Monday, May 2

With Liberty and Justice for All

On the one hand, he had it coming. Anyone who masterminds the killing of thousands of innocents could be described as Having It Coming. He was ruthless to everyone who lived outside his excessively narrow sliver of righteousness, and he was even ruthless with those he would incite to suicide.

On the other hand, death is a time for grieving. I feel relief that he is gone, but I grieve for his death. Maybe not the end of his particular life as he chose to live it, but the one that he might have lived if he had been a better man, the one that all of us might live: a life of goodness, kindness, and peace.

*

We live in a universe governed by balance, cause and effect. Yet we’re always trying to outsmart this system. We seek to prevent disease from following its natural course. We ask for a warning when we know that, in reality, the law itself is warning enough.

In the natural world we sometimes can change the course of an effect by introducing a new cause. We can diminish cancer by introducing chemotherapy. We can avoid serious injury when the airbags deploy. Luck, fortune, providence, whatever. There are moments when we can transcend the universe’s idea of justice.

Technology might alter the course of the natural world, but mercy interrupts the hand of justice in the social realm. We buy car insurance from a company that promises to look the other way on our first offence—accident forgiveness. We institute rehabilitation programs in prisons, like our local New Leash on Life program that allows difficult dogs and troubled humans to find redemption together. We seek to treat people suffering from addiction instead of merely condemning them to their fate—although the choice is always theirs to make.

Choice: That’s the great double-edged sword of free will, the ability to change the course of life. Our choices—our liberty—does not make us immune to the consequences. On the contrary. Our nation was founded on the principle of liberty and justice for all. Not liberty for the typically good and justice for the obviously criminal. Liberty and justice—for all.

*

Our friend Nathan recently addressed the question, Who is God? He emphasized two points: God is great (Elohim), or tremendously powerful; but God is also good (Yahweh), or completely personal. Or through another lens: God is just, but he is also forgiving. I, it seems, am neither.

On the one hand, I feel entitled to justice when I’m wronged. When the car dangerously cuts me off, when my opinions are belittled, when I’m misunderstood. On the other hand, I never feel I deserve to be on the receiving end of justice. I hadn’t even been pulled over before when I got a speeding ticket last year on a dubious charge, so couldn't I just have been warned? I would have answered the question correctly if it had been worded more clearly. I shouldn’t have to apologize when the offended person misinterpreted what I meant.

All along, what I’ve really been pledging is liberty and justice for me.

*

It’s easy to blame God when something goes wrong. I’ve done it, and I sympathize with others who do as well. Heck, that's the story of the garden of Eden. It’s natural to rail against the Powerful One, who has the ability to alter the universal scaffolding that dictates cause and effect, but doesn't.

I realize now that if God completely did away with the notion of cause and effect, if he made it so that no bad thing could ever be allowed to develop into its full and awful bloom, he would also be taking our liberty.

“A god who is good would never allow _____...” Fill in the blank. Death. Suffering. Pain. Abuse. Hell.

In my belief, the God who is Good grieves alongside us. He allows nature and human nature to run their courses, yes, even when those courses cut deep canyons into the landscape of life as it is meant to be lived and enjoyed; but he also implanted in the very essence of humanity the divine concepts of mercy and forgiveness.

And yet. Mercy is not necessarily an antidote to justice. Our world is still governed by cause and effect. Crimes must still be punished, even if the perpetrator repents.

I’m embarrassed to think of how, throughout my entire life, I always expected—no, felt entitled—to second and third and fourth chances. Now, with a better understanding of the tremendous cost of freedom, I am all the more grateful when I am given them.

*

He had it coming, yes indeed, but I am as overwhelmed with grief as I am relieved. I grieve for the thousands upon thousands who died, and the exponentially thousands more who still suffer.

I think if we really consider it, justice itself is cause for grief. Grief for the offense, grief for what had to be done to atone for that offense. Grief that we live in a world where things happen that never should.

8 comments:

Kate @ Daffodils said...

Really eloquent post Erin. THanks for sharing!

Stephen Lockwood said...

Very well said. Great insight!

Erin said...

Kate—Thanks, friend. And I also have to say how proud I am of our service members.

Steve—Yeah this whole post was just an attempt at getting on Nathan's good side. ;)

The Bug said...

Well, I'll be linking to your blog in mine sometime this week. You've said what I've been feeling - and about how entitled I feel too. Whooee! I'm just as culpable as the next guy. It's good for me to remember that sometimes!.

Erin said...

Bug—I'm honored for your link love :)

Catherine said...

Brilliantly written Erin.

magnolia said...

well stated. it wasn't elation; it was catharsis. and in the end, it felt good to let those emotions go. but now? back to work.

Anna said...

Wow. Wonderful post. I think my favorite was this part

"I realize now that if God completely did away with the notion of cause and effect, if he made it so that no bad thing could ever be allowed to develop into its full and awful bloom, he would also be taking our liberty."

You put into words what I feel but you did it more eloquently than I could.

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