The Shadow of Justice

Law is the shadow of justice.

This implies two things: justice, and the light of our regard.

Justice is fractal. This means that at every level its principle -- its logos -- is the same. But it also means that justice looks different from different angles and approaches. Justice has many aspects, therefore, and one logic.

Two things may be generated, categorically, from the intersection of our regard with the body of justice. The first is gospel: the proclamation of that form or aspect of justice which we have seen and experienced. The second is law: the shadow cast behind justice by the light.

Let us stand perfectly still for a moment, and assume -- falsely -- that the body of justice will also cease to move. Let us, in short, render an image of this relationship and divert our attention to the image. Let us, for a moment, commit the sin of idolatry so that we may learn from it.

Now that we have become free to wander about the frame, what do we see? Our light has not illumined the whole of justice. Only a portion of the half of the body facing us is revealed. It is revealed in chiaroscuro, because of the weakness of our light. And yet we can see it. We can see well enough, in fact, to begin to say what it is we see by our light, though what we see is not the whole of the body of justice.

And our light has cast behind it a flatter, broader form of the aspect we have seen in the light. This shadow is the implication of the illumined form of justice, and our regard of it. It has none of the features visible by our light, save the outline of the form that presently stands perpendicular to our regard. It is bounded darkness, with light outside. Its center is wholly dark, a darkness only relieved as we approach its edges. This penumbral border gives definition to the shadow of justice.

But are these the subjects of the image? Are we not rather observing two bodies in relationship?

Should we increase the light of our regard, the visible body will grow more clear -- and the shadow it casts will become deeper and more definite. If we focus our regard, parts of the body directly in view will become far easier to see -- and their shadows loom far larger. If we broaden its scope, more of the body will become less perfectly visible, and that lightness that defines the edge of the shadow will grow.

And if, as bodies do beyond the borders of our temporarily frozen image, we move with respect to one another? Here is the beginning of wisdom: The shapes all change.

But let us not believe that we are the only subject observing justice in the world! Let us add other lights, and observe the effects. What does it do to have a community of lights stand in one place? The closer we stand and the more regimented our gaze, the more likely it is that justice will be defined by both its face and its shadow, because both will appear. Ah, but let us spread out. Let us stand at ease. Do we see the face of justice less easily? No, but see how small its shadow becomes! Now let us turn the whole world to observe the faces of justice that appear to them -- but where has the shadow gone? Which of these pale predicates of the body of justice will you observe?

It is often implied that law is necessary to restrain sin. That law is the substance of our way of life. That doctrine holds the key to the nature of the church. That relativism is the single greatest threat, because having a determined opponent will serve to strengthen your position, not to weaken it.


Justice will always be our most determined opponent, because justice observes us. Had we forgotten that? The gaze of justice sees the face and casts the shadow of every life in creation. In perfect justice God observes the shape of every created life. In perfect judgment God knows the good and the bad that each has done. And yet what is the face of perfect justice? It is not condemnation, but concern. It is the loving care of the Creator for the vast expanse of creation and every individual creature therein. Justice is exercised in pedagogy at the hands of our neighbors -- in whom are the effects of our ways of life. But perfect justice is seen in the acts of God saving and redeeming creation, providing again and again the grounds on which we may be justified and reconciled to one another in love. If we have gazed at true justice, and not at an idol, its shadow will be seen in the implications of the actions of God for our own actions in response, as we are called to be responsible to the God who saves and redeems and justifies and reconciles all creation. For justice is at work and moving -- it does not stand still.

If you worry about any shadow in creation, let it be your own. But better than that, realize that you stand in relationship with God because God has chosen in perfect justice to stand in loving relationship with you and all creation. If you attend to the relationship, the shadows will take care of themselves. They are a diagnostic tool, a sketch of your shape in the light, nothing more. Learn from them, but lean on God, and proclaim the face of the one you have come to know in this way. Let that perfect justice guide you in your relationships with your fellow creatures. Their shadows, too, are diagnostic tools -- but not according to the light of your regard.