“If judges do not act justly, then individuals do not have the opportunity to act mercifully.”Good Kills: God, Good and The Sword, David Engelhardt
By: Gabriela Yareliz
One of the most comforting attributes about God, to me, is the fact that He is just. I don’t know why I find so much comfort in that, but I do. Maybe it’s that same internal thing that led me to the profession of law in the first place. I like good to be rewarded, and I like bad to be punished and separated so no one else gets hurt. I like mercy displayed for those who need it.
I’ve been practicing for years now (looking forward to the decade marker), and as time progresses, it has been harder to explain and understand the path society and my profession have undertaken. A lot of what we see out there like bail reforms where murderers walk around hurting more and more people or even certain government aid, we call it “social justice,” but it’s a perversion of the word itself.
As I was reading Good Kills: God, Good and The Sword, the author David Engelhardt hits the nail on the head when he defines ‘justice’ as getting what is owed to you. Therefore, if someone who works to gain more has more, and then he/she is stripped of that to give to another who did not work for it, that is not justice, it’s grace at best.
He shares the example of a person who works a whole year and saves up for a car. When the car is stolen, not only is the literal car stolen, but that year of effort and saving. It’s a violation.
Engelhardt writes that we have created a society that feels that so much is owed to it, and it’s true. I see it every day. “The entitlement created by economic mercy unhitched to economic justice is devastating,” he writes. People believe they are “owed” free housing or “owed” a stipend of some kind (and I don’t take the housing crisis lightly, as I work in that area and help people who face housing insecurity)– but the truth is that no one is owed anything they didn’t work or pay for. That’s just very matter a fact. Anything someone gets that wasn’t earned is grace. We have tried to make “grace” the new definition of “justice”, and yet they are opposites.
And while we all need grace and receive grace and mercy from God, a functional society can’t exist without consequences and cause and effect, or someone (or many) gets hurt.
What makes a law just? Engelhardt writes that they are laws that “promote and perpetuate life.” We see a clear statement of this through the Ten Commandments.
Engelhardt emphasizes that life isn’t some sort of gift where everything is owed to us. That isn’t even Biblical. Instead, he points to Scripture where God sees life as an investment. “Life, on the other hand, is entrusted to us with definitive obligations. We cannot do whatever we want with our lives; the correct use of life is taking what was given to you and giving God a return on His investment.” We do this out of love and honor toward Him because He has given us something we cannot earn.
He points to the parable of the servants who were given talents as an example of this. We have an obligation to live the precious life given to us, to the max. We carry the breath of God in us. (Job 33:4) When we fail to live life with duty, there is a consequence. Jesus called the servant who did not grow “wicked”. (Matthew 25: 26) The servants who invested and grew their given talents were rewarded. Not all of them were given the same, but all who did something were rewarded in measure. God operates in a just manner. Note that just doesn’t mean everyone operates with the same things or resources. Nothing is owed to us, but something is entrusted to us (to every single one). We reap what we sow, despite a society that tries to make it not so.
If you have been wronged, had something taken from you, or been violated, then you have a taste of what it’s like to be owed something. In God’s world, evil pays a price. There is restitution and healing offered, which means it matters. In a society that allows wrongdoers to victimize more people without consequence and expects us to see this as “justice”– it’s not. We know in our heart of hearts that it’s not because we were made in His image. The fact that we are made in His image means we hunger for that which is a deep part of Him. To want consequences, to want fairness as God sees it– that is not wrong or racist or controversial. It’s not hypocritical just because we all are undeserving and need grace. It’s instilled in us.
It’s the way God has and will always operate. To be connected to and reflect God means to want true justice. It means to be a good steward. It means a desire to stop evil in its tracks to spare others from pain until the day we can all stand before the true Judge. Hopefully, that day, we can all hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees… you have disregarded the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”Matthew 23:23-24