I’ve been reading from a book by Chuck Colson, “The Faith”, in preparation to teach tonight on the end of the world. Colson draws out the point that there are two types of justice that our hearts cry out for, and both of these are internal proofs of the fact that one day God will return to the earth in an unprecedented way. I was struck by the way that the two types of justice were so related philosophically, and yet so separate in the way that we, as Westerners, adopt them.
Retributive Justice, Colson says, is the cry of our heart to see evil punished, and therefore to see good have it’s day. Though we, as Christians, do not live under the Law of the Old Testament, as citizens of an organized nation, we do live with laws that include penalties for infractions against the code or standard. There is no justice if child molesters, rapists, murderers, and thieves receive no penalty for their violation of the sacred nature of life, purity, and ownership.
He goes on to talk about Retributive Justice. This he defines as the balancing of the scales of basic human need. We look at disease, famine, drought, and poverty as things that were not a part of God’s original creation. Sin, in it’s incredible destructive power, has created this unbalanced reality. Our hearts see those in need and, unless we are brutally calloused, we want them to have at least the basic necessities that life requires. Distributive justice is not about creating social leeches that lazily abuse people’s resources, but about seeing every person receive the opportunity to be a vibrant part of the world, offering their own unique gift to us all.
It strikes me that in our country there is a bizarre divide between these two streams of the same idea. Conservative thought leans to the retributive side, and liberal thought to the distributive (I’m obviously painting in broad strokes, but I see this divide pretty clearly…both sides would say they are concerned with the other aspect but we see exactly where their passions settle in the short list of things they trumpet incessantly, soundbite after soundbite). I would encourage us all to analyze our own hearts and see if we are falling to heavily on one side or the other. We MUST love justice; but loving one half of it is no more noble than loving one of our kids and not the other, or loving our friends as long as they agree with us. We must be careful that it is the beautiful idea of justice that we are really so passionate about and not just our own ideology that resembles justice in some aspects.
God will return and set things right, but He has also called upon His people, the citizens of His kingdom, to begin that work prior to His return. May we passionately pursue the balancing of the scales in violations of life’s existence (retributive) and need (distributive). Both are close to God’s heart.