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Justice

Searching for the Definition of True Justice

David Liebman | Jun 8, 2021

PART 1 IN SERIES What is Justice?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Liebman | Jun 8, 2021

PART 1 IN SERIES What is Justice?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

When I first started to think about justice, it seemed so difficult to arrive at a good understanding of the definition of justice, exactly. 

At first I thought I knew what justice looked like, just as I thought I knew what injustice looked like, but what is justice, and how does one articulate it? Would what I think about justice be acceptable to others, I wondered? 

So I did some reading on the topic, and it seemed that many others had similar challenges coming to a fundamental understanding of what constitutes justice. The dictionary seemed like a good place to start: 

jusˑticen.  1. being righteous  2. fairness  3. rightfulness  4. reward or penalty as deserved  5.  being equitable to all people  6. moral righteousness  7. the administration of law.

This multifaceted definition covered a lot of ground. I learned, too, that various philosophers have different ways of looking at this topic, with little general agreement among them, so a satisfactory and complete understanding seemed elusive.

RELATED: What Happens Next? Finding Justice Through Consultation

Maybe a satisfactory understanding of justice remains elusive for two reasons – first, that human understanding of anything is limited, minds are varied, and opinions are diverse, so a universally accepted definition is unrealistic; and second, justice is in fact a spiritual reality. 

Thinking about justice this way – as a spiritual reality, a sacred creation of God, one of the Creator’s attributes, and a spiritual emanation to the creation and to humanity – its essence and reality transcends our capacity to comprehend it. After all, that which is eternal and unlimited and pertains to God, cannot be comprehended by that which is limited, such as the human mind. So justice remains elusive to our full comprehension. 

However, the Baha’i teachings infer that we can understand justice based on what God defines as its meaning and qualities. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:

Set before thine eyes God’s unerring Balance and, as one standing in His Presence, weigh in that Balance thine actions every day, every moment of thy life. Bring thyself to account ere thou art summoned to a reckoning, on the Day when no man shall have strength to stand for fear of God, the Day when the hearts of the heedless ones shall be made to tremble.

In another of his writings, “The Hidden Words,” Baha’u’llah said

O oppressors on earth! Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed with My seal of glory.

Baha’u’llah informed us that the essence of justice is knowable if we study God’s revelation: 

Know verily that the essence of justice and the source thereof are both embodied in the ordinances prescribed by Him Who is the Manifestation of the Self of God amongst men, if ye be of them that recognize this truth. He doth verily incarnate the highest, the infallible standard of justice unto all creation…Were men to discover the motivating purpose of God’s Revelation, they would assuredly cast away their fears, and, with hearts filled with gratitude, rejoice with exceeding gladness.

RELATED: Acknowledging Injustice is The First Step Towards Mental Health

In his “Hidden Words,” Baha’u’llah also wrote that justice is beloved of God:

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. 

This defines the Baha’i view of justice – as a gift from the Creator and a way to orient each human life.

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