Blake Wylie at NashvilleFiles tackles the question but only answer it with an example.
So, what is justice? Justice is a government that stays out of people's lives. Justice is a church that understands that helping the poor is advancing the teachings of Jesus. Justice is truth...and as Pilate asked in The Passion, "Quid est Veritas?" ("What is truth?") As a Christian, I challenge other Christians to ask the same of themselves.Well, not really, although I generally agree with those positions.
People like to throw the word "justice" around, but most don't seem to really understand what it means. Mr. Wylie wrote his post in response to a Letter to the Editor of the Tennessean which said:
It is the duty of government to provide jobs for its citizens who want to work. During the depression years, President Roosevelt provided work for all who wanted a job and the pay was sufficient for survival.The writer confuses her preferences with "justice", and her reasoning probably went something like this:
Churches in Nashville are overburdened with request for help also. Yes, charity has its place, but where is justice?
1. Everyone thinks "justice" is good.
2. I think it would be good for everyone to have a guaranteed job.
3. Therefore, justice demands that the government provide everyone a job.
The problems are that (1) is based on a mistaken definition of the word, (2) is nothing more than a personal preference, and (3) doesn't even follow from (1) and (2). As I've written before, there is a difference between justice and mercy, although people commonly confuse the two. She mentions charity, and charity is an act of mercy, not justice. Mercy is giving people something good that they haven't earned. It is sometimes better to be merciful than just, but not always, and both mercy and justice have their place.
Justice is only concerned with enforcing fairness and following the rules, regardless of anyone's evaluation of the consequences. Following the rules is justice, and justice is good. Sometimes following the rules has bad results, and the one in authority would do well to suspend his just claim to fairness in favor of bringing about a better result. But, under justice, the decision to show mercy belongs to the one in authority.
So then, who is the authority over the wealth that the writer wants to distribute mercifully to the poor? She believes the wealth belongs to the government, but that's impossible. Only people can own property, and the government is an agent of people (as is a corporation, for instance). The owners, thus, have the right to decide how their wealth is used, and the only role of justice in the matter is to prevent others from seizing it by force.
Mr. Wylie goes on to argue that there is a higher authority than people, and that this higher authority is actually the owner of everything we possess. I happen to agree, and God does in fact command us to use the wealth he puts under our control to help the poor. Even this, however, is not justice, but an exercise of God's mercy. (Although you might say that justice requires us, as mere stewards and not owners ourselves, to follow God's commands.)
So, finally, we get to it. If the government were to implement God's plan for mercy in the manner he commands it, it would be easy to support. However, the government does no such thing, and there is no possibility that it ever will or could. Thus, any forced governmental redistribution of wealth must be classified as charity and mercy, not justice. It is not justice based on God's authority because it does not follow God's precepts, and it is not justice based on man's authority because it is forced.
In actuality, the vast majority of forced governmental wealth redistribution isn't even mercy, it's theft and bribery. Money is taken from one person and spent on several others to buy their political support. The victim has only a single vote to stack up against the several votes of those who benefit from the theft, and thus the crime perpetuates without end in our democratic system. A desire for real justice would result in an elimination of forced charity.
(HT: Bill Hobbs.)