“Excessive zeal for justice always becomes satanic.”
That line comes from Walter Wink’s landmark study of the demonic: Unmasking the Powers. His point is not to disparage our need for justice but to season it with mercy, lest “Lady J” transform into, simply, “the accuser” (ha satan).
“Justice” often turns, like sour milk, to vengeance.
A similar theme exists in this provocative claim by Alan Jacobs:
When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness.
The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness.
Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.
I’ve written on this before (here); but a similar point has now been made by a third and final figure: the famous atheist/neuroscientist, Sam Harris.
In reference to a recent spate of social media mobs that have called for the names, addresses, and (practically) the firstborn children of perceived offenders, Harris laments the fact that our modern culture has lost its ability to forgive (or even hear the evidence) amid its fervor for “justice.”
“We have to have a way back,” said Harris in a recent interview, regarding how the social media mob descends on certain persons with seemingly no mercy and no possibility of repentance or forgiveness.
Is there a lesson here from these three statements?
If anything, it is that a thirst for “justice” is not always an unalloyed good. We need mercy too. And humility (Mic 6:8).
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