Some Thoughts On The Weighty Matter Of Justice: An Imaginary Dialogue

Although from time to time I have reflected on the phenomenon of imaginary dialogues previously [1] or even shared genuine question and answers that I have participated in [2], today I thought I would do something different and write an imaginary Q & A with myself where I ask myself the sort of questions that I can answer in a brief fashion.  Since it is far more acceptable to engage in this phenomenon while writing than it is when talking to oneself in public, I trust that this will not disturb you, since you can imagine, if you will, a cut scene where I first sit on one side (let us say, stage right) as the questioner and on the other side (say, stage left) as the respondent given the time to speak briefly about subjects that could take far longer to talk about but that can also be at least properly broached in a short format such as this one.

Q:  What do you feel about the subject of justice?

A:  This is a rather long subject.  Do you have a few hours to spend?

Q:  Preferably not.  Could you give the five minute version?

A:  You’re going to have to be a lot more specific than that.  Come now, let us narrow the focus.

Q:  Well, let us begin theologically speaking.

A:  That’s always a good place to begin.

Q:  I agree.  What do you think is meant in Matthew 23:23 when Jesus Christ says:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone?”

A:  I figured you were going to go there.  This verse is one of the classic verses that defends the importance of tithing, since it says that these matters ought not to be left undone, but when we think about what it says to the Pharisees, it is evident that their concern of the law, which we can read in the Mishnah and Talmud and any number of volumes of commentary on those, was somewhat superficial in nature and, in the eyes of Jesus, left out some vital elements.  Quite tellingly, Jesus Christ is alluding to Micah 6:8, which tells us:  “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  In pointing to these elements of the obligation the law places on mankind as being neglected by the Pharisees in their attempt to put a protective hedge around the Torah, Jesus is implicitly saying that the Pharisees (and by implication their successors) have wholly neglected the point of the law and what it was trying to encourage in believers despite their professed high regard for the law.  The tendency to ignore justice and mercy and faith is a temptation that none of us, no matter how much we care about these issues, is vulnerable to.

Q:  Do you think these matters are ignored in our own times, despite the fact that justice is on the lips of many people?

A:  Absolutely!  There are a great many people who focus on the injustices that have been suffered by some groups of people throughout history, and we all (myself definitely included) muse upon the wrongs that we have suffered personally, but it is hard to keep justice, mercy, and faith together in mind.  We may want, for example, for others to be punished for their injustices, but how many of us are self-aware about the injustices that we are a part of or that we inflict upon others?  Those who commit wrongs tend to have a short memory about their actions, but those who suffer wrongs have the tendency to hold on to them for far longer, for generations, even centuries or longer.

Q:  Do you think this asymmetry of memory makes it hard to be just to others?

A:  Very much so.  The fact that we can remember when we are inconvenienced and wronged by others but often do not notice or remember how we have wronged others makes it hard to be just.  It leads us to have a much higher opinion of our sense of justice than is in fact objectively the case, and certainly than other people view us based on our interactions with them.

Q:  Do you think that many people who consider themselves crusaders against injustice themselves have the tendency to be immensely unjust to others?

A:  I would not put it in precisely those words, but if you seemed like a friendly questioner who wanted to complain about such things, I might concede it arguendo.  The larger part is that we are not merciful to other people unless we are aware of our need to be treated with mercy.  To the extent that we are aware that we are sinners in need of mercy, then we are able to be merciful to those who have sinned against us.  So long as we believe we are just and righteous and holy as we are, we are not going to be merciful people to those whose flaws cannot be hidden.

Q:  So you would say, in other words, that what seem like political questions often end up being moral questions at the base?

A:  This happens all the time.  There is a cliche that the young seek justice and the old seek mercy, and that cliche has more than a little bit of truth to it because the old, if they have lived with any degree of self-awareness, are bitterly conscious of the mistakes they have made over the course of their lives.  Far too often, those who are young believe they have never done anything wrong, and thus they have no compassion on those who have done wrong where it has hindered them.  One even sees this in HPV vaccine commercials where those who have suffered cancer as a result of immoral sexual activity have not looked to their own actions and wondered why they had to engage in fornication themselves, but blamed their parents for ignorance or malice in not having gotten them a vaccine at the age of ten or eleven, before they became sexually active.  Whole business models can be based on encouraging others to play the blame game, but contrition and confession and introspective reflection on our own conduct and its morality or lack thereof are not very popular in our present age, or indeed any other age, more than likely.

Q:  So, how do you think justice, mercy, and faith are connected with each other?  Why are they all in the same context?

A:  To put it somewhat briefly, it is our duty to behave justly so that to the best of our abilities we do not wrong other people.  We are to extend mercy to those who wrong us, even if we may find it impossible to fully reconcile, so as to avoid the continuance of feuds and vendettas that can linger on interminably.  We are also to have faith that God will eventually provide both justice and mercy to ourselves and others because perfect justice cannot be found in this life despite our best efforts.

Q:  So you believe all attempts at utopian justice in this world are ultimately in vain?

A:  Yes.  We are imperfect beings constantly led astray by our own biases.  Perfect justice is therefore beyond us.  Even if our institutions were to be perfectly just, they would feel unjust because of our own personal biases, and those who were able to acquire political power could be expected to tip the scales of justice in their own favor, as it were, and would expect the same of us if we were in positions of authority and influence.

Q:  So you’re saying that in this life trust is a major issue when it comes to the perception of justice?

A:  Absolutely.  When we deal with questions of justice we must always consider that there is going to be a gap between perception and reality, and we must concede the difficulty (if not the impossibility) of our awareness of the objective reality in light of the biases and perspectives we all have from our knowledge and experience.  Our faith in institutions is likely to be greatly harmed by the rampant appearance of injustice that those institutions have, especially to those who feel (whether rightly or wrongly) that they have gotten the short end of the stick.

Q:  How do you think that faith in justice, imperfect justice perhaps but acceptable, can be restored when it has been lost, or been built when it has never existed?

A:  I don’t know how that trust can be built or rebuilt.  I ask myself that question all the time, what it would take for me to trust certain people or institutions given my experiences, or what it would take for certain people to trust me, and I don’t have any answers, only questions.

Q:  Isn’t that my job, to ask questions, not yours?

A:  Sometimes there are no answers to be had.

Q:  Last question:  do you consider yourself a just person?

A:  It’s not my place to decide, for I, like everyone else, am a being subject to judgment.  I would hope so, but I suppose like everyone else I will find out in proper time.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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