And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:8
Given the many recent tragic events all over the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘justice’. The framework of my thoughts are in situ of my life’s context right now, which is that of legal study. From my almost 4 months in law school, I’ve been entrenched in the many forms ‘justice’ can take on, as well as the diversity of methods in achieving those results within our democratic system.
The many checks between branches of government, the power and authority of each, and the umbrella of protection, precedent, and power that is the Constitution, make up a complex yet somewhat navigable framework for our own lives as citizens of the United States. But, there is so much that we do not know, see, or hear by virtue of position and circumstance, and even more that we can never know, see, or hear because of positions and circumstances outside of our realm of control – things beyond the control of any one human, nor any collective, nor any branch, document, or court ruling.
So, what is ‘justice’? I offer that at the root of this question, at its foundation, is another fundamental question – what is ‘being’?
The dictionary defines ‘justice’ as “just behavior or treatment; the quality of being fair and reasonable; the administration of law or authority in maintaining this.” Who measures how we should behave? How we should be treated? What is fair? What is reasonable? And how can you possibly begin to ‘justly’ enforce these measures?
The other night I was watching Chef’s Table, an excellent Netflix documentary series of some of the world’s most renowned chefs. Francis Mallman, a spectacular Patagonian chef with an affinity for food, fire, and the freedom of the wild, went into his vocation “by the theater of it – the flowers, the table, the music, the decor, the happiness.” He was inspired by feeding the “way people were made to feel.” How are we made to feel? What is it that makes us alive? What is it that makes us move to act – in ways good or bad?
Our feelings are contingent on a multitude of factors that dance with the movement of the clock and the change in seasons. The way we feel is based on a mixture of elements – the current stage of our lives, the condition of our heart, worries of the day, memories and experiences of the past, and hopes for the future – all contained within the constraints of our physical being.
This friction between the finite physical being and the ever expansive emotional, intellectual, and spiritual being is both the framework and substance of our behavior. It dictates how we treat others, and how we process the ways others treat us. It decides what is fair and what is reasonable, and it is also always in flux. Constantly moving, constantly changing. The only constant is change, and that is the nature of our being. So, I wonder how can we know what is ‘just’ in this world?
Does one cause over another deserve justice? Does one incident over another deserve support? Does one person over another deserve retribution? Does one being over another deserve life? The finite physical answer is no. But the solution is emotional. It’s intellectual. It’s spiritual. We must strive to connect, empathize, and act in support of and love for all – within the limits and bounds of our physical capabilities. No more good can be done, if the doer can no longer do good for self.
So, ‘justice’, I think has been overdue for its own just treatment. It is not merely a means for triumph, nor retribution, nor sanctioning just deserts. Justice challenges humanity to take a deeper more harsh look at the state of our being – the way we feel, the way we perceive those feelings, and what we do with them going forward for the benefit of the collective being.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” – William B. Yeats
Like all things, the closer you look, things fall apart. But, I think within the rubble there is the potential to rebuild our perceptions of the most fundamental governing principles of our existence so that we may act justly, love mercifully, and walk humbly.
Prayers for peace and love for all people in all places, because truly, we are in it together.