Forgiveness has an accountability partner in Justice.
There can be no true relational forgiveness without two truths bearing equal significance: the bringing to light of the truth, including any atrocities committed, and the achievement of reconciliation with oppressors.
The respecting of both of these truths ensures that all parties, the victim(s) and the perpetrator(s), are considered and the process toward forgiveness is completed.
And that’s Justice!
Justice is a full portion of truth in action. Good justice is never partial. Good forgiveness, therefore, has gotten beyond the emotion of transgression and betrayal. It has weighed up the facts. The cases of all parties are borne fairly into account.
Justice For The Oppressor
Justice cannot look after the victim, mollycoddling them without thought for fair dealing for the perpetrator. It is not a just result to extend a conditional grace to the aggressor. This is a thing most laypeople cannot come to grips with. Can we forgive the paedophile, thief, or liar who has done their work of restitution—who is appropriately remorseful? It doesn’t mean we place people into unsafe situations, or that we expose people to their weaknesses. But we learn to put the past behind us.
Justice for the oppressor is important if we claim to be instituting a godly form of justice. (Is there any other form?) This is a difficult issue for most people, where sympathy sells us an easy justice for the victim only; because it makes us feel good.
Justice is a difficult system of thought. Ethics are never straightforward. But one thing is sure; justice must be just for all, not just the obvious ones.
Justice For The Victim
Justice cannot also only look out for the perpetrator, in a way to desperately extend the second (or a sixty-seventh) chance—to be so ‘forgiving’ it’s ridiculous. We lose the plot, and we go against the will of God, when we fail to consider the serious and stern concerns of those hurt.
Where the consequences of situations have finality, consequences for the future should be equally considered. Sometimes forgiveness means we cannot trust again.
The justice of forgiveness must, first of all, swing into action for the victim. What sort of efficacy for forgiveness would we have if we didn’t fight for the rights of those disadvantaged? Anyone who has been transgressed has been disadvantaged. They have issues unresolved, and without justice how might resolution commence?
Forgiveness’ first task is to achieve justice for the victim. But there is a second task; to check for justice, overall.
Justice is central to forgiveness. Both the victim and the perpetrator must be fairly considered—in the light of the truth. Forgiveness remains incomplete if justice is conditional. Where the truth is taken partially, the justice in forgiveness is betrayed.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.