Thursday, November 08, 2007

Justice (8) - Events in the Past

Justice looks backwards to assess actions and remedy injustices that occurred in the past. Sometimes they will need to look quite a long way back. An example is Saul’s treatment of the Gibeonites. When Joshua was leading the people of Israel into the promised land, the Gibeonites tricked the elders of Israel into making a peace treaty by pretending to have come from a distant land (Jos 9).

Two hundred years later, when David was king, there were three years of severe drought. The Lord told David that this happened, because his predecessor Saul had violated the treaty made by Joshua by trying to annihilate the Gibeonites (2 Sam 21). David followed the correct judicial process. He met with the Gibeonites and established the truth of what happened. David made restitution by allowing seven of Saul’s descendants to be put to death. God then heard David’s prayers and the drought came to an end.

David’s decision indicates that the size of the restitution will vary according to the time that has elapsed since the injustice occurred. This is especially important, if several generations have passed. It is not possible to exactly restore a situation, several hundred years after an injustice has occurred. The reason is that the effects of injustice dissipate over time. The situation of those who suffered will have changed depending on other events that have occurred. Some will have benefited from the mistakes of others.

On the other side, by the time four or five generations have passed, the person who did an injustice will have dozens of descendants. The benefits will have been diluted, as they are spread among many people. Many of those who benefited from the injustice will have already suffered through other circumstances. It is not possible to turn back the clock and make things exactly as they were at the time the injustice occurred. Restitution several generations after the event will often be more symbolic than total.

I have used the Gibeonite passages to to define a solution to injustice towards indigenous peoples. For more see Treaty of Waitangi.

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