My work on God’s Justice, the Bible with notes on justice, has changed my understanding of justice. Nothing illustrates it better than George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin.
Much of the argument filling the airwaves has to do with justice and the rule of law. One side is confident that the jury was prejudiced, the prosecution incompetent, the evidence-gathering flimsy, so that all together Trayvon Martin’s life was thrown to the wind and a guilty man exonerated. The other side says that the rule of law defines justice, and that by all the standards of law Zimmerman was tried and found not guilty.
Courtroom procedures dominate our western conceptions of justice. The definition of justice is: everybody gets what they deserve. If you are a victim, you get recompense. If you are a perpetrator, you pay. We work it out in the courtroom, where strict and traditional rules control everything. It’s a well-regulated, zero-sum game, with the judge as referee.
The biblical conception of justice also lands in the courtroom very often, but the function of the judge is different. He or she is empowered to set things right. “Justice” is not in following procedural rules. “Justice” lies in repairing what is wrong. That may involve punishing the guilty. It may involve recompense for loss. But it surely involves many other actions at every level of life.
God, the ultimate source of justice, is determined to set the whole world right. The Bible is the story of how he has set out to do it. It is a story, not a set of procedures or rules. It is a drama, full of setbacks and disappointments. It takes time. But the just character of God is that he will not let it rest. He will keep his promise to bring the full flourishing of his creation and the destruction of evil. If you want to talk justice, make sure it includes justice to God, who made everything that is and loves it. Talk about a victim of crimes! Until justice flows from pole to pole like a mighty river, he has not got what he deserves.
I don’t want to diminish the importance of courtroom procedures and prejudicial juries in the George Zimmerman case. I do say that justice requires more, whichever side you are on.
Justice would begin with setting right the hearts and minds of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
Justice would be setting right the racial tension and the fears of crime that evidently roil their community.
Justice would put an end to racial stereotyping and a beginning of embrace between different cultures and ethnicities.
Justice would be economic and social flourishing in that community such that the Trayvon Martins and the George Zimmermans and their families and friends were transformed by hope.
Apparently, those kinds of justice were not being done. What procedures are in play to set them right?
You may say this conception of justice is utopian. And it could be. It has to come down to cases, in each nation, in each community, in each life. But I think unless we consider justice more comprehensively, we’ll never bring real justice to tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s–tragedies that happen, with no publicity, all the time.