Every Wednesday in my neck of the woods, a handful of guys get together to talk and pray about God, life, work, marriage, and whatever else happens to come up before breakfast. One member of our group is a lawyer, and today we got on to the topic of justice and the irregular and inconsistent nature of its application in the Canadian system. To cite just one example (among a handful we talked about), there were back to back court cases where hunting an animal out of season resulted in a (much) more severe punishment than a clear cut case of spousal abuse. Amazing.
At one point in the conversation, someone remarked that it was a wonder that there weren’t more instances of vigilante justice given the lamentable state of affairs in the criminal justice system. Indeed. It is extremely difficult to hear stories of horrific abuse and violence (this one is on many minds around here) and not have some sympathy for this view. So often the system seems designed to protect the offender rather than the victim. Justice is only ever partially served, if it is served at all, and it can be difficult not to feel angry and vindictive when this reality is brought into stark view.
Not surprisingly, these feelings bump up pretty uncomfortably against my Anabaptist convictions that we are to emulate Christ in loving and praying for our enemies and refusing to resort to violence. Even when everything within me screams “eye for eye,” I hear another voice saying “do not resist an evil person.” This voice isn’t always easy to hear, much less obey, but as a follower of Jesus I have to believe that this voice trumps my own desire to see vengeance and retribution here and now. I have to believe that divine justice is real, that is better and more reliable than anything we can come up with, and that it can justify and ground the command to not retaliate. But it sure is easy to say that when it’s not my daughter, or my wife that is the victim of violent crime…
I was thinking of these matters this morning while leafing through Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion & Embrace. Volf does a good job, I think, of simultaneously offering a compelling argument for human nonviolence and grounding this response in belief in belief in a God who is both good and just (as opposed to saying, for example, that we ought to be nonviolent because God is nonviolent). This passage, in particular, leaped off the page as I continue to mull over an interesting morning:
If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence—that God would not be worthy of worship…. The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God…. My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many… in the West…. [But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die… [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.