What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” from Sir Walter Scott’s “Marmion,” refers to how complicated life becomes when people begin deceiving themselves by deceiving others.
The word, “justice,” has been growing in use with greater frequency and with an increasing hypersensitivity over the last decade. Since one of the tasks of clergy is to clarify the current times in the light of the gospel, I will attempt to reveal what our understanding of the God of history as recorded through Holy Scripture and the Christ event has to say about it.
In English, the word, justice, means “conformity to truth, fact or reason established in the rule of law.” Justice carries with it a sense of “equity” meaning that there is freedom from bias or favoritism. Hold on to that thought.
The word, “justice from its Hebrew and Aramaic origins, comes from the word, Tzedek, meaning that righteousness and justice (the words are used interchangeably), are attributes of God. To be righteous means to be straight or aligned with God and the way of God. Jesus himself taught (Matt. 5) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Being filled with God is the outcome of those who seek him and his way—according to Jesus is the ultimate satisfaction.
We who are created in His image have duty to exercise righteousness, the way of God, in our daily lives. Acts of charity are a moral obligation rather than a signal of how virtuous we are. Virtue signaling rises out of an empty soul. True “doing” comes out of the “Being” of God. When we’re “in God,” we don’t need to be noticed.
From here is where things get complicated.
St. Paul realizes the tangled web when he writes to the Church in Rome (Chapter 10): Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
Thinking that we’re smarter than we really are, (one of the diseases borne in the Enlightenment’s birthing of humanism) we think we have a better way of doing things. What makes it difficult is that the ideals of humanism sometimes intertwine with Judaeo-Christian ethics. It is easy to desire justice but then to redefine it, not by the Nature of God but by pragmatic ideas that subtly help us to adjust the Law of Nature and Rule of Law according to our convenience or what initially seems to benefit us. The human mind can be very slippery, noted in the humorous response of Adam to God when God confronted Adam in the Garden of Eden, asking if he had eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead of answering God, Adam did a convenient side step, redirecting the conversation saying, “the woman gave me the fruit so I ate.” Nice try Adam. We still all play Adam from time to time, trying to reorder life to what’s convenient for us rather than to listen for the righteousness of God. Comfort trumps Truth. But only in our minds as chaos is following close behind.
So the web is tangled and we continue to blame others for our problems to ignore our own lack of being centered in God and his way. Instead of Justice being pursued with just methods, we pad it a little so that justice is redefined as “you owe me—the world owes me.” The problem here is that justice does not advocate pragmatic, utilitarian thoughts or deception.
Restraint is the way to address injustice as we must first begin with ourselves—taking the log out of our own eye before we can take the speck out of our brother’s (Matt. 7). Justice must be tempered with grace and love. This does not eliminate consequences but places justice in a realm where redemption is possible.
An indicator whether we’re living in alignment with the righteous character of God is when we are experiencing quietness and peace. God the “author of peace and lover of concord” whose righteousness is quietness and peace passes on these benefits to those who are united in the Spirit.
But what do we do in the meantime? People treat others and ourselves unjustly (we probably aren’t focusing on if we are treating others unjustly). How do we deal or cope with this? Jesus us taught us the Golden Rule but he also taught us about forgiveness. Forgiveness is a far better option than remaining angry and resentful ad infinitum. I’ve known people who have been angry and bitter for years at others, perhaps God as well. There’s nothing more miserable that sucks the joy out of life that being resentful.
If we go through life expecting everyone to treat us justly, we have most likely already received our rude awakening. Jesus wasn’t insulted or resentful of those who manipulated reality to send him to the cross. He expected it. A person can only function at their level of spiritual depth which will lead to bias and favoritism which is not justice at all. Jesus forgave them which is why he could still love until his last breath. For me to go through a day with expecting that others will treat me justly by not hurting me by an act of omission or commission is practicing the fine art of insanity. This doesn’t mean I do not address the person and seek reconciliation.
The truth is, I cannot make anyone else be just, or respond justly to an injustice. This is outside of the bounds of reality. Only God who knows the human heart can reach into the hearts of human beings to implant His Spirit which will yield love, justice, forgiveness and the other fruits of the Spirit. My best option is to embody the Presence of Christ so deeply that others see Christ through me and then are awakened to the justice, mercy, love, forgiveness and peace only He can offer. This way of the cross, to allow Christ to crucify the death that is living within me is hard work-which is why so few attempt it–or even knows it exists.
I will leave you with a prayer I learned years ago and found to be helpful from the AA Big Book: ” God, I offer myself to Thee To build with me & to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love & Thy way of life. Let me do Thy will always.”