This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Justice and morality are not coextensive

When it is said in the Gospel of Matthew that the Father ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’, we are given an excellent starting point for a necessary observation about the distinction between morality and justice.

Sometimes acts of God, which must be good, and therefore moral, are also, from the point of view of human legal calculus, unjust. It is worth repeating: God’s morality is unjust, but in the sense that his love exceeds justice and consumes it.

Examples of this holy disregard for justice abound. It is shown to the prodigal son, and in the parable of the workers who were paid a full day’s wage for a partial day’s work. The other workers (like the obedient son in the first parable) were justly irritated at the master’s decision. Here we can see the discrepancy, the master departs from the logic of justice but never from the essence of the good.

What we are trying to show is, firstly, that justice does not provide an exhaustive account of the moral, and in the same way that a truly good act can offend legal justice, so also can legal justice offend the good.

To reframe this concept in the context of war and the warrior, we can say that the vocation of the warrior is the vocation of justice, and that the actions of a just warrior can still be described as morally imperfect, since as we have just observed, justice does not encompass the entirety of the good. In using force to harm or kill an enemy, the warrior offends perfect righteousness, but he conforms to justice.

Here is the principle that must be grasped:

For the warrior, justice is enough, and in humility he acts knowing that according to his earthly duties he must settle for something less than moral. His duty represents the inverse of God’s mercy, and he trusts God’s mercy to exceed his justice and cover its imperfection.

The warrior lives in the cold shadow of the gratuitous love of the Father. It is not given to him to bask in the warmth of the sun that does not distinguish between good and evil men. The warrior must distinguish, sometimes with brutal finality.

In this light, are his actions good? Yes and no. The justice brought by the sword is superior to the injustice brought by the villain, but in relation to the moral perfection of divine mercy, this justice is inferior. We can see, then, that the man of action occupies the position of justice, and this is an intermediate position between evil and righteousness.

Having said all of this, do we imply that the warrior who carries out his work through love of God is accounted sinful in the sense that, in resisting evil, he participates in it? The answer is not simple. Although every sin can be called unrighteous, not every unrighteous act is a sin. Sin can be seen as a particular category of unrighteous deeds, leaving open the possibility of certain unrighteous actions that are not sinful. The deciding factor in this question is necessity.

If the objective conditions of the situation allow for the possibility of a truly righteous, morally perfect action, and we opt for an unrighteous action, then we may speak of sin. However, if conditions exclude all righteous outcomes, and in pursuing the good we fall short of righteousness out of necessity and without any other possible option, then this cannot be a sin, since we are not held liable for unrighteousness when the limits of our worldly situation exclude righteousness.

This is important, and when we speak of the spiritual compromise demanded by the warrior vocation, it is this difficult situation we have in mind, and it will be necessary to deny the false equivalence that presents unrighteousness and sinfulness as synonyms.

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