Reviewer: Andrew Boog
The call for justice is a long standing one. Today, still, lawyers in Australia and around the world voice their concerns about inadequate—and apparently diminishing—access to justice, particularly for the marginalised in our community. J. Paul Nyquist has recently addressed the question of whether we will ever see true justice in his book Is Justice Possible? The elusive pursuit of what is right.
Nyquist examines four major questions:
These are all good questions, and his answers, often illustrated by compelling anecdotes, are neither unsatisfactory nor superficial.
Nyquist offers 2 alternative forms of justice:
The shortcomings in finding justice in the here and now are largely attributed by Nyquist to human sinfulness and limitations. While the examples given of present unjust laws are relevant and compelling, they are also somewhat simplistic (pp85ff). In the practice of law (particularly where the focus is not on criminal law, as is often the case), the subtleties of injustice are far more difficult to identify, address and deal with.
Some of Nyquist’s propositions are more difficult to accept than others. Can it really be said, for example, that God’s justice system has no interest in reforming or rehabilitating offenders (p46f)? Surely that is what Jesus ultimately died for as part of God’s grand scheme to reconcile his need for justice with his mercy?
The book’s major contribution comes in answering Nyquist’s third question—what can we do? It includes a helpful list of resources and suggests ways in which the reader can further pursue the practice of justice. Nyquist identifies strategies by which individuals and groups can make a difference in pursuing the practice of justice (pp194ff, pp200ff), and these are sensible and practical. They include being actively involved in the political process by knowing the issues, assessing candidates’ positions on those issues, and then being faithful in prayer for those who have been elected (pp194ff). On more specific issues of criminal justice we can meaningfully engage by speaking to society’s rush to criminalise and then sentence severely (pp202f), all while ignoring the social drivers of criminal conduct. If enough of those who profess the name of Christ adopted some of these suggestions, we might see a difference in our communities. Unfortunately, these strategies relate almost entirely to criminal law (ch10). Nyquist has little to say about those areas of law most people are more likely to experience, namely civil law such as family law, contracts, neighbourhood disputes, corporate law, property law and finance. It would be unfortunate if we successfully addressed criminal injustices whilst ignoring the fact that, as fallen people, we are fairly adept at bringing injustice into all areas of life.
Nyquist refers to the final justice to be administered by God and the fate of those who have not accepted God’s offer of forgiveness. That final justice ‘will be perfect and right. The omniscient God—who knows everything there is to know and is perfectly just in all His ways—will be pronouncing the sentence.’ (p271)
Nyquist is writing from a Christian perspective, and for other Christians. The book is therefore of pastoral value in helping Christians understand why there is injustice in the world, and in exhorting us to pursue justice individually and corporately. However the choice to write from Christian presuppositions also means that the opportunity to contribute to broader public debate involving justice—such as how we get consensus on what constitutes justice, and how, in practice, decisions are to be made—is forfeited. As it stands, unless one already subscribes to an evangelical world view, the book has little to offer.
Nyquist also bypasses a critical question evangelicals are entitled to raise: does anyone really want to experience ‘true justice’, that is, do we want to be treated as we deserve given our conduct? Our standard human response is to demand justice be applied to others, whilst seeking mercy for ourselves. In God’s final scheme of justice, we can be truly grateful that Christ accepted our punishment, and so reconciled the demands of both justice and mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13).
In the meantime, we join Nyquist in saying
We long for a perfect system… when true justice will always prevail… (p274). Let’s work … to correct what we get wrong. And never stop yearning… until all will be made right . (p278f)
We do this, not in the hope that we can bring about perfect justice, but because it is a way we can honour God and serve His people until He restores that perfect justice to his world.
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