“Compassionate Justice”

Tags:  Criminology and Theology 

Last Sunday the message from many church pulpits was about Jesus’ statement that he was “the bread of life.” The Gospel text from John 6:51-58 undoubtedly made some heads “spin” (“flesh and blood”?!), but I focused on the promise of Jesus to people of faith that he “abides in us.”

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What does that mean?  What possible significance could a statement that “Jesus abides in us” have for persons in the 21st century?  For most Americans perhaps, not much.  But for those who are believers and people of faith, the promise in the Scripture text rings true.  For many it is a promise of comfort, assurance, and that we’re not alone in facing the “ups and downs” of life.

Does the promise of Jesus’ presence, of his “abiding in us,” offer any directions to Jesus-followers of how this divine presence might be put into action?  Yes, I believe it does.  It is the beginning of “compassionate justice”—and another example of the connections between theology and criminology.

Humankind, we believe, was made “in the image of God.”  “So God created humankind in his image… male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  We are all therefore “children of God” (though many dispute this image, based on behaviors, beliefs, and evidence to the contrary!).  The real significance of this belief is illustrated by the teachings of Jesus, that we are to treat all persons as “children of God” who were all created in the image of God.

          “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. …. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

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Thousands of persons are involved in justice work.  Working with law violators, those suspected of crimes, and with witnesses and victims of crime requires persistence, perseverance, and patience.  Law enforcers from police to attorneys, judges, probation officers, jail and prison officers are held to high legal standards themselves.

Law enforcement and criminal justice professionals who are able to see all persons as “children of God” (despite their behavior!) are more prepared and capable of exercising “compassionate justice.”

          An appropriate question of all persons is:  How do your religious or spiritual beliefs, and your views of God and humankind inform and direct how you relate to other persons?

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