"Justice" and Grace in Charleston

06/24/2015 09:32 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

Justice is a serial killer. We kill in the name of justice, not injustice. This fact often goes overlooked because we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are "just" in order to justify treating others unjustly. The killing of the Charleston nine in "Mother" Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, illustrates how deadly can be the pursuit of "justice."

This is how human nature works. We draw a line between good and evil. Then, we place ourselves on the good side of the line. On the evil side we place the scapegoat. By exacting justice against the purportedly guilty scapegoat, we declare ourselves to be just. The problem is this: justice kills.

The trigger puller, Dylann Roof, appointed himself to exact justice on behalf of the persecuted white race by executing nine persons of African American descent. Just how did Dylann Roof pursue his self-justification? Let's look at what he said in his manifesto published online.

"Niggers are stupid and violent. At the same time they have the capacity to be very slick.... Negroes have lower Iqs, lower impulse control, and higher testosterone levels in generals. These three things alone are a recipe for violent behavior."

Mr. Roof has drawn a line between good and evil. On the good side belong white, intelligent, non-violent people. On the bad side belong stupidity, low impulse control, and violence. Mr. Roof would do the world a favor by eliminating what exists on the evil side of that line. This is all a lie that Mr. Roof tells himself; but it justifies his violence.

"Segregation was not a bad thing. It was a defensive measure. Segregation did not exist to hold back negroes. It existed to protect us from them." Mr. Roof is "justly" defending the white race by encroachment by the black races. A pre-emptive slaying of nine black persons counts, in Mr. Roof's mind, as an act of justice, a response to a previous injustice. The march of justice fighting injustice goes on and on.

What about the families of the slain and the Christian members of "Mother" Emanuel? Have they drawn a line between good and evil in the same fashion? No. How have they responded? With forgiveness. What? Forgiveness?

Justice can become a serial killer, if every victim justifies retaliation against their perceived enemies. The only way to interrupt the sequence is with forgiveness. Forgiveness is not justice in another form. Forgiveness is unjust. Forgiveness is gracious, merciful, and loving. What has just happened in South Carolina and in America is a moment of grace.