Love Not Justice

Jameson Taylor
March 2001
Copyright © 2005
Reproduced with Permission

The world is unjust. I am only slowly beginning to comprehend the implications of this fact. Some time ago, a drunk driver demolished my wife's car. No one was seriously injured in the accident, but the car was an irreplaceable gift from Jennifer's deceased grandmother. Grandma Iola took excellent care of the vehicle, and we honored her memory by christening the '88 Chevy our would-be "family car."

Granted, the death of a car is a minor tragedy compared to the many injustices inflicted by the world upon itself. But I thought that as a faithful Catholic I was somehow immune to the sufferings ordinary mortals must endure. Not that I'm sinless, but really, Sodom and Gomorrah fared better than grandma's Chevy.

The reality is that even God's faithful people, maybe especially God's faithful people, are subject to acts of injustice. Christ's cry from the cross, "Daddy! Daddy! Where the heck are You?" reminds us that not even God's only son was spared persecution. Like Christ, many of us may be angry with God for permitting injustice here on earth.

Confronted with the apparent impotence of divine justice, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to establish justice on solely human terms. Divine justice is effective because God is a perfect judge, whose perfect power enforces His just decrees. If human justice is to replace divine justice, as it must in a godless society, human justice must also be perfect. Such perfection is unavailable to any human ruler, for perfect justice requires an omniscience and omnipotence, which, when not accompanied by perfect virtue, is positively destructive.

Justice requires that each person give and be given what is appropriate to his condition. John the Baptist suggested what such justice is like when he taught, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the man who has none." John told the tax collectors to collect only what was prescribed, and he commanded the soldiers to be satisfied with their wages. John did not advise the soldiers to insure that the man with two cloaks gave one away. Given the soldiers' inability to be content with their wages, John perceived that asking them to oversee a massive program of property redistribution might stretch human virtue too far.

The fact is that justice is relatively - indeed, very - rare; just governments even more so. Justice must be pursued in moderation because most men can be only moderately just; this dictum applies equally to ruler and ruled. Given the limitations of human knowledge and virtue, a wise ruler is content if his fellow citizens merely restrain from doing injustice, which, for all practical purposes, means obeying the law. Under a system of limited government, as we have in the United States, the law is mostly concerned with keeping individuals out of each other's business. A person is thus allowed to do generally whatever he wants so long as no one is harmed. The United States prospered under this arrangement because custom, nourished by a strong Christian ethic, encouraged the more proactive virtues of familial and civic duty. In recent years, a sustained attack against both morality and religion has undermined the necessary support once provided by Christianity. As a result of this loss of faith, the unjust no longer fear God's wrath, and the oppressed do not turn to God for consolation.

Absent the restraint that custom and reason exercise upon most people, force is the only means available to compel obedience to the law. Force, even in service to justice, however, is an ugly and dangerous thing. The just ruler uses and applies force only to the degree that it is necessary. Such a ruler, or government, knows that force, and hence the law, has its limitations.

The law cannot compel kindness, let alone love. Because parents no longer teach their children to respect and love their neighbors, governments are now trying to legislate civility and compassion. The current enthusiasm for political correctness is just one of many misguided attempts to reap the fruits of the Christian doctrine of brotherly love without any of the bothersome theological - and moral - baggage. A politically correct society, however, is only a watered-down version of the ideal society promised by Marx.

Marx, like Christ, perceived that human nature must be transformed in order to attain paradise. For Marx, war is the means of producing this transformation. Marx's philosophy necessitates that the more "enlightened" elements of society engage in perpetual warfare against those who would hinder further progress. Marx's shock troops helped things along by eliminating 100 million of what they considered to be the most atavistic souls. Increasingly, this war has become a battle against human nature itself, with science and psychology leading the way to recreate man in humanity's own image.

Unless man can permanently alter his own nature, the attempt to attain a perfectly just social order will only result in constant warfare of man against man and man against himself. Christ, unlike Marx, attributes injustice to man's propensity for sin. Imperfect human beings cannot create for themselves a perfect world anymore than they can create ex nihilo. Perfect justice can only come from God. Christ, however, goes one step further than to offer man a return to Eden. Christ reveals that God is much more than the just judge looked to by Jews and Gentiles alike. Christ reveals the shocking fact that God is love. As a Father differs from a judge, so love differs from justice. In imitation of God the Father, we are called to love one another above all things. In so doing, it should come as no surprise that justice is secured-and mercy besides.