Responding to God’s Justice
April 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
In the prior Post, “God’s Justice”, this attribute of His was established. Having done so, we can now consider what it entails for us; certain attitudes and perspectives and duties, obligations, and responsibilities. As has been the case with God’s Goodness, Grace, and Mercy, much is required.
Before addressing the perspectives and duties which God’s Justice requires from us, its relationship to His other Attributes need be addressed. Effectively understanding God’s Justice requires we recognize the necessity that it be tempered by His other Attributes. In a general sense, this is true of all of God’s Attributes; for it is logically inconsistent to suppose that the manifestation of any of these occur at the expense of or act in opposition to any other. No single attribute is qualitatively superior to any of its counterparts. Rather, they exist and act concurrently, seamlessly, and in cooperation with each other. Thus, God’s Goodness manifests to the extent allowable by His Grace, Mercy, and Justice; His Grace is bestowed to a level consistent with His Goodness, Mercy, and Justice; and so on. This need be pointed out as, in the case of God’s Justice, certain outcomes may follow which, depending upon a person’s perspective, don’t appear or are perceived to be good in themselves. The effects of Justice in some cases result in hardship and suffering to both the agent responsible for the actions which precluded them as well as faultless bystanders in the event that the former acts contrary to God’s Will.
What this spells for us in seeking to emulate and imitate God’s Justice is that it be considered and administered with an eye towards all of His other Attributes as well. From this follows certain attitudes and duties for us concerning how we relate to others and the world. Undoubtedly, an entirely separate Blog itself could be devoted to identifying and detailing the specifics of these requirements. Generally speaking, the perspectives and obligations garnered concern our relationships with others as well as greater society as a whole in terms of the establishing and functioning of effective frameworks and structures to govern and order our co-existence with one another. More specifically, this includes business dealings, money matters, and legislative social policy. However, these have already been dealt with at least in a broad sense in prior Posts (see other “Responding to…..” Posts). What will be addressed in detail in the present Post is the concept of Criminal Justice.
Typically, a system of Criminal Justiceis considered and implemented to address worldly matters. Laws are adopted and policies instituted to assist with the peaceful ordering of society and interaction of its members. In this sense, Criminal Justice has taken on a purely material flavor. That which the system calls for in this pursuit is usually construed as the aim to protect law abiding citizens from the transgressions of the criminal. As corollaries to this aim, Criminal Justice assumes a four-fold approach: 1.) Incarceration of the criminal and their sequestering from the rest of society, 2.) punishment of the criminal for their misdeeeds, 3.) deterrence of crime for the criminally-minded, and 4.) sometimes rehabilitation of the criminal so as to prevent their potential future wreaking of havoc in society.
Recalling our purpose in life to know God (see the prior Page, “The Qualitative Purpose of Life”), while also considering the need to temper our imparting of justice with the commands of God’s other Attributes such as Goodness, Grace, and Mercy, it becomes apparent that our system of Criminal Justice is lacking a key consideration. This deficiency involves the absence of incorporating these other Attributes; particularly Grace and Mercy. The effectiveness, or lack thereof, of our present Criminal Justice system, will not be addressed here. Rather, the point is that it is inherently misguided in its main pre-occupation with the material and worldly at the expense of the spiritual and the purpose of life for those affected.
Admittedly, the criminal’s incarceration and sequestering, sometimes at least, removes the obstacles posed to the latter’s safe functioning and ability of its members to peacefully and effectively pursue their purpose in life to know God. This is not only reasonable, but a good thing. But what of the criminal’s purpose? Pursuant to God’s Grace, we have the duty to give and be of service to them; and His Mercy obligates us to accept them as equals in pursuit of our commong purpose despite their shortcomings; feel and express compassion for them and their circumstances; forgive their errant and misguided deeds; and attempt to understand their ideas and viewpoints (see the prior Posts “Responding to God’s Goodness” and “…..Mercy”). Whatever we might conclude regarding the necessity and effectiveness of the sequestering component of our Criminal Justice system, what of its consideration, or lack thereof, of these other considerations? What other aspects of the system, such as punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation, are being employed exactly and what purpose do they serve? Granted, I am no more than a layman concerning what exactly the criminal’s incarceration consists of. However, I know enough to say with confidence that this does not adequately consider our requirement to give and be of service to them and feel and act towards them with acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.
Setting aside the necessary sequestering component of our system of Criminal Justice, what of the other three: punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation? In light of above, we see that the first, punishment, is entirely misguided and unecessary. If we are to adhere to the responsibility imposed upon us from God’s Goodness and Mercy, we see that there exists no room for punishment whatsoever. That the criminal engages in behavior contrary to fulfillment of his purpose in life to know God, whether he is aware of it or otherwise, is punishment enough; for their actions drive a wedge between the criminal and God which further widens the impassable gulf that exists between He and them save for His Grace and Mercy. Our seeking to enact punishment upon the criminal is duplicative, superfluous, and unecessary for he is already punished through his shortcomings and transgressions in themselves. The criminal’s way of life, whether he realizes it or not, is sadly wretched. Although his hope is to commit his crimes undetected in hopes of attaining whatever material advantage sought, whether he is found out and incarcerated as punishment for his actions is of no consequence in the context of his life’s purpose. Whether caught and punished or remaining free, the criminal’s failure to act in accordance with his purpose in life spawns punishment upon him regardless. There exists no greater failure and unfortunateness than to act contrary to God’s Will and no worldly punishment, therefore, serves any meaningful purpose.
