Summary: Justice - #3 in a series on the Seven Virtues (rough copy)
THAT’S NOT FAIR!!!
Isaiah 42:1-4 - Seven Virtues #3 - Justice
By James Galbraith
Bethel First Baptist Church - June 3, 2001
That’s not fair!
Observe any gathering of children, and within five minutes you’ll here someone, somewhere shout ‘That’s not fair"
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday School class, a soccer team or a singing club - there’ll always a child or two who feels as if justice is not being done at that moment.
What triggers the utterance of these words?
Perhaps there are four children hungry for a snack. Three get granola bars and eagerly tear into them. But then the granola bars run out and the fourth child feels he’s been left out.
BUT, the mom finds a chocolate bar to give the fourth child! Now the other three look at their crunchy snacks and holler "Not fair".
So the mom, frustrated with the whining, send the four outside to play, and now all four are hollering "not fair", because the show they want to watch is on and they want to stay inside.
We hear "Not fair" the first time because one child is not getting what the others got. This can be called "unequal treatment", and it usually triggers a not fair!
The second utterance comes from one child getting something better than the others. Even though the three were happy with the granola bars, once they see the fourth getting something better, they sense a "preferred treatment’, and that will get a "Not fair" pretty quick!
The third utterance comes form all parties being forced to do something they just don’t want to do. This can be called "coerced treatment", and it is a prime trigger of those dreaded words "Not fair".
The trouble is, all of the above is perfectly fair. The children, in all of these circumstances, are working with a sense of justice that centers around themselves, and in doing so cannot see what justice really is.
And guess what - it doesn’t get any better as they grow up. I’ve used children in this introduction, but this self centered sense of justice is the not the exception, it is the norm for any age group in any society.
We all want justice, but we all start with what we perceive to be justice for us.
Furthermore, we all consider ourselves to be "fair" or people who practice justice, but again, we start with what we perceive justice to be.
So Today I will ask and try to answer two questions -
1. What is justice?
2. How can we be "just"
When we speak of justice, what usually come to mind?
Judgment/Punishment - Making sure that those who do wrong get what they deserve
Fairness - ensuring that everyone is treated equally, and given equal opportunity
"Right - ness", or more formally - righteousness - simply doing the right thing because we know it is right, as opposed to wrong.
All of these concepts go into the broader meaning of justice, but none of them suffice by themselves.
We may be tempted to start with "getting what you deserve" - judgment
This is the notion of justice that is most prevalent in society - whenever we hear about justice on the news it is in the context of some criminal who should "get what he or she deserves".
I know that I have seen justice in this light. It can be a very powerful state of emotion - when we hear of a horrid crime the desire for justice to be done can be overwhelming.
I vividly remember a crime that shocked BC (British Columbia) several years ago. Mindy Tram, a beautiful little girl in Kelowna, was brutally murdered. When the news broke, I was driving to school in Vancouver.
I had to pull my car over and vent my anger that somebody could do something like this. In my anger I wanted justice , and that meant catching the killer and making sure he got what he deserved.
But justice has to be more than "getting what you deserve". If we leave it there, then who decides "what we deserve"? Who is the judge?
What if I had been given the opportunity to act on my sense of justice at the time?
What would I have done? What would you do ? I’ll bet if we asked everyone hear what should happen to that criminal, we’d get a variety of responses.
Who’s right? Me? You? Who, or what, decides what justice is?
That’s the problem that arises if we look at justice as "getting what you deserve." Somebody, or something, has to work over and above individuals to determine what justice is, or we’ll sink into everybody doing "what is right in their own eyes", and THAT is exactly what the Servant, the Messiah, came to save us from!