Thinking Gift to think Grace

Justice has been always thought of together with the law. We think that law is the delivery of justice. Derrida on the contrary invites and incites us to think justice outside the law. Some Derridian scholars suggest that St. Paul also thinks Justice outside the law. We are told that Paul thinks of divine justice outside the law and hence thinks that it has to be enacted apart from the law. To understand the disconnection between Justice and Law, we have to come to the connection between law and violence. It is the violence of law that delinks justice from law. The disjoint between justice and law is related to what Derrida calls the force of law that destabilizes its relative justice. Similarly, Paul’s disjunction between law and justice is concerned with the manifestation of the violence of the law most particularly as the law, both of Israel and of Rome, which rejects, condemns, and executes the messiah who is the coming of divine justice. Thus we can trace tensive thinking of law and justice both in Paul and Derrida. As with other things Derrida does not outrightly dismiss law but finds certain violence at the heart of the law. Hence, he thinks that if at all we have to think justice we have to think it apart of the law.

St Paul also thinks of justice outside the law. He bases justice on a certain gift/ grace. To understand this link of grace/ gift and justice, we may need to take the assistance of Derrida’s reflection on the gift. It might enable us to understand what Paul is doing when he thinks of justice as a gift. Derrida has already linked justice and gift in his writing, Force of Law, where he says, “It goes without saying that discourses on…the gift beyond exchange and distribution…are also, through and through, at least oblique discourses on justice”. Derrida thinks that justice and gift are inseparable. There are several texts where he declares and cites the site of this link. Therefore, to think justice means to think gift. This means if justice is the question, we can no longer engage it without engaging with the question of the gift. This is a bold claim that Derrida makes when he makes thinking gift as the basis of thinking justice. This reminds us of St Paul saying: “being made just as God’s gift by grace” (Rom. 3:24). This is why we can think with Derrida to understand the teaching of St. Paul about the link between justice and grace.

Derrida brings the economy of gift to understand justice when he says, “it is the experience of the other as other, the fact that I let the other be other, which presupposes a gift without restitution, without reappropriation and without jurisdiction.” Derrida teaches that gift disrupts the nomic (norms) of the economy. It breaks the chain of exchange. Pure gift seeks no return. A gift can only be a gift as aneconomic. Gift stays outside the nomic ( normos/ law) to become a gift. This means the gift is outside the law (of exchange) but needs this necessary relation to the inside ( law of exchange) to mark a distance to be a gift. The pure gift is impossible as reciprocity of any shade or hue brings back the gift into the nomic chain of exchange. Pure giving in this sense is impossible for every giving is also taking, taking of gratitude/ goodwill/ sense of indebtedness. The debt economy cancels and negates the gift. This means a gift is often annulled by a counter-gift that remains symbolic and pulls our gifting into the nomic chain of symbolic exchange. Therefore, reciprocity makes the gift belong to the market and the economy. Therefore, the gift can be a gift only by being outside the ritual circle of the debt. The condition of impossibility of a gift belongs to the market and to its nomics ( norms or law). It is by marking an outside to nomic chain the gift becomes a gift. This does not mean that gift is impossible. It means that it is haunted by the conditions of its impossibility. The gift stays in the gap of the economy. Practically it is humanly difficult if not impossible to give a pure gift. But we can think gift and still desire it/ intend it. Thus the conditions of the impossibility of the gift actually open us to the thinking of the gift. Thus we can sum up Derrida view on thinking gift with his own words: “The gift is totally foreign to the horizon of economy, ontology, knowledge, constantive statements, and theoretical determination and judgment”

We can trace the link of grace and gift in St. Paul. Grace is a divine gift. We can also notice the priority of grace over justice, exteriority of grace to law and exteriority of grace to the economy of debt. A close reading of Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:15-17 shows how grace operates outside the economy of debt. Justice therefore in Paul does not consist in mere compliance with the law. For Paul, it is not the law that serves as the basis of justice but it is a gift that becomes the basis of justice. We can hear Paul saying when we read: “they are now made just by divine grace (charis) as a gift (do -rean) . . .” (Rom. 3:24). Paul identifies grace and gift and puts grace and law in a tensive relation and describes those who are under grace and not the law as slaves of justice (Rom. 6: 18.19)/ slaves of God (Rom. 6: 22). We can also see that grace as a gift stands outside the economy of debt as the one made just by grace did not have to pay the debts of his/her sins which are paid by Jesus Christ the son of God. This does not mean one is passively receiving the gift and once received there is no need for good works. Paul brings faith into play in this context. Faith is also a gift of God that brings us to grace, the free gift of divine justice. Therefore to Paul, good works are not payment of the debt of sin but they are works of those who join God as slaves of God to bring divine justice in the world. Here too with Derrida, we may think the conditions of the impossibility of coming under the regime of grace. It is only by marking its exteriority to the law as well as the economy of debt that grace becomes a free gift and brings us into the regime of divine justice.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao