Life is not fair

You know your toddler is becoming a human being when she says: “mine” and “it’s not fair”!

These two expressions stay with us into old age. Sure, we camouflage them with socially acceptable behaviour. But if we are going to be honest, a lot of us go through life with a “mine” and “it’s not fair” world view.

A tooth for a tooth

When God constituted the Jewish people into a nation, He gave them laws to help them curb their insatiable need for “mine” and “it’s not fair” (justice). In the book of Leviticus, we read these wise words… “Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted— a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind.”  (Lev 24:19-20).

That certainly does feel like justice.

Jesus messes things up

Then Jesus comes along and says, You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also”. (Matt 5:38).

“Offering the other cheek” presents a justice problem.

Three forces

I think there are at least three, maybe four forces at play when we think about our human interactions and justice. They are, justice, mercy and grace. (And maybe revenge as well)

Justice is; you hit me in the eye, I hit you back in the eye. It makes sense and it is fair.

Revenge is; you hit me in the eye, I retaliate and hit you in both eyes. (Then you hit me in the eye again, plus you punch me in the jaw. Then I ….. and so it goes on)

Mercy is; you hit me in the eye, then apologise, and I show you mercy and forgive you and spare your eye. I don’t demand justice.

The way of Grace

Grace says, whether you apologise or not, I choose a higher road of not demanding justice and I forgive you, and bring an end to our violent interaction.

Now, I can almost hear you shout, “that’s not right”. And I concur, it’s nor right (or just). It’s messy! And once the force of grace enters the equation, things get messy. And we don’t like messy. But grace breaks the cycle of revenge.

2 Routes of justice

Justice can take two possible routes, punitive justice or restorative justice. The “eye for the eye’ justice is punitive. The person gets punished for their crime.

Restorative justice is the “grace way”. “Turning the other cheek” is not a denial of an offence. It’s the messy way of seeking redemption. It’s the process of resolving why someone was slapped in the face in the first place.

Restorative justice is messy because it may not always end well, and forgiveness will need to be extended. But it will break the cycle of violence for the one that chooses the grace way. And that one, will experience what it is to be a human being.


Grace always wins!


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