• Greg

Public Justice

"In any system of government, there are always two different forms of justice—personal and public. Personal justice deals with the individual’s standing with the law, whereas public justice concerns the well-being of all those who are under that government. Specifically, public justice deals with the effect of the execution (or non-execution) of private justice on the minds of those who are subject to the same laws. If I drive over the speed limit and am given a ticket for my infraction, my paying the ticket relates to personal justice. If others know about my ticket, the influence of that knowledge on their minds relates to public justice. The possibility of receiving a ticket influences my mind to go the speed limit, so if I believe I will never receive a ticket, the influence of that sanction is eliminated from my mind. Thus, if the officer is merciful, and does not write the ticket, personal justice is sacrificed, and he weakens the effect of the sanction on my mind. And anyone else who knows about it will be influenced to disregard the law. Thus public justice is weakened. But if the officer (or perhaps the judge) can convince me in some way to commit myself to following the law, and others see this commitment, he can choose to forego the ticket, since the goal of the ticket has been accomplished in my life through a different means. Mercy is expressed in the realm of private justice, and justice is upheld in the public realm, but this is acceptable, as long as the goal of the law has been accomplished in my life. The necessary condition for release from the ticket is that the influence in my mind, and in the minds of those around me, is the same as if the ticket had actually been written. If a person is executed for a capital crime, there are two major results in the realm of public justice. First, the people under that government are influenced towards proper behavior by the execution of the penalty. Second, the people are protected from the presence of the offender by his removal from society. If both of these goals can be reached without the execution of the sanctions, then the government is free to lay aside the penalty.


The cross works in a similar way. In the realm of private justice, God expresses mercy by allowing the sinner to go free from his penalty, as long as the sinner fulfills the original intent of the law— the love of God and others. Public justice is upheld because the effect on the public is the same as if the penalty had been carried out. Once a sufficient sacrifice has been offered, and a person meets the necessary conditions, God is free to forgive, because the effect on public justice is the same as if the sinner had been punished. Through the death of his Son, God shows his seriousness about the law and his commitment to its fulfillment. God also provides an alternate influence to replace the sanctions of the law. Through the repentance and conversion of the sinner, God protects the public from the sinner’s presence by making him a “new creature in Christ,” thus removing the influence of the sinner from society. If God can secure the goal of the law in a person’s life through a means other than the sanctions of the law, he is free to forgive the person and lay aside the penalty of the law. In this way, God shows mercy in the realm of personal justice by forgiving, and upholds public justice by maintaining his law and government through the influence of the cross. Of course, this condition only lasts as long as the person continues to fulfill the goal of the law in his life."


Michael Saia - Understanding the Cross, pg. 128