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‘There Is No Justice’

Yesterday I was talking to my therapist about a situation giving me grief right now. He said, “Why do you still let yourself get involved in those stressful conversations?”

I thought for a second, then said, “I guess because I expect justice.”

He smiled. “But you learned last year, when you were reading Dante, that you can’t expect justice in this life.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s hard to let go of, though.”

This morning I’m looking to Charles Featherstone for enlightenment. Here’s material from his new memoir The Love That Matters [1]. In this passage, Charles writes about how discovering Solzhenitsyn in high school helped him cope with a relentlessly abusive environment. He concedes that it’s absurd to compare high school to the gulag, but the lessons of how to think about suffering and injustice still applied. Read on:

First and foremost was the matter of suffering and power. Inflicting suffering was just something that power did. It couldn’t help it. Because of that, there was no inherent meaning to the infliction of suffering. “Why, O Lord?” is a question asked of the silent darkness:

[Quoting Solzhenitsyn] If you are arrested, can anything else remain unshattered by this cataclysm?

But the darkened mind is incapable of embracing these displacements in our universe, and both the most sophisticated and the veriest simpleton among us, drawing on all life’s experience, can gasp out only: ‘Me? What for?’

And this is a question which, though repeated millions and millions of times before, has yet to receive an answer.

Because there is no answer.

Charles says what he learned from reading Solzhenitsyn is that “the only salvation that can come is reached by accepting suffering.” More Charles:

You can accept that your lot, your life, your conditions will be hard and your path long. But you wont’ take from others. You will lay down whatever privileges you think you should be entitled to, and do the hardest work. And take the toughest path.

A very good friend at seminary once told me she found me oddly fatalistic. And I think I am. I take to heart a concept not much used in our mass democratic modernity: lot. It was my lot in life to suffer. Because of this, I have never been an activist (just a loudmouthed malcontent), and I’m willing to suffer a great deal of what many people would call injustice.

Because I never lived as a child, as a young person, with any sense that the world could be changed. Little would work in my favor. There was no cavalry, no knight in shining armor, no guardian angel waiting to save me. That never happened. There was no justice. Just loneliness, shame, fear, and violence. The world was a fundamentally unjust place, and it had to be endured. Because surviving in the face of the brutality, the indifference, the loneliness — and not becoming part of it, not succumbing to power and privilege and the cruelty that necessarily came with it, and all without resorting to cruelty and violence — well, that was what counted.

And a life of suffering could bear witness to the world. Of what, at the age of sixteen, I wasn’t sure. Perhaps my soul was being refined for a purpose, though that purpose wasn’t clear either. All I had was a very rough faith in something I couldn’t even begin to see.

Solzhenitsyn helped me understand there could be dignity in enduring suffering.

Being truly Christian requires even more than the Stoic virtues of enduring suffering without complaining. It requires you to develop the ability to be an alchemist of the spirit: to take suffering and turn it into love. None of us can do this on our own. Shoot, my own suffering is less than nothing compared to what Charles endured, much less compared to what most people on this earth endure every single day. But it is no less painful, in its way, for that, and the principle Solzhenitsyn discerned in the gulag, and that Charles Featherstone discerned both in Solzhenitsyn and in the halls of his high school and under the roof of his childhood home, can help all of us, whatever our circumstances. Because everybody faces injustice. Worse, everybody at some point will inflict injustice on others.

None of us will be sentenced to the gulag. None of us will serve as guards at the gulag. But in some way, each of us will face the same spiritual and moral forces at work in the gulag, in whatever attenuated form. And we will be tested by them.

I believe that Charles Featherstone has taken the suffering he endured as a child and as a teenager, and at last turned it into love, of which The Love That Matters is a particularly moving and beautiful fruit. This, by the way, is what Dante did with the Commedia. When he let go of any expectation of justice in this life, he was able to trust God and write that poem. Like St. Francis, who chose radical poverty, he was free in a way that eludes most of us.

