One of the most challenging things about life on Earth is the difficulty there is in achieving true justice. When you look over the history of the world, the atrocities committed against man by man are frightening and repulsive. I am reminded of the scene in The Fifth Element when Leeloo, an alien who is learning about earth, watches a rapid sequence of wars and destruction and is so disheartened by our past that she no longer retains a desire to help anymore. Any avid history reader can relate to her pain because we know the injustice has not stopped. It continues every day. In fact, in this very moment that you are reading this, horrible, unspeakable things are being done to someone—human trafficking, torture, child abuse. It is a disheartening thought because what hope is there that it can be stopped. And, in line with this, how can we get justice from those who have committed such things? Even the death penalty does not really bring justice because the taking of a life cannot replace the horrors that people have experienced. It is an empty offering.
This concept was dealt with in an interesting way in Christopher Paolini’s final novel of the Inheritance Cycle (spoiler). After four novels of the preparation of the hero Eragon to meet the villain Galbatorix who has brutalized his country for decades, Eragon quickly realizes that all his training is for nothing. There is no way for Eragon to defeat him because Galbatorix had discovered the power to control all the magic. However, he soon learns that there is one thing he and the dragons fighting on his side could do.
And with that energy, he cast a spell.
It was a spell without words, for Galbatorix’s magic would not allow otherwise, and no words could have described what Eragon wanted, nor what he felt. A library of books would have been insufficient to the task…What he wanted was both simple and complex: he wanted Galbatorix to understand…to understand the wrongness of his actions. The spell was not an attack; it was an attempt to communicate…Around them, the light of the lanterns dimmed, and in his mind, Eragon seemed to hear the echo of thousands of voices; an unbearable cacophony of pains and joys innumerable, echoing forth from both the present and the past.
The lines upon Galbatorix’s face deepened, and his eyes began to bulge from their sockets. “What have you done? He said, his voice hollow and strained. He stepped back and put his fists to his temples. “What have you done!”
With an effort, Eragon said, “Made you understand.” (714-715)
Although Paolini is roundly criticized for his supposedly anti-climactic ending, he sees something that is powerful here. True justice is not just in the vanquishing of the enemy; it is in the revelation of the true evil that has been committed. Justice can only come when the perpetrator sees what they have done and how their actions have affected others. And in this rare moment, there is an opportunity–an opportunity for repentance. I cannot imagine a clearer image of what it will be like for us to stand before God.
This concept is often hard for us to understand personally because we cannot see that we have done any wrong or at least that our wrongs are not as great as others. We have no problem imagining punishment for the likes of Hitler, Saddam Hussein, those who commit crimes against children or for those who have hurt us in our lives. However, we are not so quick to see our own contribution and the seed of evil that resides in each of us. In fact, realizing this is the one fundamental feature that must be present in any true salvation experience. We must admit that we need a Savior, that we need forgiveness.
In Paul Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian first realizes there is a problem when reading a divine book that reveals to him the encroaching destruction. The realization that judgment is coming creates a heavy burden on his back. This burden crushes him under its weight. In fact, he carries this encumbrance until he approaches the cross where it finally rolls off and into the grave. There are others who are also traveling to the Celestial City like Christian, but they have never carried a burden, have never knelt before the Cross in joy to receive its blessing. Bunyan likens them to the ones who entered in a way other than the proper gate. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in another way, that man is a thief and a robber…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:1, 9).
It is for this very reason that the proper posture of any believer is one of utmost humility because we of all people must understand that if we were to see the fullness of what we have done, how we have hurt people and abhorred God and his Word, we would be undone. I tremble at the thought. And it is this realization that helps me offer a branch of forgiveness to those who have wronged me. I have received a treasure in forgiveness that is million times more valuable than the debt that someone else might owe me.
The joy is that true justice is coming. A day when all will be laid out, when that which is hidden will be brought out into the light. And the one person with the authority and information to judge a situation rightly will bring final justice to the world. It will be terrifyingly beautiful. And then as C.S. Lewis so eloquently states, “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours [sic] we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour [sic] that it will not always be so. Some day [sic], God willing, we shall get in.”
So while I can eagerly look forward to the day when it will all be made right, I am careful not to assume that I fully know what justice will truly look like. And because of this, I am ever more grateful for the grace of God and His forgiving love.