Sunday Cereal: Natural and Unnatural Justice

We have all had someone hurt us. Since the earliest moments in life, we all understand justice. That’s not fair! One of the first phrases uttered out of all children’s mouths early in life. Justice and fairness is built into our bones. However, our thoughts on justice are not naturally good.

When someone wrongs us, our natural inclination is revenge. Payback. We want the person who hurt us to hurt like us or sometimes to hurt more. In Harold Kushner’s Living a Life That Mattersthere is a small section that talks about justice, which he splits into two categories: retributive and restorative justice.

Retributive justice is the natural inclination we have as humans. It seeks to deal out revenge. A few years ago, I was hanging out with a friend discussing random theological topics (fun, right?), we got increasingly more aggressive as we debated until there was a breaking point. My friend asked me if I “had even read the Bible”. For some of you this may seem like a silly thing to fuss over, but I was deeply wounded by it. For the past year I had been reading straight through the Bible and was still going strong. So for someone to accuse me of not understanding what I was reading hurt.

I was hurt. Then I was pissed.

I barely talked with him again and now have no idea where he is. But during the time closely after those words were spoken, all I wanted to see was his pain. I desired punishment, I wanted him to feel my pain and then some. I hoped his closest mentors would just tell him he had all sorts of misguided thoughts on God; so childish now that I write it, but it was truly what I wanted.

See retributive justice wants this. It desires punishment, hurt, it wants to incapacitate the free will of the other (prison for example), it desires harm. The end goal is to make them suffer. This is how “natural” human justice works. Eye for an eye.

It’s also how our government works. Which makes sense if it is what we naturally desire and feel when wronged. But is it the best form of justice?

Restorative justice is different.

Instead of revenge, it seeks forgiveness and grace.

Instead of punishing, it seeks repairing.

Instead of incapacitating freewill, it seeks to incapacitate causation.

Instead of harming, it seeks healing.

Restorative justice looks to rebuild those involved, their relationships and the community.

In my story, that looked like a simple task that I forced myself to do. I made a section in my journal and sat down for a few minutes writing out every strength and gift my friend had. His courage, loving heart, hard work ethic, always prayerful, etc. And then I wrote out a prayer that I prayed until I had forgiven him and released my pain. I still have the entry:

Note to friend

In the end, after months, I chose restorative justice. This is, still, a much easier “problem” than many run into. I have not had someone I know raped, or hurt, or killed. And I can’t imagine trying to forgive them. But that doesn’t make it better or right.

Many of you probably already know about the shooting that took place at an Amish community school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006. A man went to the school and shot ten girls, killing five and then taking his own life. In short, members of the community (I am not assuming all) whose daughters had been killed and some permanently injured went to the family of the shooter and expressed their forgiveness. They mourned with the shooter’s family who had also lost a father and husband. They restored the community, the human community.

Retributive justice feels good. Restorative justice creates good. Restorative justice is unnatural.


Do you agree/disagree? Want more explanation? Let me know in the comments!

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