Is There Perfect Justice?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

The trial of Louise Woodward, the British au pair accused of murdering an infant in her care, obviously sparked controversy.

The jury's conviction and the judge's subsequent rulings caused diverse feelings of injustice, on both sides of the case. Many felt the initial verdict of murder in the second degree was unjust. But when Judge Hiller Zobel later reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter and sentenced Woodward to time served, many felt a different injustice had been done. On a broader level, many people saw unfairness in the system; injustices, they said, occur regularly but receive no such attention because defendants, many of them minorities, lack the resources and the public support Woodward had.

Can justice ever be perfect? Most jurors and judges take their obligations seriously. But no one would be likely to claim that human justice is 100 percent perfect.

Keeping the impact of the system's imperfections to a minimum is a noble goal. And seeking and securing a higher, more perfect justice invites something from us all. It requires our watchful prayer.

There has been progress over the centuries; justice systems in many countries have come far. While now seeming primitive, the ancient standard of "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" was itself an advanced standard of fairness at a time when one person's intentional or unintentional crime might be avenged by wholesale slaughter.

Yet, true justice cannot rest on such a basis. The founder of this newspaper, referring to the Old Testament law "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," wrote: "... this law is not infallible in wisdom; and obedience thereto may be found faulty, since false testimony or mistaken evidence may cause the innocent to suffer for the guilty. Hence the gospel that fulfils the law in righteousness, the genius whereof is displayed in the surprising wisdom of these words of the New Testament: 'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' No possible injustice lurks in this mandate, and no human misjudgment can pervert it; for the offender alone suffers, and always according to divine decree. This sacred, solid precept is verified in all directions in Mind-healing, and is supported in the Scripture by parallel proof" (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings, Pgs. 65-66).

When I'm tempted to get upset at injustices done against anyone, I find it helpful to ponder that statement and to pray for my own clearer understanding of the nature of justice. I feel those words point to something more at work, beyond the human assessment of criminal evidence and human penalties. They point to the existence of a perfect system of justice, forever established and always accessible - God's spiritual law.

Christ Jesus illustrated this divine law by healing, and he showed it to be neither abstract nor arbitrary. His healings were practical proofs that God's law is powerful, just, and beyond reproach, and that it is available to all.

But Jesus also taught that under God's law no sin goes unpunished, whether or not one's peers recognize the committal of crime. Jesus made it plain that God's law of justice is incisive enough to accurately punish sinful thinking - even when it has not resulted in a criminal action. Under divine jurisprudence, it's not whether one can get away with a crime or not that counts; the important question is whether God ever allows evil to go unpunished. And the answer is that He does not.

Sin - seen or unseen, merely thought about or acted out - has inevitable, negative consequences for the sinner. These are designed to awaken him or her to the need to repent (have a change of thought) and reform (improve). The recognition and renouncement of sinful beliefs and intents bring the reward of God's law - His total forgiveness of all sins that are truly outgrown.

God punishes sin, which He does not create. He does not punish His children, who reflect His nature. It's precisely because we are all made in His image that we are not sinners; that is, sin is no part of our true nature. This absolute fact is perceived humanly in degrees of moral improvement.

In divine justice, there is no further punishment when sin is overcome. And this is perfect justice.

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