the 2 sides of the coin of justice and the lack of justice in this world
The police in New York City
They chased a boy right through the park
In a case of mistaken identity
They put a bullet through his heart
(from the song, Heartbreaker, 1973, The Rolling Stones)
Whether referring to a real or an imagined incident, these words tell of injustice.
Often, the first thing that comes into our minds when we hear the term justice is punishment for bad actions, or for the people who commit terrible deeds. Yet, that is only one of the 2 sides of the coin of justice. The other side is some type of recompense for the wronged, for the injured. The making whole of those harmed is sometimes over looked. And, of course, for some – the dead – recompense is not possible, at least not in this world.
We see everyday much injustice around us. As well, the news media day after day informs us of injustices, terrible crimes, and tragedies occurring throughout the world. It is no exaggeration to say that every second of every day has some injustice, some pain, some hurt for someone somewhere in this world of 7 billion souls.
Aside from the suffering inherent in the human condition, much suffering and injustice is inflicted by people on each other. This is true at the individual level of human interaction and at the collective level of society and the interactions among nation states.
Why? Why so much injustice? Or, rather, why is there not more justice in this world? These questions are not new. As injustice and tragedy have always existed, so too these questions, or similar ones, have entered people’s minds in every generation.
In the Vedic philosophy or religion of India, karma, the inexorable law, is used to explain what befalls us during our time on Earth. Justice is achieved through the operation of this law (that was set in motion by God). There is a certain logic to this law of karma, at least at the conceptual level. We addressed this concept of karma previously in the essay “the law of karma in question” (April, 2013). In that essay, we asked if this karmic explanation (or rationalization?) is plausible, or satisfying, given that many people who suffer terribly throughout their lives do not give much evidence of being malicious or evil individuals. (For those who believe in reincarnation, is it likely that a person’s disposition, or moral character, would change by 180 degrees from the immediate previous life to the current lifetime?) For some, it may appear that this concept of karma is akin to blaming the victim(s), and is thus not very persuasive, nor comforting.
Before proceeding with our main thesis, let us note just a few current injustices around us.
One wonders about those whose last act is to commit mass murder (suicide bombers, terrorists) and who expect that they will then be welcomed into some type of paradise state after doing so. Similarly, gruesome atrocities are being committed today in Syria and elsewhere by murderous fanatics. Injustices done and no justice to be found.
What about the injustice done to children (and to their mothers) when their father abandons them, before or after they are born? Today, in the US, this abandoning children and their mothers is at epidemic levels, especially in the black communities across the nation. What a terrible disadvantage (both economic and emotional) these children are at throughout their entire childhood. Many of these children are scarred for life. Again, injustices done and little or no justice to be seen.
What of those in positions of power who either recklessly or wantonly abuse their authority? Consider the current Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts. In a 5 to 4 decision in late June, 2012, he attempts to rewrite the law (The Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obama Care”) so as to make the law pass the test of constitutionality. (That is not the job of the justices. The law as passed by Congress and signed by the President is to be tested. If the law fails the Constitutional test, it is to be struck down, and the Congress can then revisit the issue and draft a new law that does not violate the Constitution.) I bring this up because so much hardship and suffering is being experienced now by many millions of Americans because of the so-called Affordable Care Act. John Roberts is responsible for this injustice inflicted on the American people every bit as much as the politicos in Congress who voted for this law. Injustice, on a massive scale, without any justice or remedial actions, at least not to date.
Some people will choose not to believe in God because of this lack of justice in this world – but, I think that is a mistake. Yes, the grievous lack of justice and the fact that much terrible suffering comes to good people does seriously strain one’s faith in God, at times. For some, it is not their belief in God (in His existence) that is weakened or threatened, but rather their faith in the goodness of God, and/or their hope that we as human beings matter in the eyes of God that can be weakened.
(One thing we have observed over the course of our lives is that people have a need to believe in something. And, people often believe what they want to believe. Even the atheist believes in his nullity. The ardent Marxist fervently believes in dialectical materialism. Some people may believe that this world is a level of Hell.)
