Have you ever noticed how often the court room appears in movies and on TV? Ever since the days of Perry Mason till the today of Law and Order (and its many spin offs), we constantly find ourselves in a court room trying to find the Truth of what happened so that the guilty may be punished and the innocent may be vindicated. It may be so widespread that we may never have noticed it. But it is truly a staple of our cultural and philosophical understanding of how society works or does not work.
This reality is closely associated with our democratic view of the equality of all persons. By equality I do not mean that all people must be viewed as having the same gifts and talents. But equality in the sense that everyone has a right to be heard and to grow in society. This connects with the concern regarding ‘fairness’. Growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, our most impassioned cry was: ‘But that’s not fair!’
If we are so concerned that life be fair to everyone here on earth, then fairness in the actions of God must be seen universally to be necessary. That is, until our culture of self-invention took over and we began to tell God what He ought to do and not to do! We have translated our distaste for being judged into a theology of false mercy that makes all our actions good and above reproach or judgement, even by God, forgetting that God has a right to judge us since He created us and sustains our being every second of our existence.
We are very quick to demand justice from God and man if we are the victims of a perceived injustice. We put up a fight, however, when we are being suspected of an act of injustice. Often, where we are at that moment says volumes about the stand we take toward the justice of God.
But, holding us accountable for our actions is another way that God honors us. He takes what we do seriously because we matter to Him. A permissive parent that allows their son or daughter to do anything they want without consideration of the morality or the advisability of their actions is a very bad parent indeed. Correction is never easy to give or to take. But it often is the most loving thing we can do. Just ask any responsible parent who has been through this.
The Justice of God is not optional nor is it the opposite of His mercy. To expect us to act in an upright manner and to hold us to that high criterion of action is an act of great mercy and love. It is what the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins termed ‘the dark side of the bay of God’s blessing’.
This is so true that He has placed a Divine Arbiter in every human being, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. This sense of what is right and wrong is called the ‘Natural Law’ and everyone has it even if they deny that they do.
It does not matter what religion you belong to, nor even if you are an atheist: the natural law is at the core of the person’s being and helps that person to see that what they have done is ‘wrong’, even if they have no concept at all of ‘sin’. Now this natural power within can be corrupted by erroneous beliefs that one has accepted as true. This may be the result of events that may have happened in the living out of one’s life or by the imposition and the acceptance of religious tenets that are manifestly false.
But still, the Natural Law, embedded in every person, is still there trying to get the person to acknowledge the truth that stands before one’s eyes.
The Justice of God, therefore, still reigns over the pagan who still has the natural law as his guide. We are all guided by the goodness of God to our true happiness; and, if there is openness and the accidents of history permit, one would naturally embrace the Incarnation of God in Christ. The devil, however, places many hindrances in the way of the natural progression of conversion to Christ that would occur in a person open and desirous of the Truth.
God is just and has no favorites. He wants everyone to come into the knowledge of the Truth. He will cajole and entice every person towards an acceptance of His Son and the grace of His Spirit. Many, through no fault of their own, know only intimations of the right road of grace. Since God has given us freedom, the acceptance of that grace is different for every person.
The justice of God is therefore the reverse side of His mercy. Let our cry to the Lord therefore be: “You are indeed just O Lord!” (Daniel 3:27)