Restorative Justice

Divine Justice-Social Justice

Divine Justice As Restorative Justice

     With all of the chaos happening in the United States and on the worldwide stage, There is a place in history that has divided our topic into two categories while at the same time there is really only one.  Divine justice includes retributive justice but is better described as relational or restorative justice although they both may seem to contradict one another. But this is not the case.

     First of all divine justice is visible. The Hebrew language for justice means the same as righteousness. In the Bible the meaning overlaps. The death and resurrection of Christ for Christians is the controlling frame of reference for comprehending the true mean of divine justice. The biblical notion of righteousness refers broadly to doing, being, declaring, or bringing about what is right. Righteousness is a comprehensively relational reality. It is something that inheres in our relationships as social beings. To be righteous is to be true to the demands of a relationship, whether that relationship is with God or with other persons. To be unrighteousness – say, through criminal activity – is to violate the meaning of the relationship. When such violations occur, offenders stand in need of restoration. But the goal of the punishment is not to maintain some abstract cosmic balance, but to put right what has gone wrong, to protect the community, and to restore the integrity of its life and its relationship with God. Justice is satisfied by the restoration of peace to relationships, not by the pain of punishment per se. God’s justice is retributive inasmuch as it is never prejudiced, arbitrary, or impulsive, and is always morally attuned to human deeds and deserts. Yet it focuses not on imposition of retribution on wrongdoers, but the restoration of right relationship.

     The restorative character of biblical justice can be read as one large of story of God’s restorative justice at work. God creates a perfect, harmonious world, one in which everything is as it ought to be, where human beings live in the right relationship with one another, with God, and with the wider created order. For example, Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden; they are alienated from relationship with God, with each other, and with the very ground of their origin. We also see through the preservation of Noah, the call of Abraham, the election and liberation of Israel, the choice of Judah and the house of David as bearer of the messianic see, and the return of Israel from exile and defeat, God patiently works to restore justice to the world. Finally through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God liberates humanity from its subjection to the dominion of sin and death and renews human nature from the inside out.

     The consummation of God’s restorative action will be achieved when sin and death are finally abolished forever, and all creation is set from pain, corruption, and frustration. In revelation, the new heaven and new earth described in this vision is not some replacement planet. It is the world purged of pain, suffering, and tears and permeated with the presence of God. God’s justice is finally vindicated by making all things new.

     Within the bigger story is the legislative level of restorative justice where four obligations devolve on offenders. The first is recognition or remorse, the need to acknowledge guilt or confess the sin. Next is repentance, the determination to make amends, to put things right, to displace fruit worth of repentance. Then the obligation of restitution to the victim, plus additional compensation. Restitution is prescribed frequently in biblical law, based broadly on equivalence of value. The levels of compensation vary according to the seriousness of the offense and the attitude of the offender.

     The fourth obligation on offenders is reconciliation. The crime itself, though perpetrated against another citizen, is perceived also to be a breach of faith with God and a trespass against the Lord. Before God’s forgiveness can be secured through sacrificial offering, reconciliation must be made with the injured party by means of restitution. The restorative priorities of biblical legislation are for most offenses justice was secured through recognition, repentance restitution, and reconciliation – things that served to repair relationships and restore community. Christian justice focuses not on harsh punishment but by biblical standards and unity with sinners and their restoration, not on harsh punishment and rejection, but by acceptance.

     Paul instructs the Corinthians concern their treatment of someone who had violated community standards by offending, in this case, against Paul himself. The community had previously punished the offender, presumably by expulsion, but Paul is concerned that punitiveness does not have the final say. The penalty had succeeded in engendering in the offender being a godly grief that produces repentances. It was now time for the forgiveness and consolation of the offender so that he is not debilitated by grief and shame. The community must reaffirm its love for him by reintegrating him in their midst. If they fail to do so, if the church clings self-righteously or angrily to its punitive stance, it risks being “outwitted by Satan,” whose destructive designs are not secret.

     Knowing God’s justice to be a restoring and renewing justice, the Church is obliged to practice restorative justice in its own ranks and to summons society to move in the same direction. There can be no justification for saying one thing about God’s justice in Church and advocating the opposite in the world.

     The truth of God’s justice is in Jesus, and that justice is a liberating and restoring justice. The Church fails in its vocation if it fails to proclaim, to embody, and to advocate the principles of restorative justice in every sphere of life.


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