Thursday, August 11, 2005

What Is Justice?

Chuck Colson writes on the meaning of justice:

Three decades of ministry in the criminal justice arena have taught me that neither conservatives nor liberals have it right. The real answer is not an either/or approach; it is the biblical view, which embraces both the distributive and retributive models.

Biblical justice recognizes that both punishment and meeting social needs are essential to a just society. The Bible calls for punishment—which C.S. Lewis called "balancing the scales of justice"—not necessarily because it is a deterrent, but because justice demands it. But Scripture also demands social justice: Ancient Israelites were told to leave gleanings at the side of the field for the poor, maintain honest scales, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.

Secularists, both liberal and conservative, fail because they see people as objects—either to be punished or to be serviced—whereas biblical justice is much grander, viewing people as humans made in God's image. As the eminent scholar Neal Plantinga argues in Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, the world is supposed to work in a certain way because that's how God designed it. God seeks shalom, which in the biblical definition means not just the absence of war, but genuine accord and harmony, a society in which people care for one another, a "universal flourishing." "Shalom," Plantinga says, "is the way things ought to be."

The problem is that humans don't behave the way we should in order for human society to function as God intends. The crime problem is caused by neither poverty nor softer crime policies. It is caused by human sin. This is why the Christian view of justice must be aimed toward restoring the shalom that is marred by sin. It means restraining and punishing wrong conduct, but it also means promoting "human flourishing."

This is why Prison Fellowship developed what we call "restorative justice," teaching that we must go beyond punishing wrongdoers by reconciling criminals and victims, asking criminals to make restitution, and restoring offenders to the community. That's why, when inmates are released, Christians should be there to help them find a job, a home, furniture, and friendships—assistance that helps keep them from falling back into crime, assistance that will restore the wholeness of the community.

This is what Christians should be seeking in society. . . .

Read the whole thing.