The quest for justice is a common human experience and we can get deeply embittered and frustrated when we don't get it. So how can we find true justice? A conversation confronting life's injustices where we find something bigger.
Our guest: Jennie Pakula works as a lawyer and is manager of Innovation and Consumer Engagement at Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner. She has been working in the legal profession for over 30 years.
This show was recorded as a part of the Songs of the Heart series. To explore more, download a free reading guide.
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Bigger Questions asked in the conversation
Jennie you work for the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner, that sounds a bit of a mouthful, what do they do?
Just to clarify today you’re not going to give legal advice today are you?
Now many people associate getting justice with a fair and reasonable court trial. So Jennie, I thought I’d test you on: “what the witness said next in a court trial” according to the Readers’ Digest 20 funniest lawyer jokes ever.
The elusive nature of justice
So Jennie, do you think that the clients of these lawyers will get justice?
Perhaps these demonstrate that lawyers aren’t quite perfect. But there is a bigger question at stake here, about the nature of our legal system. A lawyer once said to me, We don’t have a justice system, we have a legal system. Is this a fair assessment?
Does our legal system bring justice?
Do these factors make getting justice difficult?
Is justice therefore elusive?
What does it mean to get justice?
But why do we want justice?
Is justice connected to morality, or is justice simply the one who has the best lawyer, or whatever the ‘law’ says?
Jennie’s story of meeting the lawgiver
So you believe in this concept of a cosmic lawgiver. But why is that? This wasn’t something you grew up with? What happened?
Bible - anger at injustice
We’re asking Jennie Pakula today’s big question, ‘Can I get Justice’ and there is an ancient song from the book of Psalms which also explores the search and longing for justice.
But do you think an ancient book can give us wisdom in our quest for justice?
At the start of Psalm 58, the Psalmist poses some questions,
Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge people with equity?
No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
What’s the problem here? It seems that there was injustice in the ‘justice’ system of the ancient world?
So the problems of access to justice that people face today, is not new?
Then after acknowledging this problem, the Psalmist describes those who perpetuate injustice with vivid imagery, like, verse 4,
Their venom is like the venom of a snake
Why do you think he describes those who bring injustice with such strong images?
But then, the Bible responds to this injustice in a surprising way. There is real virulence in his words as he responds to the wicked. So in verse 6 the composer of this song says, ‘break the teeth in their mouths O God’. This is such strong language, how can this be in the Bible?
Why does he say this?
You’ve spoken to a lot of lawyers and clients, do you find people get angry in the face of injustice?
Bible - justice will come
This song of the heart concludes in a very dramatic fashion, it says in verse 10,
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
This seems barbaric and bloodthirsty, how can this be a part of the so called ‘good book’?
To avenge seems like a bit of an archaic concept, but yet the idea features in the popular Marvel ‘Avengers’ movie series. So is avenge something for real life, or just something for a good vs evil superheroes movie?
But is there a difference between vengeance and justice?
Then the song ends with verse 11,
Then people will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
How can this possibly be good news?
I saw an interesting article written by an atheist Brett Muhlhan who rejected the Christian message and describes God’s final judgement as ‘a particularly ugly feature of Christianity’. Yet in the same article he also says that, “a world without a final reckoning seemed harder, more unfair”. He seems in two minds about the final judgement - so Jennie, is the idea of a God who judges the earth an ugly thing or a good thing?
Does this idea of God as judge fill you with fear and worry?
This Psalm is an ancient song, so if it were a modern tune, what type of song do you think it would be like?
The Big Question
So Jennie, can I get justice?