Why is Lady Justice always blindfolded? I understand the scale; justice promises to restore balance. The sword makes sense; it signifies the hard decision that is justice. It also implies a punishment or a wounding. No justice without some sort of pain. Tradition teaches that the blindfold shows how justice is administered fairly, without regard to visuals like race, color, social status. I can hear you laughing.
It is the ideal, of course, that justice is fair, but we know that isn't always true.
A recent article in The New York Times Magazine showcased a reconciliation effort in Rwanda that brings victims and perpetrators of the genocide from twenty years ago together for forgiveness. The perpetrators have served time in jail. The victims have lived on after having their relatives murdered and their property destroyed. You can access the article here.
This is hard stuff, no question about it. Coming face to face with the person who killed your loved ones and ruined your life? Looking into the eyes that had looked on you with hatred? Someone who was perhaps a neighbor, certainly a countryman?
Or, on the other side, facing the victim of your murderous hatred? Seeing the destruction you wrought in front of you and daring to ask that person to forgive you? This was a war of deepest hatred. It lived in the blood. It built up over many years.
Our little spats with Russia and Iran look like playground squabbles in comparison.
And yet.... there is forgiveness. There is reconciliation.
As Christians, forgiveness is part of the bargain we enter into at Baptism. We are forgiven. Period. Being forgiven, we are now able to forgive others. Being forgiven, we are now able to live holy lives which, without God's mercy we could not do. Forgiveness bestows on us a measure of godliness. We can live into this or we can decline it.
Is this blanket forgiveness that we get without even asking justice? Where is the sword? Where is the scale? What about the blindfold?
Justice promises to make things right. That is the principle behind "an eye for an eye etc." in Exodus. It's meant to be fair. It's supposed to give satisfaction, peace, and our favorite buzzword "closure." When a murderer is convicted in a court of law, the victim's family speak about finally getting justice for their loved one. Then they often add that this conviction isn't enough, though, that a prison term, or the death penalty, won't bring their loved one back. And they're right; it won't.
Have you ever been wronged? Or have you ever wronged someone? Have you found something to make it right afterwards? I believe that our attempts at justice are simple hubris. We can't do it. We can repair damage done to property but we can't erase the feeling of fear and vulnerability the owner felt. We can go to jail and pay a debt to society for any sort of crime, but we can't put safety back in the hearts of our victims or restore an injured person or bring back a murdered loved one.
Justice is an illusion. Pay back is a fantasy. It always has been and it always will be. It is a function of our pride. In pride we demand recompense. In pride we convince ourselves we have made it right. We might think we're satisfied or avenged or cleared of wrong, but we're not. That is the meaning of the blindfold. Justice knows it's working in the dark. It works outside truth.
We live by a rule of law and that is a good thing. We need to have an orderly society. There has to be a means of enforcing civil laws. I am not advocating anarchy, but I am asking that we understand what our system can do and what it cannot. It cannot bring about the kingdom of God. It cannot change people's hearts or grow love.
The reconciliation efforts in Rwanda are the exact opposite of justice. There is no pretense of balancing the scale. The sword has done its job. The blindfold is off. These people aren't kidding themselves. Wrong was done and there is no way to make it right. They can either hold onto their pain and anger and suffering or, somehow, find another way. There is only one path forward and that is forgiveness.
This is what God offers. And it is what we, as image bearers of God, can offer and receive. I look at the pictures from Rwanda, of both those forgiving and those forgiven and all I see is God.