Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Of Justice & Compassion

Perhaps no case has rocked the international judicial world like the recent release of Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, convicted of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103. Sentenced to a life term for the murder of 270 passengers (of which 189 were US Americans), al Megrahi has less than 3 months to live due to terminal cancer.

United States government officials, including FBI director Mueller, Secretary of State Clinton, and President Obama, have condemned the release as a mockery of justice. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill stands by his decision based on "compassion." While skeptical citizens around the world are asking about the "coincidental" oil deals that are forming between the UK and Libya.

For a fuller account read here.

Aside from the politics, aside from oil deals, this case poses a brilliantly challenging question: Where do Justice and Compassion overlap? Where do they diverge?

For the Christian, Grace is a, if not THE, central theme of our faith. How do we reconcile forgiveness and compassion with justice? I have heard Christians arguing many points. Mostly against the release of the bomber. I have truthfully only heard one voice advocating his release: Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

But I wonder, what is Grace if it doesn't apply here? Are there crimes too heinous for Grace? Or, is Grace a state of relationship with God with no real tangibility here on earth...

What I mean is, most people say, "We can forgive him [al Megrahi], but that doesn't mean there aren't consequences. He should stay in jail." Yes, but aren't there consequences to Grace, too? Isn't Grace absolutely and exactly about the business of saying, "You are 100% guilty, and you deserve punishment/shame/ridicule/revenge/death...but I pardon you. You are forgiven."? Do we believe our governments should have Grace?

Unfortunately, I've heard too many comments about revenge: "Responsible for 270 deaths." "Mass murderer." "Killed innocent children coming home for Christmas [the majority of passengers were youth]." "The 270 didn't get to say goodbye to their families before they died."

Grace. Justice. Compassion. Law.

They just don't mix, and in the words of Philip Yancey, the problem of evil is rivaled only by the Scandal of Grace. Grace isn't fair. Perhaps it's not even right. But in the end, we all want it. We all need it. I may never have killed 270 in an airplane, but I've lusted, hated, coveted, lied, cheated, stolen, gossiped, slandered, and idolatrized. If only my sin were as simple and singular as blowing up an airplane.

When I see God face to face in judgement, I, for one, am not going to ask for Justice; rather, I'm praying for Mercy. It seems to me that Mercy is the central theme of the Scriptures. From eye for an eye [a misunderstood law that prevented outlandish revenge murders for menial crimes] to bless those that persecute you, from Moses to Jesus, the Good Book scandalizes our preconceptions of Justice by nullifying it with Grace.

To be honest, I don't know what to think about all this. I've thought about it every day since I first heard...from the time I've woken up to my last waking thought, I've asked myself: "What is Grace?"

Done for Grace, this event looks to be a miraculous outbreak of the Kingdom of God. If done for Oil, this event looks to be an evil injustice of the worst kind..."Justice" bought with blood money (or oil).

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

Pastor Gary Taylor said...

Thank you, Mark, for these thoughts. Grace and compassion is hard; a lot harder than justice and penalties. Fortunately, God offers us grace freely. Unfortunately, when we are hurt deeply by another, it is difficult to move from justice to grace. For some people that will never happen.