Sunday, October 2, 2016

Justice


Belshazzar was weighed in Yahweh’s scales and found wanting. He lost his kingdom because the gods he venerated were lightweights in comparison to the God above all gods. This grandson of prideful Nebuchadnezzar was such a punk that he was not worthy even to hear a voice from heaven; thus, the hand appeared and wrote on the wall in a foreign language. You might say it was “writing in tongues” that required an interpreter: enter Daniel. The weak-kneed king offered Daniel treasure and position for an interpretation of the weird writing but the honorable Hebrew refused the gifts, delivering the message clearly. “You, Belshazzar, are a lightweight. You have been weighed in the scales of justice and found wanting. Thus, your kingdom will go to the Medes and Persians.” It happened that very night.

So, what about God’s scales of justice? We see that the prophets reported God’s desire for it over and over. The famous passage in Micah 6:8 says the Lord requires justice, mercy and humble living. And we certainly see divine justice superseding man’s attempts at it all through scripture—David and Goliath, Mordechai and Haman, Ruth and Boaz, Babylonian law and the Hebrew children, Jesus’ treatment of the woman taken in adultery. What man sees as justice is often not justice at all but a desire to control others or elevate the ego.

However, I am glad to report that I saw a sincere and evenhanded desire for justice in law enforcement and the courts when I was a reporter for The De Queen Bee. The sheriff’s office, the police station and the courts exhibited real concern for fairness and objectivity in their written and oral reports to the media. I learned afresh the true meaning of the popular phrase, “It is what it is.” In other words, nothing was hidden and the desire for accuracy and completeness came through. The job of a journalist was to weigh the incidents for newsworthiness and write appropriate stories in Associated Press style.

My other profession, that of English professor, was full of concerns about justice as well. I don’t just mean fairness in grading essays but in the overriding theme of justice in the literature we taught. One of my favorite short works of literature is Melville’s “Billy Budd,” a tale about a young sailor with a speech impediment who is falsely accused by a senior seaman named Claggart. Because Budd cannot get the words out to defend himself, he strikes out with his fist, killing Claggart. Mr. Vere, the ship’s captain, is present at the fatal altercation and does not want to hang Billy Budd, but justice demands it. Just as the noose is placed around the young sailor’s neck, he utters an astounding phrase, “God bless Captain Vere.” Interestingly, Captain Vere’s last words not much later are, “Billy Budd, Billy Budd.” He could never forget how terribly much the demands of justice cost him.

Perhaps, like Belshazzar of old, we are all weighed in a cosmic scale—a fulcrum upon which our lives are balanced against the law of love and its constant companion, forgiveness. Unlike the punkish Babylonian, however, Christians have an advocate, ultimately making things even. It is what it is.

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