WHAT IS JUSTICE?
Justice as set forth in the Baha'i revelation is key to understanding the meaning of complex and confusing events in the world and to seeing how they are part of a process by which mankind is evolving from its present turmoil to a unified world civilization. People often think of justice only in limited even though appropriate contexts such as in the treatment of deviants from society. However, the major emphasis of Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, was justice as a principle to govern and organize society itself, God's judgment of society, not just a court's judgment of a criminal. In its most general definition, then, justice describes the ongoing interaction between God and man, an interaction which has three components: God's standard, man's alternatives, and the consequences of these alternatives.
1. God's Standard. Baha'u'llah declares that God is the source of the standard to which man's actions may be compared in order to learn their consequences:
Know verily that the essence of justice and the source thereof are both embodied in the ordinances proscribed 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. (G,175)Since Baha'u'llah is God's current Messenger, His teachings are God's standard for this day:
As the body of man needeth a garment to clothe it, so the body of mankind must needs be adorned with the mantle justice and wisdom. Its robe is the Revelation vouchsafed unto it by God. (G,81)
A Book sent down in truth unto men of insight! It biddeth the people to observe justice and to work righteousness, and forbiddeth them them to follow their corrupt inclinations and carnal desires, if perchance the children of men might be roused from their slumber. (G,306-7)
Upon reflection, men of equity and discernment will witness, with outward and inward eyes, the effulgence of the orb of justice in all that We have revealed. (BWF,179)In pursuing this theme, we shall quote liberally from Baha'u'llah and His Son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, given Baha'u'llah's statement:
The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice... (BWF,142)
Who else but Baha can speak forth before the face of men, and who else but He can have the power to pronounce that which He was bidden by God, the Lord of Hosts. (ESW,121)God's standard applies to the behavior of all people since Baha'u'llah wrote that "None shall be secure this Day from the decree of God" (G,41). Assuring us that God's standard is geared to our capacity, Baha'u'llah states that "He will never deal unjustly with anyone, neither will He task a soul beyond its power" (G,106).
It may be a good idea to keep this in mind when we consider in more detail a little later some of Baha'u'llah's specific insights about and instructions for each phase of our communities.
2. Man's Alternatives. Although people often find themselves overwhelmed by the multitude of alternative actions that they might take, man is continually making choices between two basic alternatives: to act in accordance with God's standard or not. Baha'u'llah's teachings regulate the relationships among men and thus provide a sub-definition of justice which describes the quality of the interaction between man and man. 'Abdu'l-Baha points out that an expanded social consciousness is one of the main elements of this justice:
...justice and impartiality...means to have no regard for one's own personal benefits and selfish advantages, and to carry out the laws of God without the slightest concern for anything else. It means to see one's self as only one of the servants of God, the All-Possessing, and except for aspiring spiritual distinction, never attempting to be singled out from the others. It means to consider the welfare of the community as one's own. It means, in brief, to regard humanity as a single individual, and one's own self as a member of that corporeal form, and to know of a certainty that if pain or injury afflicts any member of that body, it must inevitably result in suffering for all the rest. (SDC,39)In the Baha'i writings, this justice is an essential prerequisite for order in the world, for the unity of mankind, and even for the survival of the human race:
And the tent of the order of the world is hoisted and established on two pillars: reward and retribution. (BWF,198)Justice, "the light of men" (BWF,182), is a characteristic distinctive of humankind and of the individual member of society:
We entreat God to deliver the light of equity and the sun of justice from the thick clouds of waywardness...The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend on it. (ESW, 28-9)
Until these (justice and right) are realized on the plain of existence, all things shall be in disorder and remain imperfect. (BWF,290)
The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among people. In this exalted Word, the sea of God's wisdom is moving: all the books of the world are not sufficient to contain its interpretation. (BWF,182)
The tent of existence is upheld upon the pillars of justice, and not upon forgiveness. The continuance of mankind depends upon justice, and not upon forgiveness...the constitution of communities depends upon justice, not upon forgiveness. (SAQ, 309-10)
Justice and equity are twin guardians that watch over men. (ESW,13)
Say: Observe equity in your judgment, ye men of understanding heart! He that is unjust in his judgment is destitute of the characteristics that distinguish man's station. (G,204)Justice requires that one's words be congruent with his deeds:
O Son of Spirit! Know thou of a truth: He that biddeth men be just and himself committeth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name. (HW,10).This implies that a person should give himself a just and fair self-evaluation:
Be fair to yourselves and to others, that the evidences of justice may be revealed, through your deeds, among Our faithful servants. (G,278)
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... (PDC,39)Another feature of justice is moderation:
Overstep not the bounds of moderation, and deal justly with them that serve thee. (G,235)Thus in the grand scheme of justice as an interaction between God and man, man's first alternative is to treat himself and his fellow man justly by obeying Baha'u'llah's teachings. The second basic alternative is to reject the Divine standard. In particular, as we shall see below, for each phase of our society, Baha'u'llah has specified man's alternatives in terms of God's standard.
