Life and death, justice, humanity and God

When I was studying theology the first time around, long ago, I remember a discussion about the concepts of justice. Justice, we were taught, could be of one or more of four different characters: retributive, protective, deterrent, or reformative/rehabilitative.

Retributive justice is instinctive. It can feel absolutely right. It meets out like for like, it redresses balance, it soothes the savage beast. It has not always been run through a lens of love; it has not necessarily been run through any mediating factors; it is human; it simply is.

Protective justice aims to prevent a repeat of a heinous act. It applies to sentences such as life without parole, or detention until psychiatric rehabilitation has been achieved. It protects society from the threat of further violence from one inclined to criminal damage. It protects the criminal from further slithers down the slippery slope to inhuman acts.

Deterrent justice seeks to make an example of one individual to deter another from making the same mistakes. This one, it says, is already lost; if you have the information, and/or the imagination, and/or the wherewithal – then learn from this one’s mistakes, instead of making your own.

Reformative/rehabilitative justice seeks to make things right for all of those affected by criminal activity. It aims to reassure the victims that their concerns and injuries are being taken seriously; it promises to try to make society a safer and better place for them to live in by making the people who hurt them take responsibility for what they have done, and teaching them how to do better in the future. It hopes to deter, because it is tough, and to protect, because it takes seriously the harm done, and the future risks of further harm. Most of all, it aims to make things better. For everyone.

What kind of justice appeals the most to you? What kind of justice do you think fits best with the ideals of Christianity, with the teaching and life of Jesus Christ?

What kind of justice do you want to be carried out on your behalf?

As of tonight, the state of Ohio plans to kill Mark Wiles for murder on Wednesday, April 18th, by execution, for the murder of 15-year-old Mark Klima in 1985. Please, if you pray, pray for those who grieve for Mark Klima, for those who grieve for the upcoming death of Mark Wiles; for Mark Klim and for all victims of violence; and for the conversion, reformation and rehabilitation of Mark Wiles and of all those who have used violence.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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3 Responses to Life and death, justice, humanity and God

  1. Ken Ranos says:

    I firmly believe in Restorative Justice, but I often practice Retributive. We’ve been indoctrinated with Retributive Justice and it’s so hard to break out of it.

  2. Eamonn G says:

    What type of justice is Hell?

    • Thanks for an interesting question. Hell is a complex concept. Simplistically, I would offer the response that Hell is what God saves us from, which would mean that Hell is our sin sin, our own defilement – in some sense our own creation (since it would not make much sense for God to save us from God’s own destiny for us). So it’s difficult for me to frame it as a type of justice.

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