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Well-Ordered Life Series: Part 2

By Mr. Ben Walter
 
Justice is the foremost of the other three cardinal virtues, prudence, courage, and temperance. Like love, justice is both the precondition and the result of the other virtues. As we feel love or its absence deeply, we feel a sense of justice or injustice strongly. Both love and justice are inseparable from our relationship to other people.
At JH Classical Academy, students read a few novels that deal with justice. For example, in To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is an excellent example of someone who acts justly. As a lawyer, he works to protect the rights of a falsely accused man. Atticus also pursues his work with love for his community. You could say he puts a human and humane face to justice.
 
In Greek mythology, Justice is depicted as a goddess holding a pair of scales and a sword. Some Greek philosophers developed an idea of justice, dike, as giving to each what he deserves. It implies a kind of equality and fairness in dealings with other people.
 
In Plato's The Republic, Socrates rejects definitions of justice such as: "Justice is what the strongest can get away with" and "Justice is helping friends and harming enemies." Both are simplistic and leave disturbing implications for ethics.
 
Socrates goes on to define justice as the organizing principle of both the state and the human soul (psyche). In the city, justice makes sure that everyone does what he or she is supposed to do and keeps them from meddling with others. In the human soul, justice ensures that each of the three parts of the soul (the mind, the heart, and desire) produce prudence, courage, and temperance. Justice also makes sure that these parts do not interfere with one another. By doing so, justice creates a well-ordered soul.
 
This abstract definition leaves us wondering exactly what just actions look like. I think we have to turn to the Jewish tradition for a more vivid understanding of justice. There are two words in the Old Testament associated with the one Greek word dike: 1) righteousness, the fulfillment of legal and moral obligations towards God and people, and 2) justice, the creation of good laws in order to establish righteousness in the land.
 
Righteousness is often described in the Hebrew Scriptures as walking upright in front of God. The righteous person finds his or her path by studying the Torah, the law of God. This impacts all his decisions on how to deal with other people.
 
Psalms 1 (1-3; 6) reads:
  • 1-3: Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither--whatever he does prospers. (NIV)
  • 6: For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. (NIV)
Here are further examples of Mosaic laws that encourage righteous dealings.
  • Do not take usurious interest, but fear your God, that your countryman may live among you. Lev. 25:36 (NASB)
  • Do not muzzle the ox as it is treading out the grain. Deut. 25:4 (NIV).
According to the Torah, righteousness and justice extend to every aspect of life, including how we treat animals!
 
The difficulty with all of the above is that there are situations in which getting our "rights" or dishing out punishment may be technically just, but not justice. We can even pursue revenge in the name of justice. The definition of justice as "helping your friends and harming your enemies!" --even when your enemies deserve it--is an instinctual modus operandi that we all revert to, but does not actually establish justice within ourselves or in a community.
 
We can pursue justice better if we pause to ask, "Would I be willing to get what I deserve?" And for this reason, Jesus gives the Golden Rule, "Do to others what you would have them do to you" and also "Love your enemy."
 
And so justice and love are entwined. If justice calls us to fulfill our obligations towards others, love forbears when others do not fulfill their obligations towards us.
 
Stay tuned for Part 3: Hope
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