blue graphic with white text that says If Justice is not primarily about punishment, what is it? The quartet of the vulnerable

The Quartet of the Vulnerable and Justice

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Derek Chauvin will come before a judge for sentencing later this week. He, and we, will learn how much time he will spend behind bars as punishment for his crime in killing George Floyd over one year ago.

But for justice to be served, we need to pay attention not only to the punishment of Derek Chauvin. We also need to pay attention to the proactive work of justice. 

What Is Justice

In the Bible, the word justice comes up all the time. But it only rarely refers to punishment for wrongdoing. Preacher and author Timothy Keller, for instance, writes that only ten percent of the time, justice describes punitive action.

Ninety percent of the time, justice describes proactive care on behalf of vulnerable people. Ninety percent of the time.

Quartet of the Vulnerable 

In other words, justice is not primarily about punishment. Justice is about looking out for the needs of people who will otherwise (and through no fault of their own) be oppressed and marginalized and downtrodden.

Scholars refer to the “quartet of the vulnerable” who are lifted up in the Bible: widows, orphans, immigrants, and “the poor” (which is a word that referred to both those in economic distress and to social outcasts). 

Do the Work of Justice

To do the work of justice is to look out for the needs of people who are particularly vulnerable and advocate and act alongside them and, when they have no voice, to advocate and act on their behalf.

Most of us are not called to investigate crimes, arrest perpetrators, practice law, or sentence offenders. 

But all of us are called to the work of justice.

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