The remaining two components of our Criminal Justice system, deterrence and rehabilitation, although typically treated separately, prove reconcilable into one in light of God’s Goodness and Mercy. Our consideration of punishment employed a negative approach in that it was removed from the system entirely. Addressing detterence and rehabilitation, on the other hand, will incorporate a positive one in which they are striven for. As it will be shown, deterrence proves to be duplicative and superfluous once rehabilitation is accomplished.
The criminal’s transgressions, knowingly or otherwise, are not the root cause of his troubles. Rather, they represent merely a symptom of a much larger issue; his spiritual malady. The criminal is not aware of his purpose in life to know God; or if he is, does not act to fulfill it. Lacking an adequate spiritual foundation from which to tackle life, the criminal’s attitudes and perspectives are rooted in self-centeredness and selfishness. His view of others and the world is based on how these affect, benefit, and relate to him instead of his relationship with God. Thus, naked self interest is what guides the criminal in his oftentimes errant thought and action. He appeals to no greater context for his behavior than how it affects him instead of his standing with God. The criminal sees in his circumstance no opportunity to develop a loving spiritual relationship with Him; only the need to further seek material ends regardless of what means must be employed.
The criminal’s situation is unfortunate; for not only is he failing to fulfill his purpose in life to know God but he also makes it difficult in some cases for others to do so as well. This need be made clear to him; and ironically, it can be accomplished by approaching him from a familiar perspective; the individual criminal’s self interested perspective itself. Appeals to the common good of society as a whole and peace on earth are not likely to make any inroads with the him; for these greater ideals have likely failed the criminal in the past. Perhaps society in some way has wronged the him. The criminal has possibly been a victim as well. Thus, the approach need paradoxically revolve around the criminal himself in order for others to benefit from his rehabilitation. If he can be pursuaded to recognize his purpose in life, his former misguided disposition and energies towards crime can be rechanneled in accordance with God’s Will. With this new attitude, the criminal can begin on his path toward true fulfillment of self which no longer self-centeredly concerns how he is affected by others and the world but, rather, how his relationship with these affect his relationship with God. Here the ironic and paradoxical manifests itself; for by focusing on self and the purpose of his life, the criminal will eventually develop unselfish attitudes and perspectives compatible with the good of others and society in general. His actions will no longer be detrimental to himself and others; and not only will the criminal’s behavior cease being menacing, it will mirror the complement of his prior misguided life as his relationship with God develops and strengthens. No longer selfish, he is selfless; instead of taking, he will give; not demanding, he serves.
Having addressed the rehabilitative component of Criminal Justice, it becomes evident how deterrence ceases to be a concern any longer. If properly rehabilitated and educated regarding his purpose in life, the criminal is sufficiently deterred. While he may no longer want to run the risk of further incarceration in the future by continuing with his errant behavior, the criminal’s primary concern will be with how his actions affect his relationship with God. There can exist no better deterrent than this. The criminal’s concern is no longer getting away with crime but, rather, avoiding it altogether. Fulfillment of his purpose in life does not depend on whether the criminal is found out, arrested, convicted, and jailed as a result of his actions; for God knows either way and it is how the criminal is viewed in God’s eyes, not society’s, that matters. No longer is he solely concerned with maintaining his freedom while exploiting others. Rather, the criminal occupies himself with identifying and fulfilling God’s Will which, in turn, allows him to remain free. The material and worldly benefits he now enjoys are not the ends he seeks, but instead represent the fruits of the criminal’s relationship with God. These may be deservedly and rightly enjoyed and even further utilized to others’ benefit as the criminal’s relationship with God continues to develop and grow. However, the real intrinsic value in his life is not the fruits themselves but, rather, the effect of these; the criminal’s relationship with God.
Rehabilitation and deterrence follow from God’s Justice, but our consideration of it nicely complements other of His Attributes as well. It provides a good example of how God’s Attributes dont act alone in their manifestation of worldly Goodness but, instead, in concert with the rest. The criminal makes poor choices detrimental to his purpose in life to know God. He is unhappy and perhaps apprehended, tried, convicted, and jailed for his crimes. God’s Justice prevails. If successfully rehabilitated and educated to realize and fulfill his purpose, the criminal mends his errant ways and develops a loving spiritual relationship with God. Again, God’s Justice prevails. Based on his perspective, the criminal gives and acts in service to others. He and society benefit and the criminal’s relationship with God strengthens. Yet again, God’s Justice prevails. As a result of his selflessness and devotion to God through others, the criminal inspires others to seek a similar path. Once again, God’s Justice prevails.
What can be drawn from this concerning God’s other Attributes? Consider His Grace and Mercy; for these clearly are at work alongside the sowing of Justice. The criminal’s poor choices create consequences which are perceived to entail hardship and suffering for both himself and others. But out of these circumstances graciously and mercifully emerge an opportunity for the criminal to finally fulfill his purpose in life to know God. Thus, the effects of God’s Justice are tempered by His Grace and Mercy as would be the case with of any of His other Attributes relative to the rest. Justice’s perceived hardship and suffering is retributive only to the extent that grace and mercy allow. Conversely, the latter unfolds lovingly with acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding in as much as justice allows.