The just man rules the kingdom well. Justice for a crime committed is sought after in the social order. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the Christian God—is a just God. We know what justice is by knowing what is unjust. The idea of justice in a social order, in man’s rights, and the justice of God will be explored here.
“Justice is a habit whereby a man renders to each his due.” This goes in the same vein as something owed. Why is man owed something? According to Pieper, through creation a creature comes to have rights (being a created thing alone gives rights). God owes man nothing because he is creator, yet God pays each creature its due. He does this because He is just. Likewise, man ought to give to each his due. If one withholds what is due another, he is deemed unjust. Since God is just, all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving, there is no way God can be unjust. God has created man and has given him rights as a gift, as Kant has said. Man is owed respect, reverence (according to office), and freedom in the sense that it is just toward one another. He is owed these rights because he was created by God and has the image of God.
Justice orders man in himself, but also the life of men together. “It is itself the good of another.” A just, righteous man uses his goodness for himself and for others. Justice is the human good; it comes from the spirit.
In the relationship of justice, men confront one another as ‘others,’ almost strangers. To be just to another does not mean to love another. It means to give acknowledgement even where one cannot love. A just man helps that other whom he does not know or love to reach that which is due him.
The Decalogue holds the summary of moral thought. When a man breaks any one of these commandments, he has sinned, he has caused injustice to God and to man. When a man steals, ought he to be punished by the authority over him? The same with murder. Does not a man owe something when he has broken a law or commandment? He may be able to repay his neighbor in the act of giving back what was stolen, paying appropriate fines, or being incarcerated. In the act of murder, the one accused may lose his life, or spend the rest of his life in payment of that crime monetarily, or in confinement (jail). There are exceptions, such as a crime of passion versus premeditated murder. Though both are murder, there are different degrees due to intent.
In the case of bearing false witness, to teach or speak untruth is unjust. To lie about someone else in the case of slander affects the other negatively. For each injustice the exact amount of repayment is owed, not more, not less. The deed is judged by how it affects the other person, according to St. Thomas.
But what of sins/injustices against God? Can these be repaid? No they cannot. That is why it took a sacrifice to wipe away the injustice—Jesus Christ. In ancient Israel, an injustice toward another man or toward God needed some payment--according to the measure of grievance to another, accorded the appropriate sacrifice—something of value, paid in blood. For a small grievance a dove would suffice, for a large offense a bull or several flocks of sheep depending again on how grievous the offense. These sacrifices were given to pay for the sin, the injustice. No sin against God could ever be repaid. That is why it took a man who is God to pay for all of the injustices of man—the perfect lamb—Jesus Christ.
God is just. “When thou dost punish the wicked, it is just; since it agrees with their deserts; and when thou dost spare the wicked, it is also just; since it befits the Goodness.” Justice and mercy seem to be a paradox. God is just because he is holy and cannot stand unrighteousness, but he is merciful because he has created men in his image which, through grace and mans will, has the potential to be made whole again. He disciplines his rebellious creation because it is just to do so. Yet, he has mercy on the creature because it is His, and he wants that creature to be made whole by Him. Man is in debt to God because we choose to put many things and people before God. God’s mercy is Christ, which is manifested through grace by the Holy Spirit. In a sense, mercy is the discipline sent and then the conversion of the sinner. Mercy is the love that God has for us to bring us under his fold and make us more like His Son—Jesus Christ. The economy of justice was Jesus Christ—the debt owed for the multitude of grievances against God. The debt is paid.
Yet there is still injustice in the world. There is still sin. These disrupt the balance of man’s original state—the perfect image of God, which is recognized in Christ, as Christ. Some men are on a journey of becoming like Christ (and also the adverse, anti-christ). Justice states the giving of what is owed. This journey back to the origin is a reinstating, restitution, restoration, a returning to that thing—the image of God. The act of restitution is bringing chaos to order. The just man who is instilled with God’s image and reason, brings society to order—helps balance the just and the unjust. “The just man recognizes when wrong has been done, admits his own injustice, and endeavors to eradicate it.” Man’s every act disrupts the equilibrium because he either becomes a debtor or creditor. Restitution is an unending task.
“Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” Man is always in debt to another and may be able to repay in full the debt owed, though in many cases the debt cannot or will not be repaid. Mercy is required for forgiveness, though the man was unjust and cannot repay. Yet the man still has the debt on him. If one meets out mercy without any thought or care (prudence), the act is neither just nor prudent. But mercy with justice acknowledges the debt that needs to be repaid, but the creditor may choose to absolve the debt or give a temporary reprieve. Yet, justice without mercy can be unjust because one can proclaim everyone with a debt to pay it back and this could be detrimental to the rest of society.
Say a man owes a year’s wage to a creditor, and the creditor demands it right away. The debtor may rob to get the money, murder someone to get the money, even kill himself. If the debtor returns, the creditor may kill the man because the debt is not repaid. This has injustice all over it. If there was no mercy, there would be no forgiveness. One without the other would burden the man perpetually or make him oblivious to sin (injustice itself). Both make the man realize there is a debt he always has and help him strive to repay that debt, yet know that he has been forgiven or has potential for mercy.