Session One: How is Justice Done?

N.T. Wright
A free video tutorial from N.T. Wright
4.7 instructor rating • 33 courses • 106,591 students

Learn more from the full course

Themes in the Gospel of John

Prof. N.T. Wright examines the Gospel of John observing seven key, overarching themes pointing to a new way of living.

05:37:52 of on-demand video • Updated October 2019

  • Understand the background surrounding this wonderful Gospel as well as how the writing relates to us today.
  • Describe the different overarching themes that tie the Gospel of John together.
  • Explain the elements of the Gospel of John that are so important to embrace today.
  • Delineate the similarities and differences between the issues of today that overlap with the issues Jesus spoke about in this Gospel.
  • Develop a broader understanding of what it means to be a King Jesus follower in a countercultural way.
  • Appreciate the importance of having a robust understanding of the seven overarching themes that the Gospel of John identifies.
English [Auto] Why do people read crime novels. I've often wondered that because actually my wife reads a lot more crime novels than I do. I sometimes wonder whether it was just the real long result of being married to me but then somebody pointed out that actually one of the reasons people like crime novels is not just because they want to wallow in all the evil wrongdoing and the complexity of the world of wickedness but because crime novels get sorted out by the end. Somebody has found out who did it and the world in a sense is put back right again. And that's what we all long for. It's a sign that actually deep within all human beings is a sense that something may be out of joint and pretty certainly is but that it ought to be sorted out. It ought to be put right. We want to be able to think it through. We want to be able to sort it out to understand what's gone wrong and understand what it will take to make things OK again and it isn't just adults reading crime novels. You can see it at very early ages when you watch children playing in a playground. They haven't had a lesson on justice on fairness. They simply know that if somebody snatches something that somebody else has got then that's not fair or you shouldn't do that whatever it may be an innate sense of justice and fairness and we see it in the world of sport which in a sense sport is a kind of a myth that we all have around the edge of our lives where we want things to happen to be sorted out for good people to win for the best people to win. And if there's a sense that somebody is cheated or that they were they were robbed of a win that they should have had because somebody else didn't play fair. It stirs up something deep within us. We don't just say well that's how the world is. We say no that's not fair. It needs to be sorted out. We find it obviously in families a deep sense of fairness and also tragically of unfairness. People often say don't reckon you know somebody until you've divided an inheritance with them. And the moment when there's a generational transition in a family is often a very tense time. Who is going to get the best bet. Who is going to get the grandfather clock or much more than that who is going to get a sizable inheritance or whatever it may be. And tragically the sense of unfairness of injustice that moments like that can produce sometimes produces lasting grudges. Sometimes families where two different bits of the family don't acknowledge one another don't speak to one another for ages and it's all because of this deep sense that we humans have that things are out of joint and that that's not right and that they ought to be put right that Justice actually matters. Obviously we can see this around the world a sense of longing for justice and then a sense of puzzlement that we don't know how to do it in the 20th century. There were a great swirling movements people seeking to put the world right this way or that when we look at the causes of the First World War it was because there were a half a dozen different nations not just Britain and Germany as I grew up probably leaving but also France and Italy and Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland and Russia all telling themselves stories about age old injustices which needed to be put right. Here was an opportunity. And so it was a perfect storm which went on for four horrible years and then many other things that happened in the 20th century as well great social disruptions and unrest huge general strikes marches of people who felt that society had forgotten them and it was a matter of injustice which had to be sorted out. And then of course all the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust where different groups thought this is how to sort things out. This is how to put things right. Only to discover later on. There's in all sorts of ways we made matters worse not least of course in the Middle East where now the result of decisions taken after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where and then particularly after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East where lines were drawn on a map by people sitting in offices in London or Paris or wherever where we're going to call this country this we're going to call that country that never mind the different tribes people who live there a sense that we will put it right. We will sort it out. But then our blundering caused much larger and longer problems which is still going on. So out of all this water we conclude that we all do have something we could call a passion for justice. We all know that there is such a thing as injustice and it needs to be put right. It's deeply built into the business of being human. And if we're not careful it results in a world of grudges of threats revenge of victim hood often doubled over as one person plays victim and so does something bad to the other person. And then they feel they've been victimized and there's no easy way of settling these things. And we find this both internationally and locally. Our criminal justice systems we try to do things to to punish people on the one hand or to make them better on the other. We have big debates about what sort of justice we believe in. Do we believe in retributive justice where people simply get what they deserve or do we believe in restorative justice where the whole point is to try to put the community back together again. That's been tried in some parts of the world. New Zealand interestingly based on the old Maori justice systems where the point was that the community must be preserved and must not be allowed to be fractured. But it's difficult. It's complex. How do you do that on larger social scales and what should we do about major international injustices. What should we do about the tensions that arise in different parts of the world. Is the United Nations just a strange organization whistling in the dark pretending to help sort things out. Is the fact that we've got something it calls itself an international criminal court. Is that actually good enough. Is that what we want as an international community. How do we know. What about the many places where the right of the United Nations doesn't seem to run so that the U.N. can say we're going to do this and other people say no actually we're going to do that. And that seems to be nothing that can be done about it. Is the world in fact both longing for justice and then pushing everybody else out of the way when they want to do one thing which is different from what we want. All of this results in a conclusion that we know justice matters. Bart puzzlingly both locally in our own lives and all the way up to globally and internationally. We do not know how to do justice we don't know what would make it happen. We don't know how to put things right. We have systems that can sort something out here and sort something out there and maybe there are some trials in which people really do get properly convicted and properly punished and everybody is relatively happy about it. But as we all know across the board things are much harder than we think they ought to be and this is a puzzle at every level not just a practical puzzle what to do about a puzzle about being human. How come we all know it matters but we can't apparently all get together and make it happen. What's going on. What should we say about it. And here's the great irony that for many in the western world today it is this huge and that the church the official representatives of Christianity the church doesn't have much to say about this question which concerns us all so deeply except perhaps that the church might be seen to be ringing its hands and saying I wish you would all behave a bit better. Can't you all be nice to each other so that many people both in terms of national justice systems and international justice they are thrashing around and trying to make things happen. But nobody expects to be able to look at the Bible to look at the Christian tradition to look at the teaching of Jesus to see that there might be new ways forward in this course who are going to be looking at several topics of which justice is the first. And what we're going to do is we're going to think about the problem the problem which in this case is that we all know there is such a thing as justice but we all know we're not very good at it and then we're going to take a step back and read John's gospel with that question in mind and see what might be emerging from John's way of telling the story of Jesus. And then we're going to take the risk of saying OK having glimpse that we're going to come back into our world and say so what might be done now in order to try to bring resolution both an intellectual resolution in terms of can we then understand what is actually going on that we are these strange just longing for creatures but were thwarted all the time and also practically what can actually be done both by the churches and by people to whom the church can address a more authoritative message from Jesus himself.