Yesterday our pastor gave an intriguing sermon on a subject I am greatly concerned with, for a variety of reasons, namely the subject of justification . In this world questions of justice are continual, and even if we are not the sort of people to be greatly troubled by injustice or feel the need to seek justice for ourselves or others, we cannot help but notice that there are a variety of ways that people continually seek to tip the scales of justice in their own favor. The wealthy seek to pervert justice through bribery or buying expensive counsel to thwart the more limited resources of the state. The government perverts justice by the creation and enforcement of unjust laws and regulations. People who judge themselves to be subalterrn or oppressed groups seek to tip the scales of justice through wearisome and endless protests and continual whining. We who hold in our hands or keyboards the power to express ourselves convincingly in word seek to tip the scales of justice through the writing of convincing but invariably partial narratives. Whatever position we are in, we use what we have to try to obtain justice and respect and dignity in whatever state we find ourselves in.
Justification, especially in the vein of self-justification, is a universal human activity, a game that everyone can and does play. And yet we are usually caught in false dilemmas and fatal contradictions involving our attitudes and behaviors concerning this activity. For one, we tend to falsely believe in one of either of two horns of a false dilemma relating to justification in its ultimate sense, either that our salvation depends on our own efforts to do enough good or acquire enough merit to outweigh our bad behavior, or that our own efforts play no role whatsoever and we are merely passive and hopefully grateful recipients of grace for others while we remain unimproved ragamuffins by the experience. To be sure, these are extreme cases, and there is a great deal of variety among these camps, but in the main they express a widespread belief that either justice depends on our own efforts or it entirely depends on others and we are simply passive in the process, except through some sort of verbal appeal. Even if this thought is not necessarily phrased in such a fashion, often our search for justice in this life mirrors the beliefs we have about salvation in its ultimate sense, whether we are looking for some kind of social justice or for a more personal form of justice with others.
Perhaps it would be better if we stopped and thought about whether we wanted justice at all. We may say that we want justice, but if we thought about the matter more properly, we would probably say that we want favor and grace and mercy for ourselves and for our friends and allies and loved ones but we want justice for our enemies and those who abuse and oppress us. We want our own errors, if we even recognize that we have made them, to be forgiven, but we want to hold grudges against others. I do not say this merely to criticize or mock others. I say this as someone who in fact struggles to be gracious and forgiving towards others who have hurt and offended me in the past, and who do so on a regular and consistent basis, likely because they feel justified in being unkind because of those things they hold against me, some of which are likely to be just and some which are likely to be unjust. The same could likely be said of me. We are all human beings. We think ourselves excused for being unjust because we believe it outweighed by the injustices we have suffered from others. We may wish for mercy for ourselves, if we are sufficiently reflective, but we struggle to be merciful and gracious to others. We long for reconciliation with others but find it impossible, or at the least extremely difficult, to allow others to reconcile with us if they should want to.
All of us this discussion and our thinking on the matters suggests that justification is a more complicated matter than we like to think it is. If it depended merely on ourselves, we could ignore others and simply do what is right in our own eyes, confident that we did more good than evil, even if that confidence is often misplaced. If it depended merely on others, we could seek unmerited pardon and grace and ignore our own continued wickedness and error. Yet realizing that if we are truly to be made right with others that our heart and our behavior must change as a result, to the extent where we can be seen by others as being upright even if we and others must freely acknowledge our continuing imperfection, even as we are moving in a positive direction is a more complicated and nuanced matter. We cannot ignore others because grace comes from outside, from God and from those who have forgiven us and no longer hold our errors against them, and because the obligations we have are to show love for God and for other people through our actions, whether we get along with them or understand them or happen to enjoy their presence or not. Our feelings are irrelevant, and only remind us how much further we have to progress and how much we often have to work against. We ought not to beat ourselves up over it, for everyone else struggles as we do, and they may find it as difficult to be gracious and merciful to us as we find it to be so with them. Our influence over others is limited, at times to the power of our example. Let us make a good one–it is a far better way to tip the scales of justice in our favor than most of what we do as human beings anyway, it must candidly be admitted.
 See, for example: