Overcoming Our Overwhelming Desire for Justice

In this era of instant access, we are flooded with stories of the shortcomings of others. The mistakes and misconduct of celebrities as well as the relatively anonymous are advertised on social media as well as the main line media. The depravity of people is almost celebrated.

To consider these stories a “celebration” of the mistakes of others may seem too drastic, but is it? Haven’t we become a society similar to the era of Roman citizens gathering in the coliseum to watch the death and manipulation of others?

Through it all, we have become a society of judges. We view the news, reality shows and internet communities with a lens that filters the information so that we can form immediate opinions on who is right and who is wrong. We decide based on the fraction of information we are given access to who is “right” and who is “wrong” in a given situation. Then, with this freshly formed judgment, we engage in online debate and justification of our position with increasing conviction and pride related to our conclusion.

Underneath it all, we are allowed multiple opportunities every hour to find somebody more screwed up than us, as far as we can tell. As a result, we can rest in our own junk as justified by comparison. The judgments we pass validate our own shortcomings and, as a result, we stall out in our own growth. We settle for less than we were created to be because at least we are not as bad as “them.”

Judgment is a difficult burden and one that should not be taken lightly. The decisions we make when residing in our position as judge over the lives of others either in the media or in our personal lives have consequences. Every time we choose justice over grace, we get to apply that same standard to how we view ourselves. We live with the burden of right and wrong and good and bad and strive to perform according to our version of the law.

Once the burdens are too heavy and we realize that we really just can’t do the deal ourselves, then and only then do we find room for grace. We cry out to be relieved of the burdens of performance. When we are shown grace in a personal and transformative way, we view the problems of others with increased restraint on our judgment. If that revelation of grace occurs at all is determined by the Source of grace in the first place. His name is Jesus.

The Grace of Race

Public outcry, eloquent articles, denouncement, arrests and prosecutions or other reactive measures following Charlottesville won’t change the nation. The attempts will bring justice and/or clarify positions, but they won’t heal the condition that has resulted in these types of problems. The rhetoric and outbursts come from deeper roots.

President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, tweeted recently, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love . . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hate and anger have been fostered on the extremes of the race equation in America and there are incremental shades of hurt sewn all through the fabric of our nation. Without assessment of cause and origin, it’s fair to say that somebody has to go first to step towards healing.

People learn to hate because they hurt and fear. Anger is a secondary emotion. The healing of the hurt and the alleviation of fear will remove the anger, hate and rage. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incremental.

There is no program, policy or procedure that will fix it. There is only love. Love can only be transferred on heart at a time.

Transferring love one heart at a time requires grace. To give love, the person it is being given to must first be received. They must be received despite the fact that they are a person. A flawed, offensive, and even wrong person. The way to change their offensiveness is to receive them and love them. Ugh; right in the middle of their stuff that we want to react negatively to and maybe even punish.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to react to others like this. Only Christ followers. Only those that have been received by Him with His grace. Then, from the grace received from Jesus, we can distribute it to others. We don’t have to manufacture it.

This approach, however, is contrary to justice. There are arguments to be made which are based in justice that will tear down the call to give grace in order to impart love. That’s a choice; justice over grace. That’s a show stopper.

One heart at a time, grace upon grace, we are invited to love others. Jesus is in the reconciliation business and if you have been reconciled to Him, then you are qualified to join Him in that purpose (2 Corinthians 5). That’s what He’s doing, one heart at a time. We are invited to join Him.

My Reaction to the Reaction to Grace for Kaepernick

colinIt’s a slippery slope when we start putting conditions on the receipt of grace. When I start thinking that the things that you do leave you outside of grace then the things that I do could leave me outside of grace, too. How I give grace impacts how I view it and how I view grace will impact how capable I am of receiving it.

I wrote an article the other day on Colin Kaepernick and it has gotten some attention. While most of the attention was positive, I also drew some criticism. I got called “liberal” and some other things, but I’m not at all offended. I’m stirred by the fact that the negative responses were predominately from professing Christians.

When asked how to pray, Jesus taught (in part), “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” There is a flow through of forgiveness. There is a flow through of grace.

Jesus died for everyone. Liberals, conservatives, whites, blacks, Americans and non-Americans. A myopic view of the scope of grace limited to our particular need for grace is a distortion of grace.

The only burden of grace is the burden to allow it to flow through us. When we realize our own depravity and the grace we have been afforded through Jesus, we are humble in how we respond to the depravity of others. When we forget that we have been forgiven of some pretty cruddy stuff, we no longer forgive others as we are forgiven.

Jesus doesn’t stop forgiving us as we stop forgiving others but we stop realizing it. When there is no flow through, there is no realization. When we don’t offer grace to others, we won’t recognize it for ourselves.

When we don’t realize our depravity and the need for grace, we are wide open to pride. We are prone to thinking we are good Christians, keeping the law. We then use the law and distorted versions or bits and pieces of it to judge others. Our judgments cause us to become bitter and angry as we increasingly forget the grace that keeps us from judgement ourselves.

As far as I know, Colin doesn’t know Jesus and some others that rally to his defense certainly won’t. I’d rather extend a bridge of grace that affords relationship which could lead to eternal salvation than foster divisions based in temporal things. That’s not liberal, it’s the Gospel.




