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Restorative justice: A biblical view of justice

Jul 18, 2012

from the entry by TM Moore at

We are obligated to live justly toward our neighbors, and, in part, that requires that we take appropriate preventive steps to guard his wellbeing and property.

The statute cited in our text above reflects the third facet of the Biblical teaching on justice, which we may refer to as restorative justice. According to the Law of God, when injustice has occurred, whoever is responsible for it must take steps to set things right again.

This statute shows how the practice of restorative justice was nuanced in order to encourage the practice of preventive justice. If the ox simply, without warning or provocation, killed a neighbor’s ox, the owner of the goring ox had to sell it and share the proceeds with the owner of the dead ox. Also, the two would share the dead ox, whether the proceeds of its sale or its meat.

However, if the goring ox was known to attack, and the owner did not keep it in, then a greater injustice would have been committed, requiring a greater act of restoration. In this case the owner of the goring ox comes away with only the dead ox, while the owner of the gored ox receives a new beast from the owner of the offending ox.

In ancient Israel, whenever someone was injured by the neglect or indifference of a neighbor, restoration was required in order to return justice to the community. Once restoration was made the injured party was satisfied and the guilty party was exonerated. Neighbors could quickly get on with being neighbors without grudges being built up against one another. No prison time was involved, and no revenge was needed. Restoration could include money paid to return an injured person to health or for lost opportunity costs (Ex. 21:18, 19), borrowed things that were broken or lost (Ex. 22:14, 15), or even lost items that one might find (Deut. 22:1-4).

Read the whole entry.

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John White
John White says:
Sep 06, 2012 03:29 PM

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the single greatest hurdle in the path of true justice as detailed in the Bible, is our human difficulty in accepting that there is a power far greater than us and, that in order for life to be able to work well, we need to surrender without condition or reservation to that Authority that we commonly call 'God'. Even the excellent restorative justice practices, if they fail to accede to this great Mysterious Reality as Truth, they will be less than optimally effective in turning lives around and assisting them to become truly restored and whole.There is no getting away from reality. Like gravity, it can't be defied, only demonstrated. And, in our ego-centred refusal to surrender totally to this Mysterious Reality that I am here calling God,we deny ourselves and each other the benefit of wholesome, equal, mutually-empowering, life-giving, love relationships and true community including, of course, actual justice. In place of all that we have opted for judgement, condmnation, separation, isolation, fear, mistrust,less- than -whole people, and the potential destruction of all that we hold dear. I advocate a courageous, open discussion amongst ourselves about what it is that we each believe, on what processes and information do we base those beliefs, how well do they stand up in the light of wisdom tradition and literature, and what does experience - our own and that of countless seekers and wise women and men throughtout the history of mankind - have to say about our bases. This activity, should we decide to undertake it, must have nothing to do with trying to convince anyone that 'I am right and you are wrong'. If there is right and wrong - if there is 'truth' - it will become clear as a result of openness to it.

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