these concepts go into the broader meaning of justice, but none of them suffice by themselves.

We may be tempted to start with “getting what you deserve” – judgment

This is the notion of justice that is most prevalent in society – whenever we hear about justice on the news it is in the context of some criminal who should “get what he or she deserves”.

I know that I have seen justice in this light. It can be a very powerful state of emotion – when we hear of a horrid crime the desire for justice to be done can be overwhelming.

I vividly remember a crime that shocked BC (British Columbia) several years ago.

Mindy Tram, a beautiful little girl in Kelowna, was brutally murdered. When the news broke, I was driving to school in Vancouver.

I had to pull my car over and vent my anger that somebody could do something like this. In my anger I wanted justice , and that meant catching the killer and making sure he got what he deserved.

But justice has to be more than “getting what you deserve”. If we leave it there, then who decides “what we deserve”? Who is the judge?

What if I had been given the opportunity to act on my sense of justice at the time?

What would I have done? What would you do ? I’ll bet if we asked everyone hear what should happen to that criminal, we’d get a variety of responses.

Who’s right? Me? You? Who, or what, decides what justice is?

That’s the problem that arises if we look at justice as “getting what you deserve.” Somebody, or something, has to work over and above individuals to determine what justice is, or we’ll sink into everybody doing “what is right in their own eyes”.

We can say that justice is equal treatment for all. – equality.

It is certainly equal treatment that rests at the heart of one of the most profound calls for justice that has ever been spoken

I refer to the speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made in Washington DC (USA) in 1963, which has been titled “I have a dream”

Dr. King’s dream was for freedom – the word appears over twenty times in the speech. But what was the crucial element of this “freedom” he sought for all people?

Justice – equal treatment for all. Listen to some quotes from the speech ………..

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24)

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

No one would argue that equality is part of justice. But again, just as with judgment, more is needed. For what if the equal treatment is equally poor treatment, is that justice?

Say a society establishes a law which says every couple can have only one child. This rule is for all, regardless of any distinction a person may carry. Race, wealth, role, status – nothing matters – one child per couple.

And the penalties for breaking this law are always the same for anyone. Forced abortion if the baby is not yet born, or infanticide if the baby is actually born.

Does that make the law a just law? Of course not. Equal treatment, or equality, may be a part of justice, but it is not all of what justice is.

In both of the examples so far, a higher standard is needed.

Judgment is important, but by which standard is judgment made.

Equality is important, but again, what standard, what rule, will the equal treatment be given?

Justice is judgment, it is also equality, but it is also righteousness – or doing that which is right.

Justice is doing the right thing

To act justly means to give people what they deserve, when it is our prerogative to do so.

This doesn’t just mean punishment, to also give what people what they deserve in a positive light – we give the benefit of the doubt, we give trust, we give of ourselves

To act justly means we strive to be people who treat everyone equally.

To act justly means to do what is right.

It’s a huge calling, one bigger than anyone of us should dare to take on by ourselves.