Love and Justice
“Love demands that we do justice”
“Justice is love’s minimum demand”
“Love is never satisfied with justice”
–Lewis B. Smedes, Mere Morality
According to Lewis Smedes, all human relationships are pervaded by two absolute mandates: love and justice (Mere Morality). They are like the two sides of a coin. Justice is the tough side of love. But love as agape or chesed goes beyond justice. Love’s minimum demand is that we do justice. But “love is never satisfied with justice.” “If love does not work for justice, it probably does nothing at all.” (Smedes) Love seeks justice first for those closest to us. Then it widens the circle beyond those who are close to us, reaching finally to the just cause of strangers as well. Love and care for our family members and close friends would be impossible without an accompanying sense of justice. Loving beyond this circle should also carry this sense of justice. If we say we love those who are far from us (politically, culturally, ethnically, economically, etc.) but separate ourselves from the unjust circumstances of their lives then our expression of love is only so much noise.
A headline in the January 4th, 2011, OC Register, reads, “Texan declared innocent after 30 years in prison”. Innocent and exonerated, Cornelius Dupree Jr. finally received a small measure of justice because a group called the Innocence Project cared enough to pursue his case. An uncaring Texas legal system kept him unjustly incarcerated for thirty years. According to the OC Register, “Texas has freed 41 wrongly convicted inmates through DNA since 2001 – more than any other state.” Another small measure of justice Dupree stands to receive is a possible $2.4 million compensation package, tax-free ($80,000 for each year wrongly incarcerated). But who of us would willingly trade 30 years of his/her life for any amount of money? That’s why I call it a small measure of justice.
Love enriches justice. This is good news because “…no society of sinful people achieves even the bare bones of a structure of justice through its legal system.” (Smedes) When love infuses law with mercy, it enables us to push justice beyond legalities to actually meet real human need. It is not difficult to see the importance of character, especially the ability to empathize with mercy, for those officials involved in our legal system.
Imagine the impact of a legal community able to get beyond legalities to actually meet human need. How much misery those 41 inmates and their families could have been spared if someone had cared enough to find out the truth. This kind of legal community starts of course with individuals who are enabled to be loving and merciful.
By the way, though we cannot put a price tag on human misery, the taxpayer should be interested in bringing justice to the wrongly incarcerated. The people of Texas stand to lose a substantial amount of tax payer dollars because doing the right thing was not a high enough priority. A simple DNA test could have saved the State big bucks. Consider the costs in the Cornelius Dupree Jr. case. Thirty years of incarceration probably cost the State of Texas somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million dollars. This does not include court costs, attorney fees, etc. Add to this the possible $2.4 million compensation package. The taxpayers stand to lose nearly four million dollars. Add up all 41 cases and the total has to be substantial.
I am not so naïve as to think that the legal system of Texas or any other state is going to change any time soon. I use the Cornelius Dupree Jr. case to illustrate the possible benefits to communities where justice is infused with mercy. We in the Church are obliged to be a community of loving, caring people who show mercy to the world. It is a debt we owe. We must not let our Christian communities deteriorate into unloving legal systems. Nor should we see ourselves as a merely benevolent organization. We are called to be communities of agape.
Biblical righteousness and shalom are brought to life with a view to the creation of a community where people genuinely care for one another and enthusiastically help one another. (The term shalom denotes a sense of peace and well being as the gift of God related to his righteousness and salvation. It is used more for the community as a whole than for the individual.) As one created by God and for whom Christ died, our neighbor is worthy of our respect. As part of our community our neighbor not only has certain rights. He/she also is deserving of our respect.
Love can translate negative rules into affirmative principles. Recently, at the gym I frequent, an oft-heard announcement regarding the re-racking of weights took on a new tone. Instead of implying that those who failed to re-rack were lazy bums the plea was to respect others who would be using that same piece of equipment. In community respect for others goes a long way. Respect can become care. Showing care is less defined than hard and fast negative rules. It also carries a greater responsibility because the goal is to actually meet real human need.