Monday, January 19, 2015

Retributive Justice: Human or Divine?

Last week, I talked about whether God needs to be appeased. The big thing I want to emphasize in this sort of discussion is how embedded ideas of retributive justice are in our society. There is just a fundamental assumption that this is how things work, and of course God works the same way.

A poignant example of this, to me, was when I had jury duty recently. As I was walking into the courthouse, there was a guy with a bullhorn yelling about how people were going to Hell. Another was handing out tracts to everyone entering the courthouse. (Side note: While I hate this sort of representation of Christianity, I'm proud to live in a country where this can occur outside of a government courthouse. Further, what does it say about the claim that Christians are persecuted in the US?)

Having done my undergrad in Berkeley, I'm good at just walking past people trying to hand stuff to me. Trying to keep my temper in check for giving Christians such a bad name, I just said a polite, "No thank you" to the guy with the tract and keep walking. He then aggressively said, "Did you see the sign?!" referring to a cross saying something like, "Do you know God?" I responded, "I'm a Christian," to which he seemed to celebrate with a "Yeah!" So I turned around and said, "But you're doing it the wrong way!" I couldn't help myself. I'm unwilling to let others think I support such behavior.

Moving back from the side rant, what this indicated to me was the tendency many of us have to make assumptions about how things work and what others believe. These individuals were clearly promoting a highly retributive justice God right in front of an institution specializing in retributive justice (let's be honest, the US justice system is fundamentally about retributive justice--it frankly would be difficult to build a different system at this level). In many ways, this was a wise move--it powerfully reinforces the central principles of what they're trying to argue. If you believe in the governmental justice methodology, then it's easy to apply that spiritually.

But what if that application is wrong? What if retributive justice is really a human practicality (or tragedy)? What are we missing if we assume this approach to justice is from God?

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