Just tears

Richard Shumack on the film 'Just Mercy', the human longing for justice, and the importance of "looking at the world through tears."

This week my family watched the movie Just Mercy and there were tears. Tears at blatant racial injustices; at a horribly flawed justice system; and at the death penalty (right or wrong). Perhaps we were close to tears anyway. There’s certainly plenty of injustice and inequitable death to be crying over at the moment.

These tears reveal that the longing for justice comes from deep within our humanity. It is irresistible, driving, intuitive. It draws on moral wells of righteousness. This viscerality explains the penchant for violently reactive movements rallying around mere slogans.

Our intuitions brilliantly and instinctively recognise injustice, but making things right is an extraordinarily complex business. Slogans and memes can’t do that heavy lifting. Instead we need fully orbed justice ideologies that can balance retribution with a whole range of related values like restoration, redemption, rehabilitation, protection, and communication.

But richly establishing justice must remain tearful. Here, as usual, Jesus stands extraordinary. A man of tears, he wept over unjust Jerusalem, he wept over unnecessary death, and he wept tears of blood at the extreme and costly process of establishing justice.

Following in these footsteps, and on the loss of a son, Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff decided: “I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that, dry-eyed, I could not see.” Through this lens he framed the beautiful ideology “Justice in Love”. I highly recommend it.