Sunday, 16 May 2021

True justice from a forgiving judge

WHEN the Nuremberg trial opened on November 20, 1945, it was just six months since Nazi Germany had surrendered and much of the city remained a bombed-out ruin.

Jointly headed by an American, US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, and a Briton, Sir Hartley Shawcross, the trial saw 22 high-ranking Nazi officers face trial for war crimes, including two of Hitler’s foremost generals and his second in command, Hermann Göring.

Last week was the 75th anniversary of the opening of the trials and various people were interviewed by the BBC, including a lady who had lost her family in the Nazi death-camps.

Her reaction was that the trials were well and good but what about the thousands, indeed many thousands, of camp guards and others who played their part in the “final solution”?

They just melted away into the background and carried on living relatively normal lives. Some were tracked down later but the great majority were not. The same happened with the people who ran the Soviet gulags.

The lady interviewed above did not come across as bitter (although who could blame her if she did?), but as one who longed for justice. That’s a fundamental longing of the human heart.

Children as young as two understand fairness and that grows into a sense of justice as we mature. The longing to see justice done runs very deep in some of us — and that’s not just negatively.

As well as wanting to see the wicked punished as they deserve, we want to see the good, the self-sacrificing rewarded and celebrated. We work hard for justice and so we should, without question.

The longing for justice is often a powerful force for good. It is also a longing likely to be unfulfilled for many in this life, for obvious reasons.

Christians believe that one day there will be justice for all. We will all one day stand before a judgement, with a judge who sees and understands everything, against whose judgement there is no appeal because his judgement is always utterly right.

He is a judge who died for those who hated him, who said from a cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”, and to a thief dying beside him, “This day you shall be with me in paradise”.

He forgives where there is the faintest glimmer of real repentance. His is the mercy of total insight, complete understanding of causes and motives.

But he remains a judge. There is no evading his trial, and his justice will be done, finally and absolutely.

This is one of the great themes of Advent, the season beginning on Sunday. The coming-again of Jesus at the end of days will mean freedom and salvation, but also judgement.

As the old Prayer Book states in the Nicene creed: “He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick [i.e. the living] and the dead.”

For hearts that truly long for justice that is good news.

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