The claims of justice reach ever further into our lives, and this is a multi-faced kind of justice, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. There is social justice, racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice, sexual justice and so on and so on. All are about establishing some kind of claim on the rest of society – and of course nobody suggests that their own claim is unjust, excessive, or even delusional. Whoever heard of a person pursuing a claim that they knew to be unjust? The whole point is to establish that demand or claim so that all others should find it to be reasonable and justified.
But then there are different places where these claims of justice are pursued. In the courts, it has to be established that the claim is one which the court can recognise as a claim and which it is authorised to adjudicate. Then the claim itself has to be sufficiently specific and detailed to be recognised as a claim as opposed to a manifesto. It has to be supported by evidence of a kind that the court recognises, and the case has to be prosecuted using the normal rules of procedure, and in accordance with the normal rules of evidence. Even then the evidence has to be examined not only by the court as such but also by the person against whom the claim is being made. This process is lengthy, detailed and it admits to no evasion or trivialization.
And this is before we start asking about the nature of the claim and the level of evidence required to support it, and indeed whether it is incumbent on the complainer – the pursuer (in Scotland) – to establish the claim beyond doubt. In a civil case, this is ‘on the balance of probability’ while in a criminal case it is ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ One wonders what standard of proof would be demanded for capital cases, if the capital penalty was returned to use and if politically-motivated claims were allowed to proceed.
And even then, when the court has delivered its verdict, the claim can, under defined circumstances, be appealed to a superior court.
But this is just the legal process, summarized very briefly. There are other courts however, such as the arenas of public opinion and politics. These requirements are far less demanding. A hint, a slur, an accusation no matter how bizarre or from how long ago – can all be seized by media or interest groups and promoted beyond any kind of rational or dispassionate inquiry, and this is really where our specialized forms of social and economic, environmental and sexual and racial justice are more readily pursued. Here there is no enforceable demand that the claimant answer questions that are put, and do so without evasion or dissembling.
In short, this is not justice at all – it is far more the shrill demands of people to be heard and for their demands to be met without detailed examination and reflection.
But then there is another kind of justice, and that is justice in the sight of God. He knows whereof we are made, and our liability to pursue our own ends – and though our own means – regardless of His purposes. Isaiah says that ‘We are like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags’ (64:6). This applies to all our systems and learning, our armies and our health and welfare facilities, our technology and our transport and political systems. Paul says ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3: 23). From this point of view if there are any claims, they will be made by God against us.
For it is His reality that sets the norms for the universe, both in its physical operation, and in its moral content – especially the relations people have with one another and with God. Take this away and there is no order of any kind at all, whether this is from the sub-atomic level to the cosmic. Yet God has also determined that as humans, we do have options before Him: we can stand before Him on our own, with our lives in our hands, extending to the far reaches of eternity. We may plead the causes of our lives, but will then have to hear His verdict and sentence, without evasion or interruption. Or, we can let Him stand before Himself on our behalf, for in Jesus this is exactly what His incarnation, ministry, atonement and resurrection mean. He can speak to God the words that we cannot even comprehend and He can offer His crucified body as satisfaction that we cannot imagine.
Beside the majesty and holiness of God, our modern demands for all our specialized forms of ‘justice’ begin to look not just trivial, but demeaning. And we cannot even submit them to any kind of rational examination and evaluation. Lord Have Mercy.