I accidentally posted a blog that I was working on (Justice part four). Sorry about that if you saw it! I will edit it and have it up for real in a few days. Oops. But here is part three:
I am going theological with this post, so what out! Hopefully the meaning will translate even if you are not particularly religious.
Remember the Penal Substitution idea of some brands of Christianity? It says that because mankind has sinned against God, we deserve punishment, and Christ bore that punishment (for some at least) on the cross. God could not merely forgive, but rather He required an appeasement, a punishment, which was carried out on the innocent but willing person of Jesus.
First of all, it is questionable as to whether punishing an innocent person in a guilty person's place would really satisfy any version justice, retributive or utilitarian. Exploring this idea is not my intention here, but Ken Pulliam has written extensively on this subject, analyzing the views of many, many historical theologians, over on his blog located here.
The bigger problem with Penal Substitutionary Theory, and with the conservative Christian idea of God, is that it makes justice fundamental to His character and love secondary. Love, through Christ, is only what creates a possible escape from the foundational, unavoidable reality of God’s justice. Love becomes the servant of justice.
And in this context - what IS justice? In the traditional "retributive justice" view of Scripture, it is an "evening out" of things. An eye for an eye.
So in conservative Christianity, the foundational aspect of God’s character is that he requires revenge.
Surely revenge is an outdated idea and one unworthy of God.
But here is a different idea. I think (or hope) that love is foundational to reality. And love is identifying ourselves with others. This is the metaphysical good of the universe. According to this idea, justice as revenge does not serve much purpose. Instead, justice becomes a tool to bring about greater Love. And what exactly is this tool? It is action with a focus on bringing about correction, safety and deterrence.
Justice is now the servant of love!