With all that is allowed to go on in this world, one may ask: Does God not care about the injustices? Some may go further and ask: Are we just play things to God? Is all this injustice and suffering we see and experience just part of an ongoing entertainment for God? (If we were polytheists, we would use the term “gods”.) If one reads some of the ancient Greek mythology, you get the impression that is what early Western man thought. The gods were capricious and vain. (Recall the story we are told in The Iliad.) The vagaries of human existence were often caused by the capricious and unjust actions of the gods.
In the Vedic teachings, there is the concept of lila. You have no doubt heard of maya – the illusion that leads us to believe that this world and its phenomena are ultimately real. Perhaps a better definition is the illusion that living in this temporal, material world is the ultimate purpose for man. Lila is the divine play. We are all participating in a play so to speak. A terrible and tragic and, yes, an unjust play. But it is a divine play as God is the ultimate controller of it all. As well, God (Krishna) is the enjoyer and we, spirit souls, are the enjoyed. The play does have a purpose, even if we cannot or do not see it. Just food for thought. The suffering appears to us as very real while we are here on Earth. Of course, here on Earth we do not have the best vantage point or perspective, do we? The majority of us are at a bodily level of consciousness. We identify too closely with the body and its needs, and often pursue sense gratification. If we could achieve a spiritual level of consciousness, we would no doubt view things differently.
Christians may protest that we ought not question nor complain about the suffering we endure on this earth given that Jesus also suffered terribly during His passion and crucifixion. Thus, who are we to question injustice and suffering? Still, suffering and injustice are painful to see around us (more so when there is little we can do to alleviate these), and even harder for us to experience and endure.
Five years ago (in early 2009), I read a book that offered an answer to this question of why we do not see more justice in this world. The book is Heliotropium, Conformity of the Human Will to the Divine, by Father Jeremias Drexelius (1581 – 1638), TAN Books and Publishers, Rockford, Illinois, 1984. (A more recent edition is available now.) Heliotropium roughly translates to Sunflower. As the sunflower always seems to turn towards the sun, the individual human soul ought to turn to God in all things.
The answer Father Drexelius puts forth (drawing heavily from the Old Testament and from the writings of early Christians) is basically this 2 fold assertion. Keeping in mind that we do see a small measure of justice here . . . . 1. If we, as men (generically, meaning men and women) saw complete justice enacted or delivered in this world, many of us might choose to think or believe there was nothing after this life. If all were settled here on Earth, we would lose hope or belief in an afterlife. 2. If, at the other extreme, we were to see no justice at all here in this world, we might despair of, or doubt God’s existence, or of His caring about what goes on here on Earth.
No doubt there are other views, assumptions, conjectures, and opinions on this question of justice. This essay is not intended to offer an answer, but is written to stimulate thinking.
Let me conclude with my thoughts in this area. Personally, I believe that things can only be made right through or by God. But this, of necessity, assumes that God is truly loving, just and merciful. Sadly, as we all know from our experiences, this world is sorely lacking in love, justice and mercy. I consciously and freely choose to believe that in some way justice will come in its proper time for both the innocent victims who need recompense, and for the those who harmed others through selfish, evil, and destructive motivations. Sure, I cannot prove this belief to you. It cannot be proved as we could offer proof that the Earth is round, a sphere, and not flat. It cannot be proved in the way one could prove that 2 plus 2 equals 4. Yet, I choose to believe in a God that does care deeply about what goes on here on Earth, and will make things right at some future point (on His timetable, not on ours).
And, I try to order my life around this belief (though I am no saint). What I suggest to everyone is to strive to be just, loving and merciful in your lives towards others and towards yourself. We cannot change this very flawed world at the macro level, but we can make a big difference, a positive, constructive, loving difference in the lives of those around us. If you want to live a meaningful life, then make the effort to be more loving. Help those who have suffered injustice and/or tragedy in their lives. Work against those who perpetrate injustice, and condemn hatred and violence.
Whether you believe in the law of karma, or in a judgment day for us as individual souls, living a loving life is the best path to take if you desire a better future state of being.
Please feel free to forward this essay, or a link to it, on to anyone you know who may be interested in its contents.
Below, is a picture of a curio we purchased in a thrift store some years ago.
Thanks for reading.