The Kiss of Justice
Osama Bin Laden was killed yesterday. Some semblance of justice has come for the victims of 9/11. We all, in some nuanced form, have been victimized by Al Qaeda, and we have all yearned for some form of justice. But like most of you, I have been sitting with my thoughts, considering the ambivalence I feel around this heroic, sobering, epic event.
Predictably, because my career and calling through the years have brought me into the lives of those who are victims of other forms of evil, my reflections are filtered by them. My thoughts have run to a handful of people I’ve had the privilege of knowing, all of whom have stories of shame from sexual abuse, but whose lives hold particular power because of what they have determined to do with their own hearts. I’ve known scores of individuals with sexual abuse stories, but the particular folks who come to mind today are those who, over a crucible of time and often excruciating interaction with the gospel, have begun to yearn for the redemption of their abuser or abusers. For Amy it was her father and several members of the church where he pastored. For Joann it was her uncle and brother. For John it was his grandmother. For Eunice it was her trafficker. I watched as each of these people succumbed to a force deeper than their pain, higher than their cry for justice.
But that’s just it. They had to cry for justice. Or better said, they had to cry for justice first. Some of them had to go through the actual justice system first, watching as their perpetrators were incarcerated, or waiting for justice to be metered out on their behalf. Had they ignored this process, as many who suffer harm choose to do, they would have greatly diminished their own dignity, their own worth. Their countenances would have a passive, detached quality rather than the strength of presence, the solid light which comes from acknowledging they are an image bearer of God, and that image was not meant to be harmed. Harm me and there is a price. The weighty beauty I see on the faces of these people is partially there because they have allowed their hearts to rise in the holy fire of justice, in resonance with the heart of God when he says things like:
“It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin (cause them to doubt). – Luke 17:2
Millstones in the ancient near East could be several tons. This was a severe judgment, worthy of Navy Seals or Special Forces.
Or, “I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness.
Since your refuge is make of lies,
A hailstorm will knock it down.
Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.” Isaiah 28:17
God, in this manner, is very much okay with himself. He does not apologize for his sense of offense, or his fury. And a certain strength and beauty comes to our face when we join him, when we acknowledge the fury within our own hearts when we are harmed.
But the beauty in these people, truly, also comes from their response to the more difficult task. Each of these dear people found the strength from within that fire, from within the burning, to relinquish all rights to the dissemination of that justice. They have let go, trusting their hearts’ care to a more trustworthy judge.
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” ~ Romans 12:19.
Because of this, they live in a freedom very few of us ever know. It is a deeply dignified freedom. It is not whiny, self aggrandizing or gloating. It is quiet, strong, fierce and saturated in a love beyond them. It is divinity in its most raw form.
It is the ‘competing’ truths, equally found in the story line of scripture, positioned together like breathtaking acrobats navigating a tension filled wire, which have set these people free. Free to love. Remembering this today, I could acknowledge my gratitude that at least one source of true evil had been stopped, yet hold it with a hushed awe that does not gloat over the demise of one’s enemies.
In light of this, something else struck me this morning. I share this gingerly because I don’t want it to be heard as a political comment as much as a comment about the longing we have in our hearts for strength to guide us through moments like this, through the complexities of justice and mercy. There is a grounding voice in the psalms which delightfully exclaims, “Mercy and Truth have met each other. Justice and Peace have kissed. (Psalm 85:10). There is an equally grounding voice in the New Testament which delightfully invites us to search our own eye for a log before we can see clearly to remove another’s speck (Matthew 7:3). How powerful would it have been for us to be led by those voices yesterday? How much more deeply dignified and powerful we might be as a people, if our response was not to the proclamation “Justice has been served,” but to the sentence:
“Justice has been served. And today it has not been served to us.”
So as we allow ourselves to feel the weight and beauty of justice realized, let’s also hold the reverent acknowledgement that we feel dissonant because we were never intended to navigate evil in the first place. Evil is here, we must expose it. But only as we search for its activity within our own behavior, attitudes and thoughts can we move toward it with the purpose of inviting those trapped within it. Midst our glee, let’s reach in to the deeper, truer place within us which longs for all to obtain redemption and mercy. Let’s sorrow that any must be snuffed out in order for the world to gain a bit of realigning. And like the people I remember today, let’s hold ourselves with the dignity that flows from the heart of God – the burning, holy, justice fueled heart of God which perpetually answers his own justice with a love which pours out mercy instead. And let’s long for the day when justice will no longer be our cry. I really, really wish we could have been merciful. It wouldn’t have honored the Story. But our wanton glee does not either. Somewhere in the middle is a place, a chapter of the Story when justice and mercy kiss. And only when justice and mercy kiss do we comprehend Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”