As I watch and read the continuing coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, my thoughts turn to our condition. People keep talking about “bringing the perpetrators to justice” and I don’t believe we can.
My word processor has a “justify” option. Using justification enables me to impose margins, adjust, and balance my text. Can any justice we enact similarly adjust and balance the lives of the victims and their families? It seems the only justice the victims would recognize is giving them back what they have lost, be it their legs or their lives. We are not able to bring the dead back to life and we can’t regenerate or fully restore blown off limbs. How is it we can so readily promise justice? The murderous and diabolic acts of 9/11 happened almost 12 years ago. Despite on-going war and the death of Osama bin Laden, no one I have spoken to in conversation seems to feel justified or restored.
All we can do as a society is enact discipline. Our laws provide the means for trying and imposing punishment for those who threaten our safety. In some cases, the punishment we bestow can be as grievous as the crime committed. Punishment is a deterrent, a tool for discipline. It’s the same thing we do when a child misbehaves – it is not justice. After those responsible for the bombs are caught and punished, will the families of those who lost loved ones be restored? Will lost limbs be regenerated? Will true healing and restoration have occurred? Sadly, no.
What we call “justice” is the equivalent of a life preserver: it helps keep society and its members afloat. Without punishment and discipline, we would drift and drown in a quagmire of uncontrolled chaos and selfishness. But admit that the punishment we enact isn’t going to restore or heal. It isn’t ever going to bring justice.