“Justice” is the righteous cry of the victim. Whenever we have been unfairly treated. Whenever we have been used or abused. Whenever we have been attacked or denied our basic rights; we call out for justice.
In the lands of tyrannical governments people want justice. Outside the courts where business cheats or violent criminals are being tried, the victims or their families demand justice.
It is only right and proper that people want justice. But not everybody wants it. The victims do – but the guilty do not. The last thing the guilty want is justice. Just as it is completely normal to call for justice when we are the victims so also it is completely normal to eagerly avoid justice when we are guilty.
“Mercy” or “pardon” should be the cry of the guilty. Yet strangely that is not their plea. Rather they deny their guilt claiming to be innocent, or cry for understanding.
They protest that it was not their fault. It was an accident that could have happened to anybody. Everybody does it – it’s not really wrong.
They want to be understood – all the circumstances need to be considered. They have had to endure a life of economic hardship and educational disadvantage. They were raised in a dysfunctional family. They have a sickness, a genetic predisposition. They fell into bad company and were led astray.
Making excuses starts in early childhood and is as universal as sin itself. We want to avoid the pain of punishment, and it is easier to add lying to our list of faults than to accept suffering – even when it is deserved.
After a while we believe our own deceptive rhetoric, for there is no easier audience to convince than ourselves. Yet our guilt remains an uncomfortable subject that we wish would go away.
However, the pain of punishment is an essential part of justice. Justice is not the social engineering of harm minimisation. Justice involves paying for mistakes.
At Easter we particularly remember Jesus’ victory over death. His victory was not only over death but also through death. For by his death, he conquered death and its cause (i.e. sin). So he rose to die no more. More than that – in rising from the dead he brought many sinners to share in the glory of God’s eternal life. For in his sacrificial death, he paid the punishment our sins as our substitute, and so turned aside God’s righteous anger towards us.
One of the outcomes of Jesus’ death and resurrection is that the guilty can now face both their guilt and the judge with honesty. We know of the serious consequences of punishment. We know of forgiveness and pardon. For in the victory of Jesus we experience both justice and mercy.
The Apostle John wrote:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:8-2:2)