Whoso cleaveth to justice, can, under no circumstances, transgress the limits of moderation. (G,342)
3. Consequences. The third component of divine justice is the consequences of man's actions. Like man's alternatives, these consequences can be divided into roughly two categories.
(1) The first is achieving the divine purpose for man, which involves carrying "forward and ever-advancing civilization" (BWF,114), in which the "potentialities inherent in the station of man, the full measure of his destiny on earth, the innate excellence of his reality, must all be manifested in this promised Day of God" (BWF,128-9). This is the result of obedience to God's standard and is experienced by man as reward.
(2) The second group of consequences follow from a rejection of, or indifference to, Baha'u'llah's teachings which leaves unchecked the fundamental disease of human society for which Baha'u'llah prescribed His teachings. These consequences are further suffering and loss of human potential and may be likened unto punishment for this rejection.
Thus divine justice is a learning process for man. Behavior congruent with God's standard is rewarding and hence strengthened though its own inherent wisdom as revealed by Baha'u'llah. On the other hand, actions contrary to Baha'u'llah's teachings and hence inhibiting growth are punished and eventually are extinguished when the punishment resulting from these actions is found to be more severe than the sacrifice of giving them up. Baha'u'llah declares:
O people of God! The trainer of the world is justice, for it consists of two pillars: Reward and retribution. These two pillars are two foundations for the life of the people of the world. (BWF,195)Justice is receiving and giving what is deserved. "...for bounty is giving without desert, and justice is giving what is deserved" (SAQ,269); "Know that to do justice is to give to every one according to his deserts" (SAQ,304).
The Great Being saith: The structure of world stability and order hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment. (G,219)
In sum, the three components of divine justice are (1) the standard which defines the best means for man's growth and to which man's actions may be compared in order to learn whether they will have positive or negative consequences, (2) man's alternative actions which either accept or reject the divine standard, and (3) the rewards and punishments which are the consequences of these actions and by which man learns to fulfil his own destiny through the plan of Baha'u'llah, Who sums the relationship between man's alternatives and their consequences:
He who shall accept and believe, shall receive his reward; and he who shall turn away, shall receive none other than his own punishment. (G,339)Through initial acceptance of the divine standard or through the negative consequences of rejection, man comes to "know those things which lead to loftiness or to baseness, to shame or to honor, to affluence or to poverty" (BWF,167)
If ye believe, to your own behoof will ye believe; and if ye believe not, ye yourselves will suffer. (G,148)
THE POWER OF JUSTICE
Baha'u'llah proclaims the power of divine justice in the current search of men for order: Justice is...
...a powerful force. It is, above all else, the conqueror of the citadels of the hearts and souls of men, and the revealer of the secrets of the world of being, and the standard-bearer of love and bounty. (ESW,32)He warns the unjust persons of position in the world not to take justice lightly:
Take heed, O concourse of the rulers of the world! There is no force on earth that can equal in its conquering power the force of justice and wisdom. (G,219)The following statement by Baha'u'llah dramatizes the power of justice by making it clear that divine justice, and not mercy, is the guiding force in the current affairs of the world:
No light can compare with the light of justice. (ESW,28)
The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice. (HW,3)
If this Cause be of God, no man can prevail against it... (G,220)
God is my witness! Had it not been in conflict with that which the Tablets of God have decreed, I would have gladly kissed the hands of whosoever attempted to shed my blood in the path of the Well-Beloved. (G,102)In Baha'u'llah's words, this is
the day when the Balance of Justice shall be set, the day when unto every one shall be rendered his due, when the doings of all men, be they rich or poor, shall be weighed. (G,251)[To be continued in additional chapters, including "Justice in the condition of humanity today", "Forces involved in setting the balance of justice", "Justice for clergyman and congregation", "Justice for rich and poor", "Justice for men and women", "Consequences of acceptance of Baha'u'llah's standard", "Admonitions to justice", etc.]
References (page numbers from pre-1970 editions)
BWF, Baha'i World Faith (quotes from Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha)
ESW, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, by Baha'u'llah
G, Gleanings from the writings of Baha'u'llah
HW, Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah
PDC, Promised Day is Come, by Shoghi Effendi
SAQ, Some Answered Questions, by 'Abdu'l-Baha
SDC, Secret of Divine Civilization, by 'Abdu'l-Baha
© 2010 James J Keene