Love and Justice Go Together

Written by:  Robert D. Brinsmead

I would like to look at all the references to punishment in Matthew.  I grant that Matthew 10:28 on its own favours the annihilation of the lost.  Zarathustra was the first systematic apocalyptic teacher who provided a framework that has changed very little since he set it out –  the great battle between God and Satan; creation and fall of man; this earth the centre of the conflict; heaven and punishment in the fires of hell that cannot be quenched and punishment in hell that does not cease; the coming of the super hero messiah figure and the final Day of Judgment, and the making of all things wonderful.  When the Jews were under Persian rule, where the religion of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) was the official religion, the Jews took on more that the Aramaic language of the empire, they took on Zoroastrian apocalyptic outline so that in the classic age of Jewish Apocalyptic there was a general belief in the Zoroastrian doctrine of an ever burning hell fire.  I am simply saying that in the time of Jesus, apocalyptic was a popular outlook and framework.  Kaseman was correct when he said that “Apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology.”  That being so, what we have in Paul and in early Christianity is an apocalyptic interpretation of Jesus and his death and resurrection and second coming.  Part and parcel of that apocalyptic framework was the doctrine of the eternal suffering of the damned in hell.   The first book of the NT teaches this and so does the last book of the NT.

Law cannot enforce love, and it cannot enforce justice.  It can only enforce a very rudimentary level of justice that does not qualify as real justice.  At least Paul got this part right when he said, “If justice came by law, then Christ died for nothing.”(Gal. 2) And again, “But now the justice of God quite apart from the law is manifested…”  In this Paul was correct when he said that justice does not come by law.

A true kind of justice is something more than being forced by  a court of law to pay one’s bills or stop using one’s fists to settle a grudge.   Law can only enforce a minimum standard of behaviour.  It can only stop bad things from happening but it cannot enforce human goodness, including the kind of justice expected from one who is truly human.  In this sense, as the pseudo-Pauline pastoral writer says, the law is not made for the righteous (which means just) but for murderers, thieves, perverts, etc.

There are many kinds of “love” which is not agape love.  Agape is always a “righteous” love.

Here is a man who treats his fellow men as they ought to be treated. (He is a Golden Rule man)

Now if he has treated his neighbour as he ought to be treated, then he has acted with justice and  with genuine love?   If on the other hand he has not treated his neighbor as he ought to be treated, then he has not acted justly and he has not acted lovingly.

That which is not true love is not true justice, and that which is not true justice is not true love.  One cannot exist without the other.  Why do we use two different words?  For the same reason that the Hebrews used parallelism.  From one point of view you might say that yellow is not red, but before you put the light through the prism they are each united and one in the light.

There is a poem called Six Blind Men and the Elephant.  The story ends with this line:  “So these six blind men from Indostan disputed loud and long; though each was partly in the right, and partly in the wrong.”  The poem was written as a critique of disputing theologians. We sometimes need to stop and laugh at ourselves. “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you; but make allowance for their doubting too.” (Kipling)

If the law cannot bring in the reign of love, it cannot bring in the reign of justice either.  The Hebrews had it right in those places where the OT recognized that tzedak primarily meant living up to all the obligations of a relationship.  We have a relationship which obligates us “to love our neighbor as ourselves.” There is one human family and all are children of the one God.  We are obligated to care about our neighbor’s well being whether he is black or white, rich or poor, good or bad, friend or foe.  Unless we do that, we are not acting justly – according to the demands of the Law of God, according to the demands of a fundamental relationship.  That’s why love and justice are joined.

As far as the laws of the State are concerned, the administration of justice is sometimes taken to mean administering some form of punishment.  The problem with this kind of justice is that it has proved to be a very poor deterrent against crime and lawless behaviour.  Good psychology now recognizes that the fear of punitive justice does not work for children, and does not even work very well for animals.  But there is a deeper reason why punitive justice does not work.   All lawless behaviour and crime springs from an attitude of disaffection against society.  When the law enforcement authority  retaliates against bad behaviour with punitive justice, it serves only to re-enforce and deepen the disaffection that led to the bad behaviour in the first place.  This is how soft criminals  become hardened criminals.  This is how it worked out in Australia’s penal settlements of Port Arthur and Norfolk Island two hundred years ago.  Brutal punitive justice spawned a generation of Bushrangers who terrorized the nation for years.

With more enlightened societies, the administration of justice is focussed on restorative justice – a program aimed at the rehabilitation of lawbreakers and criminals who have become seriously disaffected with society.  Most prison reform efforts are now directed along the lines of restorative justice.  These systems are still far from perfect, but they have been moving in the right direction. One thing is certain: no one will ever be cured of disaffection by censure and condemnation.

A person who hates his neighbour has already broken the 6th commandment according to Jesus, but the First or Political Use of the law cannot address the thoughts and intents of the heart.  The law courts of the land cannot bring him to justice, however, because he has committed no act of murder.  He cannot be punished for his bad thoughts although his own conscience will punish him.  To use an apt comment by Mandela, trying to hurt your neighbor by hating him is like trying to hurt him by drinking poison.

Hillel, Jesus and Paul have all said:  the one who loves his neighbor (“what is hateful to you do not to your neighbor” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) has fulfilled the whole law.  This means that love has to include justice, and if you like, all the other fruits of the spirit such as joy, peace, long-suffering, patience, temperance, meekness, etc ) because how could it be said that to practice the Golden Rule fufills the whole law.  As Hillel put it, the rest is only explanation.  Love is like the light that when refracted through a cloud of rain is seen to contain many colours.

Love and justice are not two separate things, but two aspects of the one reality like the two sides of the coin.  That is why good scholars have acknowledged that the OT word tzedakah (justice) is equivalent to the NT word agape.   I am puzzled why some seem to favour justice as vengeance.  That was precisely what Jesus lampooned in his stories, and why he was hated because his teaching was against the conventional vengeance kind of justice.  My take on it theologically is this: God’s justice is God being true to God’s covenant of love.  In a primary sense, our ultimate welfare is God’s responsibility.  It would be irresponsible for parents to bring children into the world unless they were prepared to love them unconditionally.  That’s justice…and sometimes it is the hardest thing to do because it involves suffering and hardship . Justice is swearing to one’s own hurt yet not changing