Three men were arrested for plotting to start a civil war. Senators are in the midst of an impeachment trial to decide the future of Donald Trump’s presidency. The Sussexes shocked everyone with their surprise announcement of stepping back from royal duties.
These are just three headlines among scores with a common thread: a search for justice in these days.
But whose justice?
Differing perspectives on justice
In the case of the plotting men, they desire racial justice favoring white people. Their hope stands in stark contrast to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work for justice, celebrated just days after the three men were arrested.
Dr. King gave his life working to ensure African Americans can enjoy the same dignity and rights as their white counterparts. He didn’t just deliver rousing and quotable speeches. He was beaten, jailed and eventually murdered as he worked for justice, which included calling oppressors to account.
In the case of the president of the United States, again there are two versions of justice. One version wants the president to answer for his actions by being removed from office. The other version wants to safeguard the presidency from political attacks seen as undermining the office of the president.
Both sides are hanging their reputations and political careers on their pursuit of justice. Neither side is staking their lives, but they are calling one another to account.
As for the royals, the young couple simply wants to live a normal life, whatever that is. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, wants better for Meghan Markle and Archie than his mother received.
Having grown up in the shadow of his mother’s death, blamed by justice seekers on the paparazzi, Harry wanted “a more peaceful life” for his family. If peace requires a royal to leave the palace, then for Harry and Meghan the choice is peace. According to Isaiah, peace and justice go hand in hand (Isaiah 59:8).
Tabloids told of the monarchy bristling with “fury” because it wasn’t consulted or notified before the Sussexes broke the news to the public. Bristling is what people do in response to a perceived injustice. For the monarchy, peace—and by extension, justice—requires not rocking the boat.
We all want justice … on our terms
Describing the above perspectives on justice as I have may give them the appearance of being equal. Are these differing views of justice on par with one another? No.
Each view places, or privileges, one person or group of people over another. Any view of justice that privileges one person or group of people over another is not justice. Justice is derived from God’s law, and the Bible repeatedly declares God does not show favoritism.
Herein lies a significant part of the trouble with justice in this world: When is one person or group of people privileged over another? We all want justice—and privilege—but we more easily see ourselves as wronged than as privileged. We know when we have been wronged, when we’ve been the recipient of injustice, but we don’t always agree that someone else has been wronged.
The result of this disagreement over wrongs is a ratcheting up of tensions and offenses as the offender and the offended seek justice. Tit for tat becomes eye for an eye becomes Sherman’s march to the sea. A current example of this back and forth search for justice is being played out between the United States and Iran. What will it take for both to achieve justice? We are afraid to find out.
Our place on the long arc of justice
The back and forth of seeking justice is worked out not just over a single lifetime but spans generations. People have been seeking justice on their own terms since Cain and Abel. This is why the Middle East is entrenched in conflict. This is why Dr. King’s work was so hard and was resisted so stridently. Four hundred years of slavery and oppression leaves a lasting wake.
Coming back to the three examples above: What do we have to do with failed civil war plans, pending impeachment decisions and royal family relations? Can we have any effect on these kinds of things? More than we might realize.
Rather than dismissing our influence because it seems so small in comparison to such big stories, we might consider a more accessible example, like the brawl at the end of the Kansas vs. Kansas State basketball game on Jan. 21. A brawl is about seeking justice. The way justice was sought in that moment is a reflection of character. What lifelong influences were revealed by those players in those few seconds of fighting?
Forming the character of children who will become basketball players seen by millions of people on TV can be an act of justice.
Will justice be achieved when all white supremacists are arrested, impeachment decisions conclude correctly or royal families get to live normal lives? Hardly.
Justice is a long arc because it is made of all the things we do to give rise to racial injustices, government corruption, family disputes and athlete misbehavior. Justice is a long arc because it is made of all the things we do in the wake of such things.
Justice also is a long arc because it is made of what average people do on an average day. And what an average person does on an average day is an expression of that person’s character. And character doesn’t suddenly appear; it develops.
Giving attention to our own search for justice
We would do well, then, to give attention to our own character more than the misdeeds of others. Are we people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—qualities against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23)?
Or are we the kind of people who either turn a blind eye to racial injustice or encourage it through propagating stereotypes, systemic biases and violence against others? Are we the kind of people who tolerate misbehavior by politicians because it’s the lesser of two evils? Are we the kind of people who idolize the famous to the point of devouring them? Are we the kind of people who make winning at all cost the supreme value?
Our character produces our actions—or fruit, to use the biblical metaphor—and our fruit will show us for what we are. The fruit of our character will bend the long arc either toward or away from justice.
To God’s people, the “Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’” (Zechariah 7:9-10). To do these things requires deep and godly character.
In our search for justice—and we’re all seeking it—can justice be found in us?
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.