Friday, December 02, 2005

Just Death

We find out that Russia is selling missiles to Iran. To what end? The death of Americans, of course. Then we find out that the homocide rate in California excedes the death rate of American Soldiers in Iraq. I'm sure the automobile accident death rate is higher yet.

Thanksgiving brought mouring to a family whose teenage son was killed by his own wreckless driving as he passed another vehicle on a double yellow line at a blind curve on a local highway. Just yesterday I tooted my horn in warning as a vehicle passed myself and another driver on a double yellow line on a country road near my house. I was run off the road a couple months ago on the same road by a driver pulling the same stunt. The admonition is "don't drink and drive," not "don't think and drive."

I would argue that people die unjustly here in the US at a greater rate than soldiers dying for a just cause in Iraq. In the US, justice may yet be served by putting murderers to death. This has the effect of answering an unjust death with a just death. For those who would deny this, an understanding of justice is in order.

Justice is an end in and of itself. It is not the means to some other ends. This means that punishment is not supposed to solve emotional problems of victims or pursuade would-be perpetrators not to do it. Sometimes it has these effects. Sometimes it has opposite effects. Transgressions have a price. For cold-blooded murderers, the price is death-physical death. For God's law, the price is spiritual death, or separation from God.

But when many people use the term "justice" they call to mind poor people who don't have as much as other people. They wish for the people who have more to suffer for the benefit of the people who have less. This, in their minds, is "justice". Use of the word "justice" in this manner is disturbing. The reason this use has been normalized is to give people who belive they have less hope that someone in a position of power will cause the suffering of someone else who has more and redistribute their wealth for the benefit of society. Justice seems to have this meaning in Psalm 83:3,4. However, the meaning of equity carried by the most common word translated "justice" in the Hebrew Scriptures is more akin to "equity" or "balance". It is used in Job 31:6 to describe a balance scale that is accurate and used honestly. It is not translated "justice" but the literal translation is "the balance scale of justice." The meaning of equity in justice is not financial equity. It is the appropriate punishment for a wrongdoing. When applied to exacting punishment on people who have done wrong to people who cannot defend themselves, you get the real concept behind Psalm 83:3,4.

God's justice demands a price to be paid for our sin. God's grace provides a substitute to pay the price for our sin. God didn't wipe the slate clean without exacting the price. Our notion of justice must have the same equity. For a crime committed, a punishment must be meted out. A cold-blooded murderer who has repented must still face the penalty for having committed the murder. Can we accept a substitute like God? Only if that substitute is guiltless. In other words, no. Only God can deliver that sort of substitute. If, on the way to the proverbial gallows the one sentenced to death accepts God's sacrificial substitute, then such will be saved from eternal separation from God. However, he is not exempted from the just consequences of his actions. So his body may die, but he will live. Indeed, we all die.

What justice is there in war? It is impossible to determine the actions of individuals invloved in battle, but there is a concept of corporate justice and nations can be thought of as individuals for the sake of international justice.

In any case, we have an imperative to be just in this world. If we fail, the promise is that justice will happen in the next.

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