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  • Writer's pictureJim Moore

Essay Three “Justice/Injustice/Retaliatory Justice”

The following is written by Jim Moore. Jim is the pastor of the church I attend. We have known each other for 20+ years and share similar beliefs about life, integrity, and religion. Jim will be contributing his thoughts to this book on OVERCOMING LOSS, both from a spiritual perspective as a Pastor and from his experience as a Hospice Chaplain.

Life consists of tension. Good movies often revolve around the tension between the good people and the bad people. A good movie has heroes/heroines and villains - Dorothy and the Wicked Witch, Superman and Lex Luthor, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. The tension keeps us both interested in the story and rooting for good over evil.

My favorite is John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) dueling it out with Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) in the movie Die Hard. We desperately pull for John all while hoping the smug, overconfident, narcissistic Hans gets his in the end. And the movie does not disappoint. We hold our breath as Hans dangles from the Nakatomi Tower and we cheer when he loses his grip and falls to his well-deserved demise. We feel like all is right with the world when justice, especially vigilante justice is served. It just feels right when the hero walks off into the sunset and we know the villain is no more.

            If you have ever watched professional wrestling then you understand that in reality, you are watching a soap opera, only the actors are huge, loud and wearing speedos. In wrestling there are good guys/gals and bad guys/gals. The fans cheer for the good guys and boo the bad guys. The tension is created when the bad guy is winning and the good guy is losing. To keep the tension the bad guy wins the battles but the good guys win the belt. It is this way because human nature ultimately and innately knows that for the world to stay balanced on its axis good must eventually prevail.

          Sadly, outside of soap operas, feel-good movies and wrestling, being the good guy does not guarantee a fairy tale ending. Unfortunately, the good guy doesn’t always walk off into the sunset with the beautiful lady on his arm and disappointingly there are times when the bad guy/gal holds up the belt. The harsh reality is, being a good guy/gal is not always enough.

          Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the groundbreaking book, ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’. Harold Kushner is one of the good guys who suffered the unimaginable agony of watching his son slowly die of an incurable disease. When unprovoked tragedies like this occur the question that is often asked is, ‘why’.  It is an oft-asked question which rarely has a palatable answer. Regrettably, well-meaning friends or family will oftentimes try to answer the unanswerable which almost always leads to empty cliches and toxic positivity. Both of which, as we have stated before are far more harmful than helpful.

          Kushner sets out in his book to comfort the grieving by sharing the supposition that God (The Divine, the Universe) does not cause nor prevent everything that happens in the world. Although a person of immense faith, he reminds us that faith in The Divine is not a protective shield that prevents the believer from the unfortunate things in life. Therefore, there are times bad things happen.

Kushner’s message is that during the good and the bad, God is always with us. Among other things, the book is a reminder, from someone who suffered an inconceivable loss, that life can be random and is not always fair.

One of the stepping stones on the path to finding peace is to recognize that life is not always predictable nor preventable. Bad things do happen to good people and likewise, it appears good things happen to less than scrupulous people.

I say, ‘less than scrupulous’ instead of bad because I would like to believe that people are inherently good. I once heard someone say there are no bad people just people who do bad things. I do think that covers a large part of humanity. I do believe most people are good. The majority of people, when they do something that harms another, will have feelings of regret or remorse. Good people who do bad things feel guilt or shame about what they have done and take responsibility for the harm they have caused.

However, we all likely know that person who does not seem to ever take responsibility for their actions. These same people appear to be incapable of admitting when they are wrong. They are not able to fully digest the way their actions negatively affect others – nor do they seem to care.  

          There are good people who do bad things and there are people who are so myopic and narcissistic that they don’t care what they do, as long as it brings them what they want, i.e Hans Gruber. 

          There are many reasons for why people behave like this. It can be nature, or it can be nurture, or it can be a combination of both. In reality, the human psyche, the human mind, the human soul is extremely complex. I am not a psychiatrist nor a psychologist and therefore not amply qualified to clinically diagnose personality disorders. I have, however, in my counseling experience learned that there is a large percentage of the population who seem to struggle with right and wrong.

Our universal expert, Dr. Google tells us that millions of Americans are considered sociopaths. The estimate is as high as 12% of the population. Sociopaths and psychopaths are characterized by, among other things a poor sense of right or wrong. They do not seem to struggle with a sense of conscience, which makes it almost impossible to be sensitive to other people’s feelings. Therefore, it makes sense that they also struggle with empathy and sympathy.  In other words, they simply do not feel another’s pain.

While some losses or calamities are unexplainable with no precursors whatsoever, some can be explained. Bad things happen because people do unscrupulous things.  Whether it truly be a personality disorder, narcissism, greed or ego, humans are capable of looking completely outside of themselves and perpetrating injustice.

The struggle between good and evil gets blurred when we have been the victims of injustice. The natural response and reaction is retribution or what is often referred to as retaliatory justice. The human condition dictates that when we have been harmed, we instantly desire harm for our offender. At times we will instinctively strike back when stricken.

We are all likely familiar with Hammurabi’s Code which was based on retaliatory justice. Justice based on retribution is what brings us an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a broken bone for a broken bone. While on the surface Hammurabi’s Code seemed about the punishment fitting the crime it was much more horrendous than that. For example, if a child struck his father, the child’s hand was to be cut off. At that point justice is no longer about the punishment fitting the crime, it is now about power and control and about imposing one’s will onto another.

Retaliatory justice does not lead to peace. It may offer temporary satisfaction, but it will never bring peace nor peacefulness.



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