Nicholas Wolterstorff has a MA and PH. D. in Philosophy from Harvard. Taught at Calvin College. Now he is teaching at Yale. First wrote and talked about justice in 1975. 25 people would show up.
Here is an abridged transcript of his talk at The Justice Conference:
OT Prophets said “Seek Justice”…Jesus said “Love Your Neighbor”…nobody explicitly said how to do it, it is up to us. Are Justice and Love conflicting?
What is the conflict?
Love and Justice are unified, they should not be understood to be in conflict.
One type of justice is punitive justice- someone wrongs you and you have the right to be angry or the right to punish and so forth. That can’t be the only type of justice. Punitive justice comes when there has been a place of breakdown in primary justice.
If you think the two imperatives are conflictual you have to choose between them. I don’t know any people who explicitly choose justice over love or primary justice over love, but I do know people who prefer punitive justice over love.
There are lots of people who prefer love over justice. Some people argue justice is OT; the NT is love. Lots of Christians in my experience say that. So what about it?
It is a deep mistake to believe justice has been superseded in the NT. Matthew 12 (Jesus has been healing; Matthew inserts himself in the story). Quotes an Isaiah passage. Could it be clearer that Jesus comes to fulfill the OT prophets? Jesus has come to do justice.
We have to reject the idea that love and justice are in conflict. We need to understand it better so the two are together hand-in-glove.
Some would argue, “There is no such distinction between love, justice, and righteousness because they are about being in right relationship to God.” I don’t think this is true. Take forgiveness, it goes past what justice requires. It is generosity love. Here is what I’ve concluded so far: love and justice are distinct. You can’t just melt them together but in some deep way they are united. So we have to understand love and justice and how to fit them together.
Justice is grounded in rights; to what’s due you and you own. You have a right to be treated a certain way by me and if I didn’t treat you that way I wouldn’t be honoring your worth, your dignity. Right are what respect the dignity of others. Justice is grounded in rights.
What about NT love? NT love consists of advancing a person’s good not just having affection for them. Here is what I’m going to argue. The good of us human beings have two dimensions: first, how good our life is going (do you have friends, do you have books to read, have you had a proper education). This is not enough. All of the synoptic gospels share the love commands (The Golden Rule and Shemah). What did Jesus mean by love when he gave those two commandments? Those two commandments are the essence of Jewish law, of Torah. The scribes asked Jesus what the essence of Torah was to trip him up. They wanted to catch him up, but Jesus got it right. These are the focus, not just the essence. OT context is Leviticus 19. What we have here is a detail of conjunctions, and the summary is “to love your neighbors as yourself.” There are many references to justice in this passage. The OT represents treating your neighbor justly as an example of love. How do we do that?
I think we do that by recognizing love has two dimensions, one I mentioned earlier, the other dimension is honoring the dignity of your neighbor (loving justly). Love requires both of these dimensions.
To conclude: justice is always to be done out of love but true love is never unjust.