Ethics and Justice
Ethics concerns what is morally right or wrong. Justice concerns what is legally right or wrong. Ideally, justice is ethical, and one assumes that doing what is ethical is legal. Justice cares about people’s rights, and righting wrongs when those rights are violated. Although Cain denied being his “brother’s keeper,” we expect ethical standards and administered justice to function as a “brother’s keeper” to someone (especially ourselves).
Justice can be restorative (compensatory), requiring the wrongdoer to restore the innocent victim, to the extent possible, to the same (or a similar) condition the victim was in before the wrong was committed (such as paying to repair damaged property, paying hospital bills, returning stolen goods, etc.). Or, justice can be punitive (penal), punishing the criminals, as a matter of social morality, for the wrong committed (involving jail time, fines, loss of a driver’s license, a criminal record, or even capital punishment).
But sometimes the boundaries of what is morally right (ethical), individually and/or socially, are controversial. What about cloning, or artificial insemination, or various forms of contraception? What about informing human subjects that they are being experimented on for scientific or marketing research purposes? What about the use of deception by government officials (rationalized as required for national security, or to avoid a riot, or to promote a “social injustice” policy)? What about civil rights, discrimination, and the persecution of Christians?
The Bible provides knowable answers to all of these moral decision-making questions, either directly or indirectly. The Bible’s moral values are not like relativistic situational ethics. The Bible provides moral absolutes such as “thou shalt not steal,” “thou shalt not murder,” and “as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”