The last few weeks I have heard some strange things from Christians. Mainly the sentence, “I hope he dies.”
First, it was Kermit Gosnell. The man charged with murder for killing babies he was supposed to abort.
Then it was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second Boston marathon bomber. After the long manhunt that lead to his capture I saw many relieved tweets and status updates that said, “So glad they caught him, can’t wait for him to be brought to justice” or “Hopefully justice will be served” or “Too bad Massachusetts doesn’t have the death penalty, this guy deserves justice.”
And every time I saw the word justice I couldn’t help but think this:
The Old Testament word that we translate as justice is mishpat. It was used in the texts that taught Israel’s civil law and the proper punishment for crimes. But the intention, even in these texts, is to keep punishment from being too harsh. No matter your race, gender, or age, you all get the same mishpat.
In the Old Testament, mishpat is most often used to prescribe the treatment of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor. It is obvious that this was because widows and orphans are social deviants who need to be dragged to the court and have justice doled out.
Actually, that doesn’t sound right at all.
Because mishpat is not about punishment, it is about making sure things are made right.
Justice has two sides. There is the measuring of appropriate consequence for a wrongdoer. But there is also, and this is more important, the restoration of the one wronged. Mishpat has more to do with caring for those who are unable to care for themselves than it does punishing those who do wrong.
You keep using the word justice. But what you mean is vengeance.
Vengeance only has one side: punishment. Our preoccupation with violence and hate has led us to a preoccupation with punishment. And we have changed the name of vengeance to justice in an attempt sanctify our obsession. Hoping a man who killed new-born babies dies or anticipating seeing the police shoot a man on live TV is not justice at all. It’s vengeance, and vengeance is God’s.
Justice is adopting unwanted babies. Justice is giving blood. We are capable of doing mishpat in this world right now.
Vengeance is God’s, but justice is ours.