What Is Real Justice?

Posted on October 26, 2015 in Justice

In my novel Perilous Judgment, my lead character, federal judge Edward Lamport, makes a provocative statement to U.S. Attorney Paul Eriksen during a tense discussion of a criminal case:

“Paul, you don’t know the first thing about real justice.”

Justice is about making things right. So, what is real justice? How are things made right when one party offends or injures another?

Here’s one idea I pondered in writing Perilous Judgment with which I continue to wrestle:

The only way to defeat evil is to absorb it in unrestrained love.

How does that grab you? Naïve? Weak? Foolish? Impossible?

Here’s another:

Executing a murderer or punishing an offender may balance the scale, but only by creating greater suffering.

What? Who comes up with ideas like these?

I found them in a short book called Reflections on Advocacy and Justice published by World Vision, a humanitarian organization that tackles the causes of poverty and injustice, particularly with children.

These ideas seem preposterous. Isn’t the way to defeat evil to eliminate it, like the Allies did in World War II? Doesn’t balancing the scales of justice with retribution for crimes keep criminal activity in check?

Remember Dylann Roof, the young man who shot nine people dead at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC? He wants to plead guilty to the crime. His lawyer is advising against it until he knows whether or not the government will pursue the death penalty.

As of early October, federal prosecutors were still reviewing the matter. Roof also faces trial on state charges in July 2016. Family and friends of the victims have forgiven Roof in their hearts for what he did, but also said, as I wrote in this blog on June 20, they expected the justice system to “make sure hate doesn’t win.” Did they mean “get even?” Punish the killer? Hurt for hurt?

Four months later, we don’t have the answer, and we won’t for at least another year based on the courts’ timetables and the unpredictable nature of juries.

Here’s something else to consider. Bring these ideas down to the level of your family.

If your child commits a terrible act, like setting a building on fire or molesting another child, what is the best way to defeat that evil? Condemnation and punishment? Or unrestrained love? What does “love” look like in those kinds of situations? Would your answer be different because the problem was inside your home instead of out there in the world?

There are no easy answers.

By the way, the two ideas above didn’t originate from World Vision.

They come from Jesus.

He taught them, then lived them by taking the weight of every evil and injustice upon himself. He said evil and injustice must suffer judgment, then bore that judgment himself. His choice has weight and effect because Jesus is God. He satisfied justice in himself and gives whoever accepts what he did an eternal pardon.

Wow. Will human beings ever truly embrace the fullness of what Jesus did?

Jesus demonstrated real justice. He showed that real justice lives in relationship, not in law.

I’m going to explore the idea of real justice in this blog for the next month or so. This is an issue important to me personally and to the stories I write. I’m very interested in your views, so I hope you’ll take a moment to weigh in with your comments.

Peace and Joy,

Dennis Ricci signature first name