What is your image of God? In a gross oversimplification, we could call for two groups. For some, they were reared, taught and believe that God is a punitive God who is watching us closely and punishes us for the sins, or wrongs, that we do. This belief system holds that God is too holy to look upon the unholiness of our lives and needs some act to make right the brokenness of our lives.
For others, their roots and belief are of God as the adoring creator who has given life to all that is, out of an endless well of love. While evil exists in the world, God has been actively overcoming the separation that has ensued and seeks out the good of all people.
Would either of these define you? When we turn to the ideal of justice, we will see justice in light of these two broad categories. The first tends to fall into a vision of justice that is centered on retribution…or punishment. In this vision of justice, something must be done to make right that which is broken. For example, if I poke your eye out, then you have the right to poke mine out.
If you find yourself in the latter category, you tend to view justice through the lens of restoration. The goal of restorative justice is to bring wholeness back to the relationship, not get even. For if love is our taproot, then justice would be the branches that grow out of love. The purpose isn’t to gain power over another; rather, it is to be in a shared relationship.
History has repeated the horrific story of what can happen when the oppressed receive justice and then use it to become the oppressor. The vicious cycle of power/powerless; victor/loser; affluent/poor continues because this type of justice is rooted in retribution and getting even. The sad reality is that violence begets more violence and furthers the brokenness of our world. Perhaps no greater image of a new path to tread is in the moment of Jesus’ arrest. Peter pulls his sword in defense and swipes off the ear of a guard. Jesus then renounces this act and states, “Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.” If only we had ears to hear! The way of Jesus is altogether different than our normative craving for revenge, getting even and harboring unjust ways of life.