Feb 27, 2009

these three remain: faith, hope, and justice

Recently I've been blogging (too much, one might say) about the National Forensic League's March/April vigilantism resolution:
Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.
In an otherwise unrelated blog post by my brother, he gives counsel to a Christian frustrated by a perceived lack of divine inaction in the face of earthly injustice. Matt writes,
Then we come to the problem of lack of fulfillment. The question we must ask ourselves is on what terms we would see justice done–on ours or God's? We pray “Thy Kingdom come,” but if we set the terms for its coming than we shall certainly miss it. The Lord’s justice, in fact, may sometimes be hidden from our sight. We are not allowed to know everyone’s stories, including those who hurt us.

I would suggest, then, that you not give up seeking the Lord’s justice here and now, but if anything renew your efforts. But ensure you are seeking the Lord’s justice, for a transgression has been committed against His child, within the boundaries of His kingdom, and it is much his responsibility as it is his right to avenge it.
Quite unintentionally, my brother makes a formative Christian case against vigilantism: it is too likely to be motivated by vengeance, rather than by what he calls a "purified" desire for justice. Moreover, beyond merely straying into the government's turf, the vigilante risks tampering in God's domain.

So, in a manner of speaking, vigilantism is a matter of faith--and doubt. For the vigilante, "justice delayed is justice denied." But in seeking redress, she places too much faith in her own knowledge of the law, and of the guilt of the accused, and of the best means at her disposal. She doubts the government's potential to ever punish the crime or restore the rule of law. And, ultimately, the vigilante lacks patience to wait for God's timing. After all, vengeance is His, and He will repay.

Update: My brother's further thoughts on the subject turn the sketch into a painting.


Anonymous said...

This argument is flawed in that if we follow it to its logical conclusion, no man(including the government) should ever attempt to handle injustice.

Governments are made of men, so flawed. You could say governments are likely to be motivated by vengeance(and they have been in the past), so they should not attempt to handle injustice, but instead should leave it up to God.

"But in seeking redress, she places too much faith in her own knowledge of the law"

The same could be said of governments. There knowledge of the law is nothing next to an all powerful being. Governments should never interfere in crimes, because doing so means placing "too much faith in her own knowledge of the law"

Jim Anderson said...

I disagree.

1. Government agents are not, in the vast majority of cases, personal victims of the crime. They are far more likely to be dispassionate. Furthermore, they are more likely to be committed to due process safeguards as a matter of course.

2. The vigilante's knowledge of the law (and by "the law" I do not mean "moral law," but the "law of the land") is not likely very detailed, unless she is a criminal attorney or judge. (Can most citizens, for example, distinguish Murder 1 from Murder 2, and Murder 2 from manslaughter?) Thus, her punishment is more likely to be disproportionate, and her search for justice will lack due process safeguards, especially when combined with the motivation of vengeance.

3. Government officials (and by this, of course, I mean police officers, D.A.s, judges, and the like) not only have to pass educational and moral hurdles to attain their positions, but are (at least in standard social contract theory) beholden not only to God and their conscience but to those they represent.

Anonymous said...

1. I am not disagreeing with your points. The problem is that your comparing it to God. God is a perfect being. No man, regardless of how well suited, could ever be compared to God. While government agents may be better at justice then a vigilante, they nowhere near approach the level of justice a perfect being could reach.

2. By stating "And, ultimately, the vigilante lacks patience to wait for God's timing. After all, vengeance is His, and He will repay.", it seems to me that you believe the vigilante should wait for God to dispense justice. The same could be same for governments. God is infinitely better prepared to dispense justice than a government.

3. So then why should a government ever get involved if God will "repay" anyway? And why could the same not be said about a vigilante?

4. If a perfect being is going to solve a problem, then it would be pointless(even harmful) for people.

The reason vigilantes and governments get involved is because they don't believe a perfect being will solve the problem. They believe that unless they step in, peoples will be harmed without recourse.

Jim Anderson said...

But you're forgetting (at least, from the traditional Christian perspective) the presumption in favor of government authority. It is seen as "good enough" for the purpose of maintaining social order and earthly justice. (See Romans 13 and several hundred years of theologizing to this effect.)