Law & Order & Mercy

21 02 2008

Once upon a more innocent and naive time I was a hardcore lock ’em up and throw away the key kind of guy when it came to punishing criminals.  Today, even Pepto Bismol couldn’t quell the rumblings in my stomach over this difficult issue.

There is a man I will call Jacob.  His mother abandoned him at a young age.  He chose friends poorly.  As a teenager, he made some bad decisions (we are all prone to this – it’s just that some of us get lucky and our bad decisions don’t haunt us).  All these factors straight-jacketed his psyche with vice grip precision.  As an adult, he has never been able or willing to face the issue of his alcoholism, and therefore has become infamously known at the local jail.  One drunk and disorderly after another has led to longer incarcerations.  And had I only known Jacob as an adult, I would be pressed to believe he was getting what he deserved. 

law and orderThe problem lies in the fact that I also know a sweet, gentle, loving man who is easy to embrace when he’s sober.  Unfortunately, sobriety is not his strong suit.  Even long stretches of imprisonment cannot brace him from falling off the proverbial wagon.

And this is one of thousands of sadder-than-fiction stories.  Our desire for vengeance and retribution creates a system of throw-away people who often become even more hardened and unprincipled.  Our justice system even allows families of victims to address their loved one’s killer once convicted.  This practice truly bothers me because it seems to be nothing more than a conduit for hatred and vitriol rather than healing.  I can understand the family’s bitterness, but this practice seems to be counter-productive.

Still, I readily confess that I have no easy answers.  The only thing that comes back to me time and again is the calling that Christ sent out for mercy, compassion and forgiveness beyond reason.  We cannot subject society to dangerous people, but we cannot subject ourselves to a system that is contrary to healing.  Our law and order system does not work.  It is not a deterrent.  There is no justice. 

It is illogical that we imprison some of the people that we do.  I have known people in minimum-security federal prisons, and those places are nothing more than adult camps that separate families while failing to address the true issues.  If we are to be people of mercy, how do we apply it in all these cases?

These are not easy questions, but they are not ones we should ignore either.  We are not doing the best that we can do as Christ-followers.  How are mercy and justice to co-mingle?  How do we right the wrongs of society while showing grace and mercy to all in the process?  I have no easy conclusions to this issue, only a prayer that God will create within me a more merciful heart.  May I love justice, and may I live in mercy and forgiveness just as Christ taught.




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