Above is the Nicholas County Courthouse. While taking the picture I began to think of it as a place of justice. But what is justice?
We’ve all been there. Somebody does you wrong and you cry out for justice. The world seems out of balance you just won’t rest until things are set right again. But, is it really justice that we’re seeking? Or, is it vengeance? Common sense would seem to imply that the two words describe the same thing but do they really? As I contemplate the terms and try to sort out the answer I have come to find more questions.
Can justice truly exist without mercy and grace? ( which incidentally are not the same thing either). Mercy is when we are found guilty of some infraction and yet, we are spared the consequences of guilt. Mercy also has a tendency to come with conditions. When a police officer lets you off with a warning instead of a full blown citation as long as you’re not caught speeding on his street again. He knows that you’re guilty. He can prove it. But, he doesn’t pursue the charge. Maybe it’s your first offense or he just likes you or he he’s sympathetic to your circumstances. Whatever the reason, he granted you mercy.
Then what is grace? From the time I was a child I was taught that grace is the unmerited favor of God. We don’t deserve it, but he gives it anyway because he wants to. Now, let’s take our same police officer and same situation. Only now, he gives you money for lunch in place of the ticket. Our good officer has just demonstrated both mercy and grace.
So with the above example in mind let’s re-examine the difference between justice and vengeance.
Does vengeance allow for mercy and grace? Not really. We might claim to have shown mercy or grace or both but if we’re honest with ourselves we must admit that isn’t really so. We have either grown weary of vengeance or we felt that the other party has suffered enough. In either case, we didn’t allow the escape of a certain amount of punishment.
Justice however does allow for mercy and grace. Punishment is avoided under the right conditions.
One other thing about vengeance. Is it possible for an innocent person to suffer undue vengeance? I’m sure each of can find at least one example from our own past of a person being paid back for something that they didn’t do. However, if justice is true, then true guilt is established prior to pay backs.
It would seem that under a close scrutiny that there could be holes in what we call common sense if we can’t separate justice from vengeance.
Common sense may be easy to understand but in reality it isn’t always accurate and it isn’t always neutral.