Monday, July 23, 2012

Forgiveness vs. Justice...Have Mercy!

"The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy."
The Merchant of Venice Act IV, Scene I

Seriously, what is wrong with the world today?  You don't have to look far to find someone whose life will never be the same because of some unexplainable horror.  The 8- and 10-year-old Iowa cousins who are missing; the families of the victims, the traumatized survivors and the family of the alleged shooter in the Denver Movie Massacre; the victims, their families and the family of the alleged shooter in the Tuscaloosa, AL bar shooting...Then there are the sewing needles found in airplane food; a bomb threat here in my local area; an ex-police officer wanted in my local area for shooting a woman; it goes on and on and on.  I can't watch TV right now unless it's Nick Jr. or Disney and not just because my kids have total control of viewing.  Also because if I insist on watching the news, I would have to explain some real hard information to my son who misses nothing!  I'm not ready for him to leave that bubble of innocence yet.

As I sit in a dark house watching my innocent son sleep off a nasty virus, I cannot help but quietly reflect on sinners, tragedy, revenge, forgiveness, mercy, grace, trauma, horror, healing, and restitution. Is there any action that cannot be forgiven? Is there any wrong that cannot be righted? Again, for everyone involved in the nightmares mentioned above life will never, ever be the same. But does different always equal worse? And if not, how vehemently must we demand justice? When making the guilty pay, how, exactly, does one define "just"?

My word is not the be-all, end-all since I am neither politician nor preacher. Crime and punishment is established and enforced by our legal justice system. Beyond that, however, is our own ability to forgive and show mercy to the guilty. Today a "death penalty" of sorts was issued to Penn State University's athletics program and that reopened the horrors we all felt at the revelation of what happened behind closed locker room doors.  What went on at Penn State is inexcusable and unimaginable.  I am glad Sandusky is serving his punishment and can only hope Paterno sought God's grace before his death.  I have a hard time understanding why some key personnel involved are still employed by the University.   Yet the years of pensions, loss of scholarships, the seemingly excessive fine of $60 million proves what, exactly?  That a pound of flesh can be extracted without ending the life of an educational institution?  I would never try to undermine the helpless terror of what the young victims experienced and most likely still live with.  But this seemingly revenge-filled punishment doesn't take that away, either.  It changes nothing of the past and affects the future of persons who truly had nothing to do with this.

When we first started hearing the name James Holmes, I thought, let's tie him up and let wild animals have their way with him.  When we first started hearing this could be a death penalty case, I remembered the scene in [spoiler alert] The Green Mile where the one guy was electrocuted without a wet sponge and literally fried in that chair.  But demanding similar "justice" from Holmes would change nothing of what happened early Friday morning.  It does not bring back the lives of those 12 and it does not erase the permanent horrific memories of the 100's of others who were there that night.  Should someone -- likely Holmes himself -- be held responsible?  Absolutely.  Please do not misunderstand what I am suggesting. 

I go back to what Portia said in The Merchant of Venice and I take poetic license to paraphrase it.  When you are able to show mercy on someone who has wronged you in anyway, not only are you blessing that guilty party, but you are blessing yourself with a Christlike mentality of forgiveness.  We all want justice for anything that makes us feel violated; even the trivial ant who bites us is more often squashed than flicked away.  I believe in crime and punishment.  But I also know I am called to offer forgiveness and show mercy, gentility, and humility to others.  It sounds like quite the paradox.  Yet today I challenge myself to show more mercy to all in hopes it is someday shown to me.

*Author's note: if you cannot tell by the title of this blog, I am a lover of Shakespearean literature.  If you have never read The Merchant of Venice, I encourage you to do so.  Timeless doesn't begin to vocalize its relevance to today's society of religious and racial hatred and stereotyping, terrorism, and capitalism.

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