Written by Vladimir Moss



     The death of the former IRA Chief of Staff Martin McGuinness, and the interesting and varied reactions to it in the British press today, raise the question: How important is justice? Is it a primary or secondary value? Can it be sacrificed for another value, such as love or peace?

     One of the most powerful arguments of the atheists is: how can we believe in God when we see so much injustice in the world, where so many innocents suffer and die while criminals get away with murder? Supposing that He exists, then why does He not prevent it or punish it? If He cannot prevent it or punish it, then this shows that He is not omnipotent – in which case He is not God as we usually understand the word “God”. And if He can prevent or punish it, but doesn’t, then this shows that He is not just or loving – in which case, again, He is not God as we usually understand that term. “Where is the God of justice?”

     This is an old question, and not a trivial one. It was raised in the Psalms, in Malachi (2.17), and then by the martyrs under the altar in Revelation (6.10), and has probably been pondered on by every thinking Christian ever since. There is an answer to it, as there is to all the great questions – which is not to say that atheists will be satisfied by it. But before coming to that answer, let us first ponder the fact that should astonish the atheists even more than God’s supposed injustice: that the love of justice is so powerful in human beings. The victims of Martin McGuinness’ IRA bombings, who lost husbands or wives or sons or daughters in them, and then had to see the man hailed as a “peace-maker” and shake the hand of the Queen of England, burn with the most powerful feelings of injustice, and will not be satisfied by the argument that he should be acquitted in the court of public opinion because, while admitting his crimes[1] and showing no remorse for them, he nevertheless changed tactics (only because the old tactics failed) and became a major player in a successful peace process that has prevented the committing of many more murders – and in the meantime brought him honour and glory that he never dreamed of and certainly never deserved.

     Where does this love of justice come from? It has no analogy in animal natures: animals get angry, and lash out at their tormentors, but they neither pursue lofty ideals nor harbour grievances that drive – sometimes poison - the whole of their lives. The pursuit of justice is found only in human beings made by God in His image, the image of the God of justice. Of course, the atheists will find some completely arbitrary and ad hoc explanation deriving from Darwinist theory to explain the love of justice in men. But who can believe such stupidity?

     No rational person with a moral sense can deny that the love of justice, even if perverted at times into an insatiable desire of revenge, is one of the facts about man that raises him above the level of animality. There is no way it can be interpreted as promoting the long-term survival of the species. On the contrary: animal species survive without any love of justice. But the human species could well destroy itself – and has come close to destroying itself already – because of wars fought for the sake of justice. For from where do the socialist and nationalist revolutions gain their motive power if not from the love of justice – albeit a false and perverted understanding of it?

     It seems that men can live neither with themselves nor with others without justice; and this not simply because justice presupposes rules of conflict resolution that are useful for the survival of the species and individual human communities, but because justice is seen by men (or at any rate, some men) as a goal far higher than survival, being desirable for its own sake, to the extent that men, both individually and collectively, will risk their own lives rather than accepting injustice. That is why there is a general revulsion at certain major injustices – for example, Chamberlain’s pact with Hitler at Munich in 1938 – even though these could well be justified on the grounds of the survival of the nation and the prevention of war. Another such “justified injustice” is the Good Friday Agreement that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland, when the murderer McGuinness played his famous “peace-maker” role and leading IRA murderers were secretly given exemption from prosecution in exchange for laying down their arms. Many – most – think this was justified. Others – the families of the victims and others – think that it was unjust, and that no possible peace could justify the sacrifice of justice it involved. Unfortunately, it is not unknown to see terrorists and murderers become even heads of states when their terrorist aims have been achieved, as a result of which they acquire not only immunity from prosecution, but even take on the role of judges and avengers in relation to other kinds of terror. The injustice of this is obvious; the only question is: can it be justified in view of some supposedly higher end? But whether or not a particular compromise with injustice can be justified, it is recognized to be in any case a compromise, in that justice is sacrificed for something else. In other words, justice is recognized to be a great value, the abandonment or reduction of which for whatever reason is always a loss. But such an attitude is anything but animalian, and implies that there are higher – or at least equal – values than mere survival, the preservation of life, one of which is justice.

     Having established that the love of justice is an ineradicable aspect of human nature that cannot be reduced to anything animalian, the next thing we must recognize is that it does not and will never exist on earth. For as the wise Solomon says: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill” (Ecclesiastes 9.11). We may aspire to a meritocratic society, but we will never achieve it – the world is simply not constructed in such a way as to reward true merit.

     And yet the ideal remains as powerful as ever. Moreover, believers know that there is a God of justice Who will blot out every injustice – not here, but in the heavens, where true righteousness dwells. And if the atheists say that this is simply “pie-in-the-sky” theorizing, mere wish-fulfilment, we reply: not only the greatest wishes of the righteous will be fulfilled there, but also the greatest fears of the unrighteous. For we are talking about real justice here! So those who do not believe in God because they see no justice on earth need not worry: the McGuinnesses of this world will not escape justice in the end…

     In fact, it is those revolutionaries and liberals who believe that it is in principle possible to establish justice upon earth, in this fatally corrupt and fallen world, who are fantasizing. For let us consider certain facts. In order to establish justice in the life of any individual man, we must know precisely who he is and what he deserves. And in order to know that, we need to know not only all his thoughts and desires to the smallest detail, but also all his strengths and weaknesses, both inherited and acquired, and all the influences that have worked upon him since his birth and even before his birth. Only a truly omniscient Being can know all these factors and their interactions, and weigh up their precise significance, excusing the man where excuses are justified and rejecting them where they are not.

     And then, in order to give this man his just deserts, the whole of his life must be ordered in such a way that by the end of it he is neither unjustly happy nor unjustly wretched. Only a Being that is not only omniscient but also omnipotent can accomplish this! We as believers know that such a Being does indeed exist. He is the God of justice, Whose existence is not only the source of our love of justice but also the basis of the very rationality of the belief that justice is an ideal worth striving for… But we also know that He will not accomplish this in this world, but only in the life of the age to come, when He comes to judge the living and the dead and render unto each man according to his deeds…

     Although only God can know what is truly just and bring true justice to pass, we must strive for it to the extent that our feeble and fallen faculties allow. That means that even when we see injustice apparently triumphing, we must neither indulge in futile rage or revolutionary fantasies, nor lose a godly hatred of injustice or faith in its final overthrow. For God has placed the love of justice in our souls in the image of His own supremely passionate love of justice. It was this love of justice that drove Him to send His Only-Begotten Son into the world to offer the supreme and all-encompassing Sacrifice for the sins of the world, so as to restore peace and justice between God and man.For, as St. John of the Ladder writes: “God is called love, and also justice.”[2]


March 9/22, 2017.

Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.

[1] Stephen Glover writes: “Former Tory Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley, whom I know to be an honourable man, has testified in the House of Commons that McGuinness told him that he had 12 Catholic informers killed in Northern Ireland” (“Mentioning McGuinness in the same breath as Mandela? I really do despair”, The Daily Mail, March 22, 2017, p. 16).

[2] St. John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 24.23.

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