My long-running obsession with justice and judgment (fed by the current dissertation chapter) has made the words pop out everywhere; Scripture, of course, is full of the ideas. And in mulling over the Hosea reading mentioned in my last post, it occurred to me that the obsession may appear a little grisly to anyone not writing an academic chapter focused on the topic. “Justice” brings to mind such disturbing phrases as “the justice system” or “Justice Kavanaugh”; our ear catches at a word and surrounds it with the auras of other words with which we are used to hearing it matched. Nor is it of any help if our mind interposes the more apropos phrase “a just God,” for it is generally uttered these days in doubt or mockery or, at best, when trying to lay doubt and mockery to rest. Justice sounds like a sham; and if it dares enter our heads to think of real justice, most of us (we tell ourselves rightly) tremble.
I think it need not and ought not to be that way. The Hosea reading suggests that there is a sort of incipient “justice” we human beings should cultivate in our lives on earth; if we do that, we need not fear when Divine Justice rains down. But I think one can go farther than the cryptic metaphors of the Old testament prophet. His image of our justice springing up to meet Another’s coming down, with its insistence on the perpendicularity of the arrangement, calls to mind another common translation of whatever biblical word is being rendered in English as “just”: upright.
Just, upright, erect. The former two are synonyms, as are the latter two, although the first and the third do not share a common meaning. But with good reason Hosea calls up the image of grain growing erect towards the sky: there is a coordination between standing erect and being just, an inherent symbolism that is not a merely human invention. The etymology tells the story: the thing that we call just is also called being upright; to be just is our birthright as human beings, and what distinguishes us from other animals; it is no terrifying external imposition; it is as natural to us (in one sense) spiritually as walking erect is physically. We stand erect because that is an image of how we ought to stand internally: upright. To be upright, that is, pointing up at the sun, is natural for flowers that draw from its rays their strength. In an upright human being who does the same, we say briefly and without comprehension that he is “just.” What we really mean is that, like the sunflower, he stretches naturally towards the Sun of Justice from which all the rectitude of his nature comes.