Explaining justice to young people is not always as easy as it sounds. On the other hand, grown-ups and especially parents and teachers, are quick to sense when they have meted out an injustice.
The reaction of the innocent (or misunderstood) says it all.
But justice itself is a concept with huge cultural variance and historical baggage. Old Testament justice implied retribution whilst New Testament justice demanded reconciliation and redemption.
Justice involves fairness being used to restore something that has gone wrong. For this reason it is difficult for school children to comprehend the recent Hillsborough decision on the unlawful killing of 96 Liverpool fans in April 1989. I spoke to some of our pupils about the matter this week. They found it difficult to understand how 27 years of waiting – more than twice their lifespan – following such a tragedy and such loss could ever be recompensed by a unanimous verdict made by nine jurors.
Yet when they began to question how important memory is to us, as well as our good name, and when they started to consider how the search for justice was often all the families had to sustain them through the very dark years following the tragedy, it started to make sense.
When they considered how out of such a tragedy there came at least some good, in this case to the arrangements for keeping spectators safe, then the need for justice and for fixing something broken became more apparent. In the case of Hillsborough, our need for justice can grow stronger with time.
Human beings have a deep seated sense of what is right and what is wrong. For that reason our behavioural norms and expectations are based on Matthew 7:12, when Jesus exhorted us to ‘treat others as you want them to treat you.’
Centuries earlier, the prophet Amos proclaimed: ‘let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry.’
We know that the world has its fair share of dry riverbeds, but our young people innately understand the place for justice, and our need for it as well, no matter how long the wait.