Does the concept of justice even make sense today?
Humans, I believe, want justice. I believe that is a natural and good desire that is innate within us. Where, however, does the concept of justice come from? How do we know what is right and what is not right? Does the concept of justice even make sense today?
The theme of the day is, “Have it your way,” “Do what’s right for you.” It’s, “You be you.” It’s, “You be happy.” It’s, “Free yourself from the oppressive shackles of society, family, and really any expectation at all.”
Don’t discard what’s valuable
Now, to use a disturbing and fitting analogy, we often sadly throw the baby out with the bathwater. No matter what the baby or the bathwater is. We throw them both out. I don’t think we should completely throw out the baby (of course!). I think there’s some definite truth to “doing what’s right for you,” “being yourself,” “being free from oppressive shackles,” “being happy,” and even “having it your way.”
But, does that mean that there’s not an actual right way to live? Does that mean that the actual best version of yourself might not require humility and the admitting of wrong? Do all restrictions have to be considered oppressive shackles (perhaps a train is most free on the tracks!)?
If there is actual truth and justice it might not just convict the bigoted and intolerant, it might convict me of wrong. If there is such thing as actual wrong, I’m not immune from justice’s scale. I myself could be found and wanting. Perhaps it could be found out that me “having my own way,” is not the way, is not right?
What if there is no actual truth or justice?
If, however, “moral truths” are nothing more than opinions of an individual and are thus infallible then what grounds is there for justice? If we believe in “truth” by majority—truth by popular consensus, then which majority, on which continent, at which time in history? And how is this actually very different than Nazism and “might makes right” morality?
People’s cry for justice would then be nothing more than mere power grabs, people asserting themselves over others. Crying out for justice would be nothing more than enforcing one’s own or a group’s preference on others. That does not seem very tolerant. “Who are you or who are y’all to enforce your opinion on me?”
When we say we can’t actually know what is truly right or wrong it undermines the concept of justice. If we can’t truly know what is just how then can we have justice? If we can know what is just, how? Where do we get this concept of justice from?
So, is there actual truth and justice?
Can we know? Or, are we left in the dark to grope our way?
I believe our flourishing as a society is bound up with the truth. Our happiness is collectively tied to knowing how to live and living that way.
If the majority collectively says there is no actual truth then we will walk in epistemological darkness. And in the darkness, we will fall. We will trip into a thousand blunders.
If we say we cannot know what is truly just, then justice will wane. If there is no just, there is no justice. If there is no conviction that we are at least sometimes wrong, there will be no conviction that anyone is wrong. But, if there is the conviction that we are sometimes wrong, there must be a confession that there is actual truth.
There is a price to moral “freedom.” That cost is to shut the lights off and to walk in darkness.
I believe the concept of truth and justice makes sense today
I believe truth is precious. Although truth at times has rough edges. And at times I collide into it’s jagged ends.
“The modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything” (G.K. Chesterton).
“If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see” (C.S. Lewis).
“Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis on which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights” (Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny).
So, truth sometimes tears into us and sometimes hurts because it’s actually there. We get hurt when we act like it’s not. Because it is. We intuitively know this, because we care about justice. We care about people “getting what’s coming to them.” Because the concept of justice makes sense even today?
How, however, can we know the truth? And what hope is there for us who have been measured and found wanting on the scales of justice?
 Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford, Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives, 95.
Tags: convicted, Derek Chauvin, Does the concept of justice even make sense?, George Floyd, guilty, Justice, social injustice, social justice
About Paul O'BrienI am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)