nonsensical text

Thursday, April 19, 2007

weighted in the balance...and found wanting

My husband made a pronouncement the other day. He is commonly doing that. Sometimes, he is sure that what he is saying is right; all is black and white; there are no shades of gray. Sometimes he uses the same certainty when he is aware that what he speaks holds controversial attributes, but he is ripe for a little discussion – especially with people of opposing views. I am not a pronouncer. I am an expounder. I take pronouncements and find their strengths and flaws. I consider them silently, or speak passionately, or write in the stillness of nighttime.

He said, “The law is made under the assumption that the majority of the people in a society wish that society to be a lawful one. When that is not the case, the law is powerless.”

There are many different avenues of this statement that I could explore, but, because of the roundtable discussion put into action by Julie this week, it immediately brought to my mind a clear delineation between justice and forgiveness while simultaneously magnifying their similarities and mutual dependence.

Now that I have you scratching your heads and muttering, “What the heck is that supposed to mean?” I will proceed to fly off on multiple tangents and likely not get to any clear explanation of my statement.

Justice is a fire that burns within the hearts of men when wrongs have been committed. Justice is a legal system set up to direct the course of those who wish to do right, and to bring consequences down on those who choose to act outside of its bounds. To many of us, justice represents what is fair and right. We rally around the flag of righteousness when the value of human life and dignity is laid waste.

God gave the law to Moses. He also gave instructions to set up cities of refuge.
"Then The Lord said to Joshua: "Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood." -Deuteronomy 4:41-43

This very statement makes clear to me that our passion for justice is intrinsic to the fabric of our being – it is, perhaps, thread from the fabric of God in whose image we are made. It also tells me that our sense of justice is fallible.

In the same way, our legal system is fallible. Either in an effort to set up a system that prevents the just from being punished unfairly, a system is created which also allows for the unjust to avoid penalty; or a stricter system is erected which carries greater risk of convicted innocence but decreased instances of guilty freedom. In addition, when punishment is meted out, it cannot appease the loss completely. It cannot give back what was taken away.

Forgiveness does not excuse wrongdoing. It does not necessarily erase the punishments. It is not a get out of jail free card. Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive. Instead, one serves to complete the other.

When victims’ families choose to observe the final moments of a death sentence carried to completion, it is not uncommon to hear them express relief that it is finally over, while paradoxically expressing some surprise that the relief was not as great a balm as they had hoped. When families sit in a court room and gasp in astonishment at the lenience of a sentence, or weep with dismay at a finding of not guilty due, not to innocence, but to a technicality of method, justice holds no healing powers.

In these times, forgiveness is a tool that is an even greater gift to the giver than the recipient. It is the saw that cuts the chains binding their hearts to the grief over the unfairness of it all. And perhaps, on some occasions, it is a gift to the receiver – the inexplicable gift that causes him to start on the journey of changing his ways.

I have heard it said that we judge others by their actions but wish them to judge us by our intentions. It is much easier to cry our for justice when we are the injured party. But, in the many small ways that we injure others – with careless thoughts, words, looks, or graver offenses – we pray justice not rain down on our heads.

Forgiving others is essential behavior if we are treating others the way we wish to be treated – following the golden rule. Forgiving others is easier when we can understand the why’s and wherefore’s. Forgiving others seems almost impossible when dealing with horrendous evils, yet we need to learn to hate the deed while forgiving the doer lest we begin the journey into harboring hatred. Harbored hatred always grows, and it will spill out eventually – often on those who are closest to our hearts.

I think forgiveness and justice are equally weighed – not like the contents of a balanced scale - in separate baskets, but more akin to the component parts of a suspension bridge. Without proper balance, collapse is imminent.

more thoughts on this topic can be found at Julie's rountable.



  • Oh this is awesome!

    First, I say my husband is the King of Dramatic Pronouncements. It sounds like our husbands have similar styles.

    I'm an outloud processor; and I tend to build up to my point rather than begin with it (although I've learned to alter my appraoch).

    So that's interesting to hear from you.

    You make me wonder, also, about gender and personality type here. Mary mentioned ENFP (personality type) and I do wonder, right when you said "burns in the hearts of men" (although I know you meant generic men) whether there might be a gender disparity in response to the question "which is of greater necessity?"

    The "cities of refuge" is another intriguing concept. It reminds me of banishment, which I had neglected, and the idea that prison removes you from society, but you can still have "your people" whereas banishment means you can still have some society (cities of refuge) but do not have your people.

    It's interesting that now we prefer prison, but historically banishment was considered worse. I wonder what that says.

    I agree with your points about fallible justice (legal system) and the effect of forgiveness. And the bit about action and intention---judged and being judged.

    Excellent. Thanks for joining in!!

    By Blogger Julie Pippert, at 9:21 AM  

  • i appreciate your take on this, mine went in a bit different direction, adding a third option to the two. nicely done.

    By Blogger jen, at 1:43 PM  

  • Actions vs. intentions - that's a big piece of the puzzle, isn't it? The process of forgiveness often involves moving from action to intention - or, more accurately, it often involves revising our assumptions about intentions. Sometimes we discover that a hurtful action was not actually a wrong one; more often we discover that although it was wrong, it wasn't as blatantly, maliciously wrong as we initially assumed.

    By Blogger bubandpie, at 1:52 PM  

  • My husband and I are both intermittent pronouncers I think. It can be pretty much guaranteed that if I decide to make a definitive statement, he will decide to be Perspective Man. If he has a definitive pronouncement, I become Perspective Woman.

    I like your metaphor of Justice and Forgiveness being components of a suspension bridge. It is a perfect image, I think.

    By Blogger Mary-LUE, at 11:46 PM  

  • Julie - I am an out loud processor a lot of the time too. The problem tends to come into it when the husband thinks I am disagreeing with him when I am really just weighing how I feel.

    I think the gender question is a very provocative one. Mind you, I am pretty sure the husband answered "mercy" on the MBTI. ;)
    Jen, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I thought I left one on yours too, but that must have been during my internet spasm earlier today. It kept disconnecting me while I was trying to leave comments. I did find it interesting that we both chose neither and yet went in such completely different directions with it.

    B&P - I love the way you word things! A situation in local news this week really brought that action vs. intention argument to the forefront of things. Perhaps I will blog about it one of these days. My mind isn't working well enough to do it justice at the moment.

    By the way, I have to admit to feeling a bit sheepish to get a comment from you. I tend to bastardize grammatical structure when I write in an informal setting (even though I KNOW the rules). I found myself thinking, "Oh geesh, I used sooooo many commas in that post!"
    Mary - what I find so funny about your comment is that it made me realize that, in my post, after stating that I was not a pronouncer, I made several very definite pronouncements about what justice is. I guess I can be sure of one thing: I will almost always prove myself mistaken in some small way.

    By Blogger atypical, at 12:30 AM  

  • Okay, I had to laugh first that you were concerned about your commas with B&P in the room, because I have those very same thoughts, too!

    (I hope she can forgive us.)

    I like the way you brought up intention--and the way B&P rephrased it so well.

    By Blogger Gwen, at 2:23 PM  

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