Love and Justice -- working with definitions
Are justice and love competing values or are they partners? I think the answer to this question is rooted in definitions. If we start with the definitions offered by the American legal system, then perhaps that's not possible. But when we work with biblical terms, it might be different. Scripture offers a variety of definitions of justice, some of which are suggestive of vindication and punishment, but there are other definitions that suggest something very different. Of course, how we define love is involved as well.
Although proof-texting isn't fair sport, I do want to start this portion of the conversation with a text from Jeremiah that brings love together with justice and righteousness:
23 Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; 24but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24).
There are, of course many more texts that affirm that God desires justice -- most often in regard to the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. God makes it clear that God is interested in how we treat those on the margins -- a view that is clearly stated in Matthew 25.
It would probably be helpful to have in front of us a useful definition of love, and as I've noted in earlier posts, I find the definitions of love offered by Tom Oord to be most helpful. I think that we can start our conversation by using Tom's definition of agape love, which has many links to the biblical concept of justice. So, we begin with a definition of love:
Agape is intentional sympathetic response to promote overall well-being when confronted by that which generates ill-being. (Defining Love, Brazos, p. 43).
If we can define injustice as that which generates ill-being, then love responds to that reality. Justice requires of us that we resist and change that which is evil so that good may prevail.
But what is justice? I'm not saying that the biblical definitions don't involve vindication and restitution, but I would say that the ultimate point of justice has to do with matters of reconciliation and restoration. Paul Tillich suggests that creative justice is the form of reuniting love (Tillich, Love, Power and Justice, p. 66). I can't do justice to Tillich's definitions, but it is clear that he believes that love and justice can't be separated from each other. Consider this:
Love does not do more than justice demands, but love is the ultimate principle of justice. Love reunites; justice preserves what is to be united. It is the form in which and through which love performes its work. Justice in its ultimate meaning is creative justice, and creative justice is the form of reuniting love. (Tillich, p. 71).
Paul calls this reconciliation, which God is seeking to accomplish in our midst (2 Corinthians 5).
Since I started this portion of the conversation with a text from Jeremiah, I'll offer a passage from Micah 6, a passage many of us are quite familiar with:
6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord,and bow myself before God on high?Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,with calves a year old?7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;and what does the Lord require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness,and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:6-8).
Of course this doesn't end the conversation -- it just gives us more to chew on!