Does Real Justice Punish or Restore?

Posted on November 2, 2015 in Justice

criminal justice, real justice

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Give, and it will be given to you…with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
– Jesus of Nazareth

The quotes above—the final verse of the final song on the Beatles’ final recording and one of Jesus of Nazareth’s core teachings about the kingdom of God—share a common truth: what we do to others determines the outcome of our lives. Hence the Golden Rule, do to others what you would have them do to you.

Let’s go back to the case of Dylann Roof, the young man who shot and killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. There was a time in the history of the people of God when real justice meant “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, flipped that principle on its head…turn the other cheek…go the extra mile…love your enemies…pray for those who persecute you…if you love only those who love you, what reward will you get?

It’s fair to say that, to the families of the nine victims, the Charleston community, and society at large, Dylann Roof is an enemy. He took what wasn’t his, in the ultimate extreme.

And Jesus says to love him.

What does that look like? The death penalty?

The legal framework is in place. Eye for eye. That feels right. Sends a message. Kill and you will be killed. You could argue that the measure Dylann Roof used would be measured back to him.

But is that loving an enemy?

The families of the victims told Roof they forgave him in their hearts. How far does forgiveness extend? If the government executes him, does that negate the forgiveness? Is the government not supposed to extend forgiveness? Would it be injustice for the government to forgive such a heinous crime?

There are deep implications in practicing “do unto others…” and “give, and it shall be given to you.”

Forgiveness is an act of restoration. It’s not the same as reconciliation, which requires both offender and offended to seek it and work it out in their hearts. Full disclosure: I have a situation in my life where offense happened on both sides of a relationship. I have forgiven what came against me, but I don’t know the other side’s current attitude toward me. The relationship is in détente. Sometimes that’s as good as it gets.

People of God, followers of Jesus, are commanded to do justice and love mercy. In my limited vision, there is no one way to fulfill this command, but Jesus makes it clear the starting point is loving the other person—doing what results in their highest good.

If the government executes Dylann Roof, then they would be sending him directly to his final judgment in the hands of a perfectly just God. That could be the highest good for him.

If he’s given a life sentence without parole, it creates possibilities. For healing the root cause of his murderous rage. For redeeming the rest of his life. For his life to benefit society in some way. Including outside of prison.

Which would open the door to the same possibility for other serious offenders. And society at large.

It would lift “only love can conquer hate” out of speeches and books and songs into streets and homes and hearts.

Pipe dream or possibility? Would we the people dare try such a thing?