Three Parts of Justice & Mercy


Water BibleAs a criminal defense attorney, I consistently sought justice. Even where a client violated the law, justice required due process and a “not guilty” finding where they had violated a statute was just if due process was satisfied. The cost of freedom is the benefit of the doubt afforded by due process.

Many of us believe that justice is limited to a particular situation so we evaluate case by case to determine if a person’s actions brought about appropriate consequences. When we have an expectation of what justice should look like and that expectation isn’t met, we can be offended, hurt and angry. Our expectations are subjective, so the potential for disappointment is pretty high.

What if justice is not ours to own? Other than specific delegated authority, what if our opinions regarding justice should be narrowed to only ourselves? Micah 6:8 speaks to our perspective of justice, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The burden for justice in that passage, and more broadly, is to do what is right. In fact, according to that passage, our two responsibilities for action are to act justly and walk humbly. Those are the two first-person action oriented responsibilities contained in the passage. The third person relational responsibility is to love mercy. Mercy is kind of the flip side of the justice coin.

Is forgiveness anything more than the release of our need for justice? When we no longer need there to be an equitable or even fair outcome, but instead we love with mercy, doesn’t that facilitate true, heart level forgiveness?

The interaction of the three requirements of the Lord found in the Micah passage interact wonderfully. We act in ways that are just towards others while in humble relationship with God. In other words, we love God and love people. When people don’t necessarily do they same for us, or when our subjective evaluation of justice is that they haven’t done the same for us, we love them with mercy. We love them with the mercy He gives us.

If we impose a burden that others should act justly, we’ve twisted the Scripture. How they act only requires our loving mercy. When we are able to pull this off, we cannot be offended. Walking in humility with God leads us to this place of not placing burdens of our subjective perspective of justice on others and allows us to simply love.

The Right Reason

Abraham_lincoln_&_usns_mercy_in_company_(by_usn_photographer's_mate_3c_gabriel_r._pipero)When I first started practicing law, I was outside the courthouse one day with a lawyer I was doing some work for. He was telling me about a civil case he had been working on and a discussion he had with his client. The client wanted to pursue litigation and take it to trial because he wanted “justice.” The lawyer told him, rather cynically, that the courtroom was the last place that justice would happen. His point was an attempt to get the client to consider settlement.

I had many clients following that come into my office and want to sue someone or pursue something on principle. I would explain, time and again, that the only person that ends up happy where disputes are fueled by subjective principles are lawyers. Once we get months and dollars into the process, everyone except the attorneys begin to lose interest and passion for once was an unflappable conviction.

I wrote the other day about an action of stepping into forgiveness. The action of forgiveness produces an emotion more than an emotion produces forgiveness. Our emotions will tend to lie to us if we let them and if we submit to the emotions we’ll have a hard time letting go of the offense. We’ll make decisions based in hurt and from anger instead of logical moves to move forward.

Forgiveness is the release of the need for justice. It isn’t releasing the truth of justice, it’s simply not holding control of the justice. It’s allowing the consequences of another person’s actions to be determined by someone or something other than the one that’s hurt. More accurately, forgiveness is allowing God to determine justice without needing to help Him.

If you know Jesus, you know mercy. He didn’t meet you with justice, but mercy. It doesn’t mean that you weren’t guilty; it means that He isn’t going to hold it against you. It means you are forgiven. “Forgive us as we forgive others” is the way He taught us to pray. Forgiveness flows through; we don’t have to be the Source of forgiveness, but we are to be distributors.

The counsel I gave those clients seeking to pursue legal matters on principle didn’t mean that the legal system wasn’t the right place to resolve disputes. It simply meant that the rationale and emotions that motivate litigation need to be grounded in something other than the passion of principle. Even a favorable verdict doesn’t bring internal healing. Only heart level forgiveness can do that.

Minding To Grace

Fulcrum_(PSF)There was a shift, and we stand to benefit. We can not only enjoy the benefit of the shift, but we are actually invited to multiply the benefit to others. The shift was at the fulcrum of mercy and justice.

Justice and mercy require each other in order to be legitimate. Without justice, there is no need for mercy. Justice had to be established for mercy to have its place of value. The shift was through the Blood of Jesus. He satisfied justice so that we could know mercy.

He satisfied justice. It is completely satisfied. We don’t need to help Him with justice. It’s finished. We get mercy.

We are commissioned to make disciples once we become disciples. We get to walk in the mercy we have received and give it to others. We get to tell them the Good News. We are sent into the whole world with all authority to do just that.

Yet, we tend to want to go back to how things were before the shift. Often, we stare at behaviors and measure them against the law. We tend to want to use that evaluation for the purpose of convincing others that they are wrong and we are right. We tend to want to walk in the commissioning of justice, not mercy.

But justice is finished, so how can we add to it? We can’t.

We have been given “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), but we tend to revert back to grace upon justice or justice upon grace. Let’s not rewrite the deal.

We need Jesus to enter the Kingdom and just prior to the promise of “grace upon grace” we see that Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The definition of “full of” there literally includes the saturation of the soul. So, in other words, the soul of Jesus is fully saturated in both grace and truth.

Our soul, by contrast, is a mess. We are in the process of working out our salvation and our soul is in the process of redemption. His Spirit, if it lives within us, will be put on display in the places where we yield our soul. For as long as we are on this earth, however, that is a work in progress.

Our souls are certainly not saturated in grace and truth so we are not equipped to operate in the justice of truth. We are simply recipients of His grace and that mercy is all that we have to give with any credibility. The rest is none of our business.