Monday, October 10, 2011

Our Ambivalence About Justice

Can you call yourself a political community, i.e., "a people," if you disagree with one another over what justice is. Both Aristotle and Augustine would say no.

That is the subject of my recent WORLDmag column, "Cheering Justice." Even Evangelicals (the Evangelical political left notwithstanding) seem ambivalent about the government's role in retributive justice.

In the end, the problem comes down to theology, not political theory. People do not believe that God has revealed Himself in the Bible as “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, justice, and truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 4). I find this squeamishness, even among some of my evangelical Christian students, about God’s retributive justice—about the effective execution of divine wrath by God’s appointed, sword-bearing agents—a cause for cultural and political concern.

If divine authority does not stand behind political office, then police power and the power of war become simply means of control, not instruments of justice. If there is no divine justice, no transcendent standard of good and evil, then politics is just as Thrasymachus told Socrates in The Republic, “the advantage of the stronger.”

Look at that! Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine all in the same post on current politics! How do people function in life without knowing these authors?


Tom Fisher said...

David, I agree with you, but permit me to suggest that perhaps some of the ambivalence arises not from a different view of justice, but from a different view of what cheering signifies. I agree wholeheartedly that the civil magistrate ought to execute those guilty of capital crimes (once they have been clearly shown to be guilty). But should I celebrate their execution? If God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, should I?

David C. Innes said...

Yes Tom, this is a very serious question. Al Mohler argues your point saying that biblical justice is sober justice. []

The "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" passage is not the final word on the subject, however. I think it expresses only one dimension of the issue. Perhaps "in a sense" is implied in the context.

John Piper wrote back in May:

"Here is why I say God approves and disapproves the death of Osama bin Laden:

In one sense, human death is not God’s pleasure:

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? . . . For I do not pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32).

In another sense, the death and judgment of the unrepentant is God’s pleasure:

Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. (Ezekiel 5:13]

[Wisdom calls out:] Because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you. (Proverbs 1:25–26)

Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her! (Revelation 18:20)

As the Lord took delight in doing you good . . . so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. (Deuteronomy 28:63)

We should not cancel out any of these passages but think our way through to how they can all be true."


David C. Innes said...

You may want to look at my post from back in May when we plugged bin Laden (if you'll excuse the phrase).