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Justice matters

“What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground." Genesis 4.10

Justice matters; from fair play to the rule of law, a sinful society requires parameters otherwise all hell will break loose. The trouble is that, in our sinfulness, human beings have the unhelpful tendency to be more conscious of the speck in our neighbour's eye than the log in our own. And so the pursuit of justice becomes more about retribution, even revenge, than reconciliation.

Jesus broke the spiral of retribution by commanding his followers to "turn the other cheek" and leave the rest to God. On the lips of anyone else that would sound patronising, presumptuous, or worse. What right has anyone to impose the willingness to forgive on someone with a genuine grievance? There are several reasons to commend Jesus as the exception...

First is his own moral perfection. Unlike any other religious leader or cult hero, Jesus is universally acknowledged as having lived a perfect life, which affords him the moral authority to make the rules. That means that the suffering he endured was altogether undeserved - and yet he willingly forgave his tormentors ("Father, forgive them..." Luke 23.24). In advocating relinquishment of the right to revenge, Jesus was not denying justice, rather he was referring it to the best and fairest judge of all - Almighty God.

There is one other thing which deserves to be borne in mind for our encouragement. Through the prophet Joel, God commits to those who suffer for righteousness' sake "I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten" (Joel 2.25). While forgiveness can't be effectively imposed - and all attempts to do so will lead only and inevitably to resentment (as the UK government is discovering in its policy towards Northern Ireland) - it offers the most constructive way forward and carries with it the surest prospect of ultimate justice and, in the meantime, restitution.



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