Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Symbolic Justice. . .

I am not sure what to think about all the investigations of Trump, the outrages over police shootings, the prosecution of Cardinal Pell in Australia, reparations for slavery and the poor treatment of those in the past, and the like.  It does not seem like justice is the goal but more symbolic justice.  In other words, the guilt or innocence of the specific individual seems not necessarily relevant but the quest for holding someone accountable or punishing someone for the presumed sins of the many.  When was our legal system about symbolic justice?  Is it not to be about the guilt or innocence of the accused?

It seems Congressman Nadler has decided that Trump is guilty of something and therefore is looking for evidence that will justify impeachment.  This is a political goal but it is not the pursuit of justice.  Trump is unpleasant by all accounts but we have already had years of searching for complicity or collusion with Russia and found instead largely individual crimes by flawed underlings.  That is apparently not enough for some.

The public and private affronts to police using reasonable but not entirely accurate judgments in split second decisions presumes guilt and implies that the law matters less than symbolic justice against the suffering minorities (even when the offender is a minority).  This is a social goal but it is hardly a legal goal or an accurate usage of the judicial system.  Some have decided that the outcomes were so egregious that the individual guilt or innocence of the accused officers is secondary to the need for public and symbolic justice.

I have never met or know much of anything about Cardinal Pell but I have read that he was exonerated of the charges of which he has now been found him guilty, that he did not have to return to face judicial review but voluntarily gave up his diplomatic immunity, and that his character seems uniformly admired.  Some of my friends have suggested that he was going to be found guilty no matter the facts because Australia needed a scapegoat for the sexual abuse crimes of many priests.  This makes for great headlines but it hardly constitutes a definition of real justice -- if his innocence is true.

Compensation for victims, in this case for the victims of slavery and oppression, is a noble thought but the real victims are long ago buried and the people who would receive such reparations for injustice did not suffer what their ancestors did -- nor would the people paying the bill for such compensation be the guilty ones of old.  It is a great idea on paper but where does it end?  Is this what passes for justice -- the heirs of the oppressed benefit from the heirs of some of those who oppressed them (my own ancestors came to the country around 1900 from Sweden and Germany -- not exactly the plantation owners typified in the slavery of the past).  It is symbolic justice but could it be that symbolic justice is not itself just?

Some have likened the suffering of Jesus as symbolic justice.  God was meeting out the punishment for the guilty on His own innocent Son.  Absent any substitutionary atonement, the best you can make out of the cross of Christ is similar to symbolic justice.  But the Church has maintained that there was nothing symbolic about the suffering of Christ on the cross nor about the fruits of His redeeming work.  This is not a theory of atonement but its fact, not about the idea of justice but the radical new justice of mercy.  Jesus is not some victim chosen by the guilty to satisfy their quest for symbolic justice but the willing victim, who determines the day and the hour of His glory, and who goes to the cross for the joy that is set before Him.

It would seem to me that the world may dabble in symbolic justice but it would be best if the Church did not.  We dare not define Jesus as a mere scapegoat nor can we afford to speak of the cross as anything but the satisfaction for our sins by the innocent victim who goes willingly into its pain and death in order to redeem the guilty and bestow upon them the gift of life.  The categories of symbolic justice are new and fragile and may not even endure the current debate but the divine justice of mercy that triumphs over justice endures forever.  Jesus is no symbolic Savior but a real Redeemer who bleeds and aches and sighs and dies and lays in the ground to rise with the scars of His wounds as the victory marks that beckon us to know Him and the life only He can give.


Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear that you do not know what to think about most of these matters. The ones relatively closes to home, specifically American issues, all seem rather clear cut.

Do you recall the old saying "two wrongs do not make a right"? This applies directly to the imaginary issue of slavery reparations. The endless Trump investigations are simply the acting out of hatred; there is no merit to any of it. And we could go on ...

Pastor Peters, please look a little closer and tell us that you can see more clearly.

Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

Reparations is simply driven by greed and coveting, you want what someone else has. Ask the questions NO ONE can answer: Where does the money come from? Who pays? Who gets it? Name 1 Black person today in America with African roots that would be better off had slavery not occurred and they were living in Africa. Yes it was evil, yes evil happened and discrimination happens today. But who isn't better off too, how God used the evil of slavery to bring greater good to people from Africa.