What Does Justice Mean to You?

July 24, 2019, 11:18 pm

Abstract nouns are often difficult to define exactly. That’s why they are called “abstract.” Mostly, an abstract noun’s definition is subjective to the person using it. Freedom means one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. Goodness, likewise, is defined not concretely, but by the user of the word. Perhaps that is why justice is such a difficult concept to define. It means something different to each person.

Sometimes we join another word to justice in order to explain the type of justice we mean. Words like vigilante justice convey a type of vengeance taken by someone who does not have the authority to carry out that justice. Social justice deals specifically with how we treat vulnerable people as a society. Environmental justice is about protecting the environment. Restorative justice focuses mostly on restoring broken relationships and other brokenness caused by crime or bad behavior. Criminal justice deals specifically with crimes as they are defined within law by a society.

Regardless of which kind of justice we mean though, one common thread remains. Justice is predominantly about “the other-regarding quality that regulates relations among individuals and groups.” ** Vigilante justice aims to regulate wrong-doing by “balancing the scales” between two parties. Social justice seeks to elevate society’s treatment of disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Environmental justice seeks to manage how we collectively treat the environment through regulating individual behavior. Restorative justice puts the emphasis on relationships between people. And criminal justice focuses primarily on regulations between individuals and the state. 

Theoretical discussions of justice, though, do little for those who are seeking it. Instead, justice seekers just want wrongs to be made right. Again, this is where the abstract nature of justice comes in. What exactly does it mean to “make things right?” For the families of many murder victims (and sometimes for other crimes), life in prison, or even the death of the offender, is the only thing they will accept as justice. Other families and victims are content with less. Circumstances, faith, and many other factors serve to influence one’s definition of justice. 

What exactly justice means to someone is a highly personal matter. It’s also highly flexible. I’m deeply moved by stories of people whose entire concept of justice was turned on its head when they met their offender. Others inspire me by living out their faith in radical ways, especially towards those who have done them harm. Some live out this faith long before the one who harmed them took responsibility or expressed remorse. I’d like to have a heart for the king of justice they embrace, for that justice is truly others-regarding and relational. 

I don’t know what would be justice for the harms I have caused. I know what sort of justice I’d like to be treated with, but if the shoe were on the other foot, I can’t honestly say what I’d want. If someone had harmed the ones I love, I’d probably want to carry out vigilante justice. But my faith now calls me to something different. It calls me to relational, others-regarding justice that cares for the hearts of victims and offenders alike more than for vengeance. Even as a former offender, my faith now calls me to be others-regarding, seeking to heal the harms I caused and to be an advocate for justice wherever it is needed. 

** This concept is derived from Plato’s Republic but has been widely used for two-thousand years.

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Author: hopeontheinside.blogspot.com
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