Buy the book. [1]There are many of you readers who know exactly what Charles is talking about. This book is for you.

56 Comments (Open | Close)

56 Comments To "‘There Is No Justice’"

#1 Comment By Franklin Evans On January 24, 2015 @ 11:16 am

Chris: others have responded to you on points I would make, so I wish to add just one further thought: making injustice the target of one’s life, to stop its damaging momentum and replace it with a force for justice, can (arguably) be named the primary motivation for every revolution in our human history. I suggest our “recent” past — the American Revolution, our own Civil War, the Civil Rights movement — as worthy examples of this.

Erin, my sieve-like memory cannot dredge up when I first encountered that line, but I’ve used a shortened version of it ever since and no one has mentioned its source to me in reply. It is one of the few — and heartfelt — remnants of my being surrounded by Christianity during the first quarter-century of my life.

Be well, be well, and in all things be well.


#2 Comment By elizabeth On January 24, 2015 @ 6:23 pm

Rod, for whom are you expecting justice?

If for yourself, then participation in repetitious, unproductive conversations that have never worked for you before are just a habitual pattern that leads to predictable stress. Those who argue with you are just as caught in their own habitual limitations as you are, so pray for them. Do they really have the power to give you the justice you seek?

Forgiveness is salve for your soul, as much or more than for theirs. Compassion for everyone caught in a system of suffering helps blur the distinction between self and others.

#3 Comment By BP On January 24, 2015 @ 6:37 pm

No good deed goes unpunished.

#4 Comment By Chris 1 On January 24, 2015 @ 6:42 pm

None of us will be sentenced to the gulag.

I thought the whole point of your many posts about the Law of Merited Impossibility is that culture warriors are going to be sentenced to the gulag.

Did I miss something?

#5 Comment By Andrea On January 24, 2015 @ 7:24 pm

“Nothing new under the sun” is pretty much my philosophy. I don’t see any significant differences in the people described by the ancients or the people I live among now. Human nature is human nature. And no, there probably has never been justice all the time or everywhere, but that depends a lot on how you define justice. I prefer mercy to justice or at least justice heavily tempered with mercy because human beings are human beings and the guy who did the terrible thing could be me under different circumstances or on a really bad day.

I am fortunate enough not to have lived with the sort of trauma that Charles Featherstone did, but I did know as a child what it was like to be bullied relentlessly and continuously and to fear that it would never stop. There came a point where the bullying became so intolerable that I told my parents, who told the school administration. The principal informed them that my dad could have pressed charges against them and made them all write an apology. I remember being surprised and a little sympathetic at the idea that these kids my age could have been charged with a crime and I didn’t want them to be. By that time I knew a little about their home lives — an alcoholic parent who left two of them alone, a single mother who was barely holding it together for another of the boys, etc. I just wanted them to stop — which they did, at least for awhile.

Books were always a solace for me as well.

#6 Comment By Darth Thulhu On January 25, 2015 @ 12:35 am

I am sorry that injustice is so deeply rooted in your family arrangement; that your kin are, as a practical matter, truly your enemies on matters truly of significance.

I can only suggest that you do the selfish thing and forgive them.

Contra Uncle Chuckie, there is no level of material victory that will ever suffice, for you or for them, because none of you are really looking for material victory.

You might well make each other powerless to stop one another in doing what you want to do (honestly, y’all reached that point decades ago) … but you will never have the power to make the Other Side agree, and will never have the power (this side of the veil) to force the Other Side to confront the Truth as you understand it without ego. Y’all will never force the Other Side to actually agree with your estimation of the wrongs the Other Side is alleged to have committed.

You are Enemies.

So love one another, and pray for one another.

Forgive them their trespasses against you, prefer their well-being to your own, pray that they one day forgive you in turn, and thank God for the opportunity to humbly submit to His guidance and to grow in His virtues.

Nothing will untie your Gordian Knot other than cutting straight through it and letting it fall. Good luck, and God bless.